On Nuclear Disarmament

The P-5 founded one of history’s biggest hypocrisies



I was in Vienna the other day discussing strategic stability and nuclear politics with contemporaries from other nuclear-weapon possessing countries such as USA, Russia, China, Israel (!) and Pakistan. This ongoing initiative brings together mid-career analysts from these countries to deliberate on strategic stability under nuclear conditions and the potential for a world without nuclear weapons.

The boys who can’t handle their toys
My first impression from the 2-day conference was that there is a great deal of worry and concern in the West and US about Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons, much more about the Pakistani nukes though. There is palpable fear that the Indians and Pakistanis, again more vis-ŕ-vis Pakistan, may not be able to handle their nukes in a responsible way. Indeed, there seems to be more worry about Pakistan in the West today than in India. No, my argument is not that there is absolutely no need to fear or worry about the Pakistani nuclear weapons, postures and the dilemmas they pose for India. We in India don’t tend to look at Pakistani nuclear weapons in isolation but rather as part of the Pakistani state’s security apparatus, security dilemmas and its threat/security perceptions. That is why unlike in the West where you get to hear talks about ‘taking out’ Pakistani nukes through surgical strikes, you don’t get to hear that in India very often. When indulging in this talk of South Asia being the dangerous nuclear flashpoint what the Americans forget is that it was their country that first used nuclear weapons against live humans for target practice, not India or Pakistan.
There is also a lot of uneasiness about the preferential treatment meted out to India by the United States through the Indo-US nuclear agreement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver. Here is where one gets to see the convenient coming together of the West, that likes to preach to the rest, and Pakistan, that suffers from a permanent inferior complex vis-ŕ-vis India.

‘Our’ hypocrisy
There is no doubt that India has been given preferential nuclear treatment by the US though I don’t for a moment doubt that India deserves it. India deserves to be made a partner in the global nonproliferation order simply for the reason that it has had a very clean proliferation record: it has not engaged in nuclear pilferage or in any way behaved irresponsibly in nuclear matters (if we choose to ignore for a moment the internal diversion of nuclear material meant for peaceful purposes to military purposes). And yet there is no way one can make the argument that India has never engaged in hypocritical doubletalk on nuclear issues. The fact is that even as India kept making vociferous demands for global nuclear disarmament through the Cold War years ever since 1947, having nuclear bombs, at the opportune time, was clearly something India had in mind. While the politicians and civilian strategic community kept mouthing the pious platitudes on global nuclear disarmament, the scientific community in the country quietly went about their work and finally produced nuclear weapons. When it realized that the preaching was not doing any good, India decided to move sides and declared itself a nuclear weapon state and asked others to recognize it to be so. Surely, this is hypocrisy, not because India made nuclear bombs but because it kept swearing that it had no plan to make nuclear bombs when they were actually making them in the backyard.
For long we argued that the global nuclear order was an example of apartheid, and then claimed a place right at the center of that very apartheid order, burying the rhetoric of the past so unceremoniously. Pragmatic it may be, but hypocritical it surely is.

‘Their’ hypocrisy
The Indian hypocrisy, at least in part, is the result of consistent hypocritical positions by the Nuclear-5 (USA, UK, France, China and Russia). By putting together a fundamentally discriminatory nuclear order in 1970 through the entry into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that essentially states that those who produced nuclear weapons before January 1, 1967 would continue to have them while those did thereafter would not be designated as Nuclear Weapon States, the P-5 founded one of history’s biggest hypocrisies. Thus countries like India and Pakistan became lawbreakers as per NPT and its promoters. Over and above this discrimination, although the NWS kept mouthing the ‘global nuclear disarmament slogan’ from the hallowed pulpits of the United Nations, it refused to put in place a time-bound plan to do so. So far the Americans and Russians have only agreed to reduce the number of their nuclear weapons, down to thousands from tens of thousands.

The problem of nuclear zero
The latest American/Western nuclear fad is the movement for ‘Nuclear Zero’ spearheaded by the Obama administration. While the unwillingness to make a time-bound nuclear disarmament plan clearly frustrates the ‘Nuclear Zero’ movement, the bigger challenge comes from the fact that even if the Americans are willing to let go of their nukes, the other states may not be happy to do so thanks to the overhang of American conventional superiority. In other words, in a world where there are no nuclear weapons, the Americans will continue to enjoy high levels of superiority in conventional weapons which will be disadvantageous to states like Russia and China and they have clearly said so. Russia has clearly said that any reduction in its nuclear arsenal will have to be linked to deep cuts in American conventional weapons. This logic applies to secondary nuclear rivalries as well, namely India Vs. China and India Vs. Pakistan. While Pakistan clearly benefits vis-ŕ-vis India due to its nuclear weapon status since it is conventionally weaker than India, the Indians have a sense of security from their nukes vis-ŕ-vis China.
The problem with the Nuclear Zero logic and many other similar nuclear disarmament arguments is that when they talk about a world without nuclear weapons they seem to mean a world minus nuclear weapons. Indeed, a world without nuclear weapons should be a world where peace and security should be the overarching tendencies of the international system: the preeminent culture of such a world should be peaceful resolution of conflicts where differences are resolved through dialogue rather than on the battlefield. That is why I would argue that for nuclear disarmament to ever become a reality it has to have a radical peace plan before itself and the nations of the world. In other words, a world without nuclear weapons will not only witness the obsolescence of those dangerous weapons but also the eventual erosion of the tendency and willingness to engage in mass murder of humanity that those weapons symbolize.
But how do we get there?
I am convinced that US is the wrong country to preach nuclear disarmament even as they have to begin rolling the ball by destroying its weapons first. There should also be a focus on conventional weapons reductions by major powers – US, Russia, China and India. It is likely that the others might follow suit then. 

Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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