New Delhi’s Nuclear Dilemmas

What does India’s new nuclear status mean for strategic stability in the region?



New Delhi is currently in negotiations with various international export control organisations to gain their membership as the next logical step in the country’s ongoing mainstreaming process into the international nuclear order. This ‘mainstreaming process’ was a result of the Indo-US nuclear negotiations which began in the wake India’s nuclear tests in the summer of 1998. India will eventually gain membership of these organisations (namely the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement). What is significant here is not only India’s potential entry into these exclusive clubs, but doing so without giving up its nuclear weapons. None of these cartels admit into its membership those who have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970 which derecognizes the nuclear weapon status of those who tested nuclear devises after January 1967. India, in that sense, is trying to have the cake and eat it too when it is seeking, and seemingly succeeding, entry into these organisations without giving up its nuclear weapons. Much of this, of course, is a direct result of the country’s strategic partnership with the United States, something that has been growing in strength in the past decade or so. I am not going to discuss the morality of this integration process here but rather about the broader implications of India’s new nuclear identity for its foreign policy postures as well as the region’s stability.
Will the ongoing Indian efforts to mainstream itself into the global nuclear order have an impact on the country’s broad foreign policy orientation? What does India’s new nuclear status mean for strategic stability in the region?
Implications for foreign policy orientation
India is clearly one of the major Asian strategic partners of the United States of America and with the increasing rise of China on the global stage this partnership is only going to grow stronger. While there are benefits that a country can gain from being a strategic partner of the sole superpower, India would also have to do things that it may not necessarily like or may run counter to its foreign policy traditions. Indeed, the Americans have been pretty vocal, and sometimes subtle, about what they want from the Indian side. One such American demand has been the isolation of Iran. Consider the injunction in the Henry Hyde Act passed by the US Congress, the passage of which made the Indo-US nuclear deal possible: “Secure India’s full and active participation in United States efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability and the capability to enrich uranium or reprocess nuclear fuel, and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction”.
While these words are from a piece of US domestic legislation, one would have to assume the possibility of many more such indirect and unsaid demands from the American side to the Indian foreign and defense policy planners, and with time these demands are only going to increase. But why should India listen to the US since the Indo-US nuclear agreement is a done deal making it possible for India to engage in nuclear trade with rest of the international community? The problem is that the Indian integration into the contemporary international nuclear order is not yet a done deal. India, in a sense, is in a limbo and it might remain there for sometime requiring it to toe the American line without fail. American support is necessary for India to gain membership of the export control organisations mentioned above and more so given the fact that India is not a party to the NPT, the cornerstone of the contemporary nuclear order, will continue to be a major stumbling block at every step of New Delhi’s path towards integration with the nuclear order.
Why not become party to the NPT then? For India to become party of the treaty, it should either give up its nuclear weapons or the treaty has to change its most important provision which is the cut off date for the possession of nuclear weapons – January 1, 1967. Now, changing this date is easier said than done especially with China, a major player in the global nuclear order, not too pleased with the ongoing Indian integration into the nuclear order. 
As a result, India’s new nuclear identity will have clear implications for the broad contours of the country’s foreign policy as well as its strategic autonomy.
Does it have an impact on the region’s stability?
Pakistan is livid at the special treatment given to India which it believes will, at the end of the day, enable India to add more warheads to its unclear arsenal. This in turn has made Pakistan strengthen its strategic partnership with China which is providing the former with a nuclear deal. To offset the assumed increase in the Indian nuclear material, Pakistan is feverishly increasing its own war heads. Pakistani frustration is not merely limited to India’s new nuclear status. Pakistan is also unhappy that its neighbor is a sought-after strategic partner while the international community is increasingly isolating Islamabad.
Many in India argue that Pakistan deserves what it is going through today for the latter has done enough damage to India in the past and that the international community is doing the right thing by isolating Pakistan. While that may partly be true because it is clearly its past sins that are proving to be dangerous for Pakistan today, it makes absolutely no strategic sense for India to advocate the isolation of Pakistan. Indeed, I would argue that the international community should start engaging Pakistan in order to explore the eventual mainstreaming of Pakistan into the international nuclear order. If Pakistan is kept out of the global nuclear order, China will deal with Pakistan on its own with neither of them showing any responsibility or accountability to any of the rule-based global frameworks governing nuclear matters. Is it not better to have a Pakistan in our neighbourhood that is well integrated into the global nuclear order and hence is under the latter’s strictures, oversight and inspections rather than a Pakistan that is in secret deals with a China that is hardly transparent or above board on nuclear issues?

Lastupdate on : Sat, 27 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 27 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 28 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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