It is a time for the few of us who have always felt that the Govt of India have been un-serious about the country’s nuclear security, pandered to every Washington nonproliferation whim, succumbed to every international arms control and nonproliferation measure engineered by the five NPT-recognized weapon states, surrendered its sovereign right to obtain the level of strategic deterrence India requires, and otherwise foolishly led the fight for a world free of nuclear weapons, to heave a great sigh of relief. The Indian representative at the UN Commission on Disarmament (CD), DB Venkatesh Varma, for the first time that I can recall, voiced the government’s grave reservations about both the means of disarmament — a conference in March 2017 — and its desired outcome — tasked to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”, at the meeting of the UN’s First Committee. India joined 15 other nations in abstaining in the the General Assembly on the non-binding resolution moved by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil which was, however, approved by 123 votes to 38.
India, Varma said, has been “constrained” to abstain on the resolution and is “not convinced” that the proposed conference in 2017 “can address the longstanding expectation of the international community for a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament.” And while reiterating the need for consultations to bridge the “deep and substantive” divide between the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and non-NWS India, he added, “attaches the highest priority to nuclear disarmament and shares with the co-sponsors the widely felt frustration that the international community has not been able to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” and “share the deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”, in explaining India’s abstention. He also reminded the CD that India did not partake of the meeting earlier this year in Geneva of the open-ended working group, and so commits to nothing. However, India, Varma stated “has supported the commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention, which in addition to prohibition and elimination also includes verification. International verification would be essential to the global elimination of nuclear weapons, just as it has been in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Progress on nuclear disarmament in the CD should remain an international priority”. “International verification” are code words for killing all such initiatives because the US is and has always been seminally opposed to international inspectors poking around its nuclear complex. This is the real hurdle to any meaningful disarmament.
The nuclear Have-nots in their frustration have sought for a long time to deny the benefits of the Bomb to the five states recognized as NWS by the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, or had the good sense (India, Pakistan) to not sign it and have since acquired nuclear weapons. If they believe the NWS can be prevailed upon to part with their arsenals and return to their pristine non-nuclear weapons state status then they are more optimistic and have to get real. After nearly 50 years of banging their collective head on a stone wall of dismissal and disregard for the very notion of a ‘nuclear zero’ world they seem to have learned nothing.
The surest way to demolish the present thoroughly unfair and unequal global nuclear order would be for the Latin American states leading this most recent charge, such as Brazil and Mexico to abrogate the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco that rendered the Caribbean and Central and South America a nuclear weapons free zone, and for the tech-wise capable Brazil to embark on a nuclear weapons programme, which will prompt its rival, Argentina, to shrug off its nuclear reticence. These twinned events will formally mark the breakdown of the NPT order and the message will reverberate through P-5 corridors, albeit, not to much effect on the NWS beyond the hand-wringing by disarmament idealists in the US and western Europe.
India could tip the NPT order over into the abyss, as I have been advocating for nearly two decades now, simply by resuming open-ended testing of high-yield thermonuclear weapons, something desperately needed to inject credibility into the fusion weapons arsenal we profess to possess, and to finally bring the weapons reliability and quality on par with India’s first rate missile delivery systems, in particular the Agni-5 IRBM. This is most seriously in the national interest, but no Indian government has had the nerve, the guts, and the political will to take the decision to restart N-testing because of the fear of US reaction and the potential trashing by Washington of the 2008 nuclear deal. Actually, nothing will serve India’s interests better nor be more welcomed by those who are truly nationalist-minded than for the nuclear deal to be junked. It will allow New Delhi to regain self-respect and genuine latitude of action and autonomy in foreign and strategic policies. Alas, Vajpayee started India’s downward slide, and Manmohan Singh and since 2014 Narendra Modi have preferred to be permitted White House visits than to firm up India’s thermonuclear stance. Whence, India is in the state it is — losing face and losing ground on all fronts.
If the vote to abstain in CD suggests a certain stiffening of the country’s hitherto noodle-spined outlook and policy, there’s contrary evidence to show that this vote is but a mirage, a diversion to cover up for staying true to the nuclear deal-course plotted by Washington.
It is not clear why the Modi regime, for instance, so wants an agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with Japan, which Tokyo has agreed to “in principle”. It has no real technologies to peddle other than one of its corporations, Toshiba, desiring to sell the Westinghouse 1000 line of reactors to India. This segues into Modi’s (as it did with Manmohan’s) conviction that the shortcut to making up the energy deficit is to fast forward nuclear power. To achieve this Modi has stressed imports of enriched uranium fueled reactors, which will for their lifetime be hostage to imported fuel bundles. It will ensure India adheres to its N-deal commitments, thereby ruling out further Indian explosive nuclear testing.
The more feasible alternative that makes economic sense of trusting in the indigenous natural uranium, heavy water moderated, INDU power plants is, of course, outside the pale. But it is consistent with the Modi government’s view also in the defense sector. Thus, Modi would in both these industrial spheres representing leading technologies rather enrich and sustain foreign nuclear and defence industries at humungous cost to the country than invest the same sums in installing INDU power plants at a speeded up pace at home and developing and selling in the global market the 220MW and the more advanced 700 MW INDU power plants.
That Modi time and again makes the wrong issue the standard to judge the success of his foreign visits by, is evident from GOI’s emphasis on signing a N-civilian cooperation deal with Japan, when Tokyo is clearly unwilling to accommodate New Delhi’s insistence that such an agreement not contain Japan’s right to resile from it in case India resumes testing. Modi is to visit Tokyo for the annual summit on Nov 11-12. Coming from Japan — a country that’s a virtual nuclear weapons state and can actually field an N-weapons inventory inside of a few weeks, this is a bit rich. But, of course, Japan has long chosen to ride its nuclear victimhood (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) into a permanent opposition to India’s nuclear weapons. Why it is not strategically plain to Tokyo that a nuclearised Japan and India at the eastern and western flanks of China, and to the Indian government that nuclear warheaded Brahmos cruise missile-armed Vietnam in China’s soft underbelly in Southeast Asia, will squelch for once and for all Beijing’s dreams of dominating Asia, is a mystery.
So there’s ample foolishness and very little clear-headed thinking going round in New Delhi and Tokyo. This is so perhaps because governments in both these countries seem tied to America’s apron strings and are doing their best to live up to being “umriki tattoos”.