It was only appropriate that Russia, the country that proved just how foolish and ridiculously naive Ukraine was to trust the trio of the United States, Russia, and Britain and surrender its share of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s thermonuclear arsenal, courtesy the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, prevented a consensus “final document” from emerging at the 10th edition of the five-yearly UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon).
This conference periodically to assert the primacy of the NPT regime, delayed for a couple of years by the COVID pandemic, began in New York August 1 and concluded August 26. Considering how relations between Russia and the US are heading south, the Russian action, in effect, kicked the RevCon into life support, bringing the future of the NPT itself into question. Russia did so to protest the reference in the draft paper to the alleged Russian attacks on or near the Zaphorizhzhya nuclear power station. Many European states felt that even an accidental strike could create a Chernobyl-like nuclear catastrophe. In other words, Moscow used an issue unconnected with nonproliferation to damage the NPT regime. And, a damned good thing to happen from India’s strategic point of view!
As observers at these RevCons, Indian diplomats dish out the usual disarmament pablum produced by the DISA (Disarmament and International Security) Division in MEA. Just as well that nothing, if anything, of note was said by them because otherwise it’d have been reported at least in the Indian Press (even if no other media takes notice). The correct thing for Delhi to have done from the time of the first RevCon in May 1975 was to give it a miss. And it should have been followd up by boycotting the subsequent RevCons to signal India’s unhappiness with the global nuclear order lorded over by the five “NPT recognized” weapons states — the US, Russia, UK, France and China. Instead, while not being a signatory to the NPT and therefore not bound by its rules, India has acted all along as if it is a bonafide member of this treaty that was, incidentally, originally designed by Washington in the Sixties to keep India from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold!
Delhi is in the forefront of the worldwide nonproliferation effort just so it is in America’s good books, eager to burnish its image as, what else, a “responsible” state. To be perceived as such has required grave compromises to be made by various Indian governments. Such as refraining from selling and exporting entirely indigenously developed technologies related to the Bomb and to 220MW heavy water-moderated light water reactor-based power plants. China should long ago have been paid back in kind for its policy of nuclear missile arming Pakistan in the early 1980s by transferring nuclear-warheaded Prithvi and later Agni ballistic missiles and Brahmos cruise missiles to countries on China’s periphery. It is an option I have been advocating from 1998 and my time in the (First) National Security Advisory Board, but which is now getting shut down because the Indian government seems intent on shackling itself to the do’s and don’ts of the Nuclear Suppliers Group — an offshoot of the NPT, and entry into which group, ironically, is subject to a Chinese veto!
The 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US — negotiated as I keep reminding everyone, by the then Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA and now foreign minister, S Jaishankar, furthers Washington’s twin nonproliferation goals of ensuring that India sticks by the “voluntary moratorium” on nuclear testing announced by Atal Bihari vajpayee in May 1998, which capped the Indian N-weapons tech at the simple fission 10-20 kiloton level. Except, without new and open-ended nuclear tests, the Indian strategic deterrent will be minus proven thermonuclear weapons (because the fusion device tested in the 1998 tests was a dud). This deal was supposed to enable India access to US N-tech. Except, India never really needed US civilian nuclear technology in the first place what with Trombay having mastered all three fuel cycles (uranium, plutonium and thorium). But this rationale provided the Manmohan Singh government with political cover for signing the deal which actually is a strategic liability. Especially so, considering Manmohan Singh’s promise of “20,000 MW by 2020” was predicated on India buying multi-billion dollar Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors that the US Atomic Energy Commission refused to certify as safe! None of this matters now, because the aim of successive governments Narasimha Rao’s onwards was less to buy anything from the US than to pacify Washington by deliberately keeping India a sub-par nuclear weapons state.
A government that means to push India into global reckoning as a country that will get to the top by any and all means, and only abide by treaties and conventions it negotiates has, to-date, not emerged. Instead of putting the fear of God into the P-5 and the big power NPT managers that either India gets what it wants or it will strive to bring down the whole UN caboodle, and particularly the unfair and inequitable NPT-based international nuclear order, like the barrage of explosive charges (in a 9-second TV spectacle last Sunday) did the illegal 30-storey structure in Noida, India talks big, acts small and helps the US and the West perpetuate the status quo.
If Modi wants to change things, do right by India, and pitchfork the country into the ranks of meaningful powers — if only as a spoiler on the world scene, he can and should break out of the system of self-restraint and, firstly, resume nuclear testing; secondly, waste no time in ignoring the NPT-NSG restrictions and onpassing nuclear weapons technology and N-power reactors — perhaps as a package! — to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines and whoever else wants it, and is willing to pay for it. These two actions will instantly destroy the NPT order, and begin seriously to unravel the UN. North Korea with its regular nuclear and missile tests has long offered provocations, as do the nuclear buildup plans of the P-5 with the US, Russia and China in the lead. This development, by the way, directly contravenes Article VI of the NPT mandating nuclear weapons stockpile reductions by the Five NPT-acknowledged powers in return for the rest of the 191 members of this treaty regime foreswearing the Bomb.This is a very good reason to torpedo the NPT.
The plea here then is for India to be disruptive like China is. Ambassador Fu Cong at the RevCon, extolled the virtues of “self-defence” while Chinese strategic forces are on an overdrive to achieve the 2,500 thermonuclear weapons/warheads strength by 2030 — a deterrent size and timeline laid down by President Xi Jinping. In other words, China, unlike a discombobulated India that takes its nonproliferation pledges seriously, is determined to be the equal of the US and Russia in this and every other respect. Meantime, Modi’s India appears content to be bested by Pakistan, its 150 nuclear warheads/weapons beaten by 160 Bombs in the latter’s employ.
Thirdly, India should needle China all it can and on every issue that riles Chinese sensibilities. Thus, India should be in the forefront of publicizing the UN report accusing China of gross human rights, genocidal, abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang using tactics honed by the PLA in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and repeatedly urge Beijing to respect the nationalist urges of the Uyghurs seeking an independent East Turkestan, and get under the Chinese skin that way. Simultaneously, Delhi should with much fanfare and public hoo-ha celebrate Taiwan and support international efforts to solidify that country militarily and symbolically even offer Taipei “strategic weapons technology”– not that Taiwan needs any help in crafting nuclear weapons of its own . Taiwan’s own N-weapons programme was compelled by the US into a state of dormancy, but if activated can produce a weapon inside of 3-6 months. In the interim, India can offer Taipei some 2 dozen warheads as deterrent for fitting into the nosecone geometries of Taiwanese mssiles. This measure combined with Delhi’s publicly disavowing the “one China” paradigm on the basis of China not respecting the “One India” concept encompassing all of Jammu & Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Baltistan, and the principalities of Hunza, Gilgit, Chitral et al in the “Northern Areas”, will put the fat on fire.
And, finally, what will it take for Prime Minister Modi to shut down Chinese access to the Indian consumer market where Chinese companies continue to make a killing? And why does his government continue to ease the rules for Chinese firms? Like the exemptions the Finance Ministry announced for Chinese companies yesterday exporting green energy tech and components to India? Would it take another round of military clashes in Ladakh or in Arunachal? Why are Jaishankar and his MEA promoting the idea of Modi’s meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to be held mid-September? Is Modi really all that much of an innocent, and has no clue about what’s what with Xi and China? And that the PM’s interest in somehow restoring a pre-Galwan clash-like normalcy to his personal relations with the Chinese supremo and to bilateral relations, cannot be realized without hurting India?