Originally Published 2004-10-19 05:07:34 Published on Oct 19, 2004
As a responsible nuclear power, India is ready to work with like-minded countries in strengthening the global non-proliferation system. That was the clear message from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his recent joint press conference with the visiting German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.
On nuclear diplomacy, a window has opened
As a responsible nuclear power, India is ready to work with like-minded countries in strengthening the global non-proliferation system. That was the clear message from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his recent joint press conference with the visiting German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. Manmohan Singh's innovative approach, which opens up very interesting possibilities for our nuclear diplomacy, has been long overdue. For far too long India had marginalised itself in the global nuclear debate. 

The burden of its righteous but tiresome song was simple: it's opposed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1970 (NPT), which decreed only five nations can legally possess nuclear weapons. India had little else to offer except a broad slogan on global nuclear disarmament. Demonstrating a new national confidence, the PM is now declaring that India is prepared to engage in developing a more credible non-proliferation system. It is no longer carping at the world nuclear order; it wants to help manage it. 

In response to a question from a German journalist on whether India would sign the NPT some day, the PM said: "We are a nuclear power but we are a responsible nuclear power. We act with restraint. We have a no first use doctrine in place. Also, we have an impeccable record of export control so that any unauthorised use of this sensitive nuclear material can be effectively prevented." He went on to say, "We ourselves are victims of the gaps that exist in the present non-proliferation arrangements...We have seen, for example, the clandestine export of nuclear material in our region. So we are also committed to work with like-minded countries to strengthen the non-proliferation regime to prevent unauthorised proliferation." 

On the question of joining the NPT, he said, "I do not know whether the circumstances are right for us right now to sign that. But we are voluntarily fulfilling all the commitments that go with a responsible nuclear power acting with due restraint." This signals that India sees itself in full compliance with the obligations of a nuclear weapon power under the NPT. If the treaty were to be amended to include India as a nuclear weapon power, it would have little objection to joining the NPT. But if such circumstances were unlikely to materialise, then India will have to stay outside the NPT. 

Rejecting the NPT in the present form does not mean that India has no interest in the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As the PM pointed out, India has been a victim of the loopholes in the global non-proliferation order. In other words, India is no longer criticising the NPT for its "discriminatory" character. Our argument about "discrimination" has long lost credibility. When the entire world apart from India, Pakistan and Israel have joined it, to talk about the NPT's unjust character impresses no one except those at home who have learnt the nuclear mantra by rote. 

In any case no major power - except the EU - is pressing India to sign the NPT. The nuclear fundamentalists of the Democratic Party, including Senator Kerry, often state that India should sign the NPT if it wants a seat at the high table of the international system. China, Russia, France and Great Britain have, to different degrees, reconciled to the fact that India is a nuclear weapon power outside the NPT. The Bush administration is exploring a nuclear bargain with India. The just concluded phase one of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership initiative is an important step in the long process of Indo-US nuclear reconciliation outside the NPT. 

The only countries that want India to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon power are our friends in the third world. At various conferences they press for the "universalisation of the NPT". Many potential medium powers in the developing world who have given up their nuclear option under pressure from the international system do not like to see India, Pakistan and Israel get away with their nuclear capabilities. It is precisely these nations, that some in India seek to impress with the slogan that the NPT is discriminatory and that New
Delhi seeks complete abolition of nuclear weapons. 

The real problem for India lies in the fact that the NPT is ineffective. It has not been able to prevent China from exporting nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan. It has not stopped countries like North Korea from clandestine cooperation with Pakistan. It has not prevented many others from attempting to cheat on their obligations under the NPT after having signed it. Further proliferation, India is now saying, profoundly affects its security. Having reaffirmed India's role as a responsible nuclear weapon power, the PM has underlined the political will in New Delhi to "strengthen the non-proliferation regime to prevent unauthorised proliferation". 

The US and many other great powers now privately acknowledge that the NPT is no longer capable of preventing proliferation. While they will not bury the NPT, they are looking to build a range of new structures outside the treaty. It is in this context that the PM's proclaimed readiness to work with like-minded countries to plug the gaps in the non-proliferation regime assumes significance. He is positioning India to negotiate purposefully on the terms under which it could join the new global non-proliferation initiatives. These include the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Unlike past treaties that focused on declaratory commitments, these initiatives deal with the real world of proliferation and seek to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction to irresponsible regimes and international terrorist groups. They combine the on-going global war on terror with renewed efforts to curb proliferation. 

Many traditionalists in India, paralysed by past rhetoric, view these new initiatives with suspicion. By failing to conduct its first atomic test before the NPT came into force, India pushed itself into nuclear isolation for nearly three decades. If it does not actively seek to become part of the new global nuclear arrangements, India will once again find itself outside the door. Getting on board the new global non-proliferation arrangements should, therefore, be at the top of India's diplomatic agenda. Meanwhile, the Indian nuclear discourse must unlearn the old shibboleths about the NPT and CTBT and begin to focus on the new acronyms like the CSI and PSI, where the real action is.

Courtesy: Indian Express
(Posted online: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 at 0000 hours IST)

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