The United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1887, which resolves to “create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)”, heralds the beginning of a difficult period for Indian diplomacy facing varied dilemmas on the country’s nuclear identity. The ministry of external affairs pre-empted the UN resolution by a letter to the US, which was then president of the Security Council, stating India’s well-established position on NPT, testing and universal disarmament. However, nuclear winds may possibly edge the country into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and eventually NPT despite apprehensions about the yield of the thermonuclear test in May 1998.
A flashback to the US presidential elections campaign in 2008 would reveal that then senator Barack Obama eventually won as the Americans saw a fresh approach to the presidency jaded with clichés of neo-conservatism. One of the key agendas of the “change” by the Obama–Biden team was nuclear non-proliferation. They promised to “crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation treaty” and move towards a nuclear-free world.
Obama and his team have followed up these issues through much diplomatic shuffling, with the President making a historic trip to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, and announcing jointly to begin “bilateral inter-governmental negotiations to work out a new, comprehensive, legally binding agreement on reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms to replace the START Treaty”. This was followed by a seminal declaration by Obama on 5 April in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, one of the countries where elements of the missile shield proposed by his predecessor George W. Bush was to be located in Europe. He reiterated the resolve to reduce and eliminate nuclear arsenals and, most significantly, move towards ratification of CTBT and “completion of a verified Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty”.
The next step was reviewing the land-based missile shield, replacing it with a ship-based one to take Moscow on board. It diffused larger Russian fears of the US encroaching its traditional sphere of influence, Eastern and Central Europe. The immediate result was the public announcement by Moscow of possible sanctions if Iran did not provide greater transparency for its nuclear enrichment programme.
In backroom diplomacy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow which was accepted openly only after Medvedev revealed it in an interview. Some analysts believe that the talks include apart from a promise that Israel would not strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if Russia stopped the S 300 anti-air defence missile sale under a 2005 contract to Tehran, as also negotiations to roll back Israel’s nuclear weapons programme, the existence of which has never been accepted by Tel Aviv.
This brief survey of Obama’s non-proliferation agenda would reveal that for the first time in many years, the two premier nuclear powers on the globe—the US and Russia—appear to be on the same page. They have also bound the other members of the nuclear club, Britain, France and China, through the UN resolution and are now working to get the pariahs of the nuclear regime, Iran, North Korea and may be even Israel on board. What results Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao achieves in this sphere remains to be seen at present on a visit to Pyongyang.
The campaign to bring India on board has also quietly begun. The next steps are likely to be the preliminaries leading to review of NPT in May. Over the weekend on 3 and 4 September, the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament promoted by Japan and Australia, staunch US allies with very strong non-proliferation inclinations, met in New Delhi. Led by Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi, former foreign ministers and international diplomats with impeccable credentials, the agenda of the conference was promotion of CTBT and universalization of NPT. India, Israel and Pakistan were singled out as crucial to controlling proliferation.
Thus, as Manmohan Singh is feted at the White House on 24 November in what has been heralded as the “first state visit of the (Obama) administration”, possibly two issues will be critical: climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. How the Indian policy establishment responds to these challenges remains to be seen.
The path charted out by the Obama administration for non-proliferation is not easy or achievable in the short term. There is likely to be extensive domestic opposition to the agenda of, say, ratification of CTBT within the US. On nuclear disarmament, until China is on board, there is unlikely to be any forward movement as far as India is concerned. To what extent Beijing will go along with the US and Russia remains to be seen, while Iran and North Korea remain as unpredictable as ever.
India’s position on nuclear-related treaties may be justified at this juncture, given the sense of discrimination and the combined challenge posed by China and Pakistan; however, it is time to think ahead, review our isolationist posture and leverage our principled stand to advantage by seeking parallel cutbacks in the arc of our nuclear deterrence. Integration with the world is the hallmark of statesmanship as well as a great power.
Rahul K. Bhonsle is editor, South Asia Security Trends. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org