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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 50, December 3, 2011

Remembering Delhi Declaration on a Non-Nuclear and Non-Violent World

Friday 9 December 2011, by Arun Mohanty

Twentyfive years have passed since the signing of the mostly-forgotten Delhi Declaration on a Non-Violent and Non-Nuclear World. The Delhi Declaration on a Non-Violent and Non-Nuclear World was truly a unique document that has been consigned to history quite unwisely at a time when it is most required. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had put their signatures on this significant document on November 27, 1986 at Delhi. This document was unprecedented in many ways as it blended Marxism and Gandhism for the first time in history. Marxists across the world had a lot of reser-vations about Gandhi’s philosophy, and Gandhians had no love lost for Marx and his philosophy. The Delhi Declaration on a Non-Violent and Non-Nuclear World brought Marx and the Mahatma on the same platform together for the first time.The new political thinking and vision of both Gorbachev and Rajiv Gandhi made this possible in a unique manner.

The Delhi Declaration on the principles of a non-violent and non-nuclear world reflected a completely fresh approach in the nuclear world in which non-violence plays a vital role. It was a landmark document not just in the context of its advocacy of complete nuclear disarmament. It also made history through the Soviet ideological acceptance, for the first time, of the concept of non-violence. The Soviet leadership had initially refused to sign the condolence book following Mahatma Gandhi’s death saying Gandhi was an enigma for them as Gandhi had used the same expression by saying that the Soviet Union was an enigma for him. No Communist leader had dared to embrace Gandhi’s gospel of non-violence till Gorbachev mustered the courage to do it by getting rid of some of the ideological dogmas in Marxism. Credit should be given to Gorbachev for breaking new ground; it required tremendous courage, vision and insight for taking such a bold step. The Delhi Declaration reinforced the fading belief that idealism is possible in international politics and discourse. Marx gave way to the Mahatma as Gorbachev and Rajiv Gandhi joined hands to put their signatures on this unprecedented document. The central element of the Declaration was that non-violence must become the basis of human co-existence.

The ideas and principles enshrined in the Delhi Declaration were aimed at serving the greater interests of the entire mankind by saving it from ever-increasing violence and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Delhi Declaration strengthened the philoso-phical, political, moral, humanitarian and ethical aspects of the principles of non-use of force in interstate relations. The Declaration stipulated peaceful co-existence to be the universal norm in international relations. In the nuclear world, it is essential to rebuild interstate relations in such a manner that confrontation gives way to cooperation and conflict is resolved only through peaceful political means, not by military means.

It was an extraordinary document of utmost relevance. Gorbachev made an ideological turn-about by jettisoning the rigidity of Marx’s vision of history by affixing his signature on a declaration that celebrated non-violence. Both sides had to put their heads together for quite sometime for finalising the text of the Decla-ration. The novel document suggested that in the nuclear age, mankind must develop a new political thinking and a new concept of the world that provides sound guarantees for the survival of mankind.

The Declaration stressed that the world inherited by us belongs to the present and future generations alike—hence we must give priority to universal human values, pointing out that human life must be acknowledged as being of supreme value. The clause that suggested non-violence to become the foundation for human co-existence was perhaps the most significant aspect of the document. The reference to Gandhi’s non-violence in the document was exceptionally noteworthy with the CPSU General Secretary publicly subscribing to a concept that was so far perceived as anathema to Marxism.

Clause 14 of the Delhi Declaration on the enhancement of the effectiveness of the principle of non-use of force in international relations clearly underlines that states should make every effort to build their international relations on the basis of mutual understanding, trust, respect and cooperation in all spheres. Clause 21 stipulates that states should take appropriate confidence-building measures aimed at pre-venting and reducing tensions and creating a better climate for better international relations.

Both countries concretised their approach to further consolidate their bilateral relations and transform them into a key factor of international peace and security in general and in Asia in particular.

IT should be candidly admitted that when the Delhi Declaration was signed it did not attract much attention even in India and the USSR, not to speak of the rest of the world. However, gradually people across the world started realising that the document was a quantum jump towards the philosophy of not merely co-existence but global existence. The Delhi Declaration appeals to the global community to accept non-violence and non-use of force as the cardinal principles of international behaviour. A non-violent and nuclear-free world requires specific and immediate action for disarmament. It can be achieved through agree-ments on complete destruction of nuclear arms by the end of the 20th century, banning of all weapons from outer space, which is the common heritage of mankind, banning chemical weapons, banning of all nuclear tests, prohibition of development of new types of weapons of mass destruction.

Pending the elimination of nuclear weapons, India and the USSR proposed that an inter-national convention banning the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons should be concluded immediately. This was to constitute a major concrete step towards complete nuclear disarmament. Alas, the document did not receive due attention and could not be implemented.

Rajiv Gandhi is no more in this world. But the other signatory, the first and last Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, is still alive. Remembering the Declaration, Gorbachev says the ideas of Delhi Declaration are more relevant today than 25 years ago when it was signed. The Declaration called for complete destruction of nuclear arsenals before the end of the century, and asserted the importance of solving problems in a non-violent way, says Gorbachev, adding that it reflected the high expectation for a better world after the end of the Cold War, something which has since been utterly belied.

The US, which emerged as the world’s sole superpower after the Soviet disintegration, ‘does not know what to do with its status and is suffering from a victor’s complex’, says Gorbachev. The US-engineered crises in a host of countries prove there is no alternative to the rejection of violence in international affairs enshrined in the Delhi Declaration. Iran and some 30 other nuclear threshold countries can only be persuaded not to aspire for nuclear weapons. If the Big Five begin to effectively reduce their nuclear stockpiles, the threshold countries can be persuaded to not go ahead with their nuclear weapons programmes. However, the US has embarked on the path of upgrading its nuclear weapons, provoking Russia to do the same, Gorbachev emphasises.

The world knows that Gorbachev’s “new political thinking“ and “universal human values” were instruments to improve relations with the West and were designed primarily to be applied for appeasing the capitalist world. This is an erroneous interpretation. Gorbachev started talking about “new political thinking and universal human values“ in the context of Indo-Soviet relations as is evident from the Delhi Declaration. Gorbachev wanted the Delhi Declaration and Indo-Soviet relations to become the model to be emulated for strengthening ties with the Western countries, and thus improving the international climate to reduce tensions and halt the arms race, first of all the nuclear arms race. This is why Indo-Soviet relations reached their zenith and were transformed into a ‘special relationship’ under the initial years of Gorbachev as the CPSU General Secretary.

Gorbachev first sought to find inspiration for his concept of ‘new political thinking’ and ‘universal human values’ from the ancient civilisation of India and that is why turned the Indo-USSR friendship into a special relationship. In fact, the Gorbachev-Rajiv Gandhi years wit-nessed the highest level of bilateral engagement through the maximum number of Indo-Russian summits in the history of our bilateral ties. But then came the Reykjavik summit between Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan. Since then the Soviet leader started looking more and more towards the West giving less and less importance to India.

Rajiv Gandhi is no more. Gorbachev has ceased to be the CPSU General Secretary. The Soviet Union has disappeared from the political map of the world. Though the Delhi Declaration has been thrown into the dustbin of history, it still retains its relevance, much more than in the past. Gorbachev recognises that the Delhi Declaration was one of the most important documents that he had signed in his capacity as the CPSU General Secretary and leader of the other global superpower—the USSR.

‘I had a chance to take part in the creation and signing of many important documents. The Delhi Declaration is among the ones I am most proud of,’ declares Gorbachev.

Dr Arun Mohanty is a Professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is also the Director of the Eurasian Foundation.

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