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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 32

Indo-US Nuclear Deal: India Backtracks on Disarmament

Wednesday 30 July 2008, by N D Jayaprakash

The text of the Indo-US nuclear deal, which is titled “Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of India and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy” (also known as the 123 Agreement) and which was released on August 3, 2007, is totally silent on the issue of nuclear disarmament. This is wholly contradictory to the explicit assurance made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his statement before Parliament in response to the discussion on the proposed Indo-US nuclear deal. In para 13 (viii) of his statement on August 17, 2006, Dr Manmohan Singh had categorically assured Members of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) as follows:

Our comitment towards non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament remains unwavering, in line with the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan. There is no dilution on this count.

It may be recalled that Dr Manmohan Singh was referring to the “Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-Violent World”, which the late Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had submitted before the UN General Assembly on June 9, 1988 during the Third UN Special Session on Disarmament. The issue of nuclear disarmament is crucial to any deal on peaceful uses of nuclear energy precisely because of the inherent suspicion that transfer of nuclear material and nuclear technology may be misused for production of nuclear weapons. Therefore, what is intriguing is that, despite Dr Manmohan Singh’s categorical assurance that “there is no dilution on this count”, even the word “disarmament” is completely missing from the entire text of the 123 Agreement. Instead, there is overt emphasis on what is called non-proliferation in the preamble to the 123 Agreement.

On August 13, 2007, Dr Manmohan Singh reiterated that he had stood by all the commitments he had made before Parliament on August 17, 2006. However, it is again evident that a notable omission from the said commitments was regarding the question of nuclear disarmament. Instead, Dr Manmohan Singh categorically asserted in para 22 of his statement dated August 13, 2007 that:

We stand for the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime as the infirmities in this regime have affected our security interests. We will work together with the international community to advance our common objective of non-proliferation.

From Foe to Friend of NPT

Upholding the concept of non-proliferation marks a clear departure from India’s long-held principle position on the issue. For the first time since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968, the Government of India has de facto extended support to the NPT, which the Government of India had consistently opposed during the last 39 years due to the inherently discriminatory nature of the NPT. In a quid-pro-quo move, the United States has de facto recognised India as a nuclear weapon state and has ensured India’s back-door entry into the club of “recognised” nuclear weapon powers, a move which is in consonance with its strategic tie-up with India. Since the United States has de facto recognised India as a nuclear weapon state, India’s opposition to the NPT has vanished without a trace and it has readily teamed up with the United States to propagate the virtues of non-proliferation! Neither side had tried to conceal this convergence of views since the same is stated explicitly in the preamble to the 123 Agreement. In fact there are three specific references regarding commitment to non-proliferation in the preamble:

(a) Affirming that cooperation under this Agreement is between two States possessing advanced nuclear technology, both Parties having the same benefits and advantages, both committed to preventing WMD proliferation.

(b) Affirming their support for the objectives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its safeguards system, as applicable to India and the United States of America, and its importance in ensuring that international co-operation in development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is carried out under arrangements that will not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devises.

(c) Mindful of their shared commitment to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

A mutual commitment by India and the United States to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction may have been a very welcome step if it was evident what was meant by the word “proliferation”. Unfortunately, no attempt has been made to define the word “proliferation” under Article I of the 123 Agreement, which is ‘Definitions’. (Incidentally, the word “proliferation” is not defined even in the text of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was extended indefinitely in 1995.) The fact that there can be two types of proliferation is sought to be hidden: “vertical” proliferation (increase in numbers and destructive capacity of nuclear weapons within a nuclear weapon state); and “horizontal” proliferation (increase in the number of nuclear weapon possessing countries).

It is historically evident that, under the NPT regime, the word “proliferation” was used exclusively in the sense of “horizontal” proliferation; limiting “vertical” proliferation was practically never on the agenda of the NPT. [Article VI of the NPT, which was supposed to address the issue of “vertical” proliferation, was to be “pursued in good faith”. The total indifference of the nuclear weapon states (NWSs) in implementing the said Article VI even 37 years after the NPT remaining in force, thoroughly exposes the bankruptcy of the NPT.] Therefore, there is no basis to presume that the word “proliferation” has been used in any other sense than as “horizontal” proliferation in the 123 Agreement.

Having hitch-hiked on to the bandwagon of “recognised” nuclear weapon states (courtesy the United States), India has now virtually become the most vociferous supporter of the NPT. The entire exercise of giving covert “recognition” to India as a nuclear weapon state thoroughly exposes the wholly deceptive nature of the NPT, which is that the NPT is merely the handmaiden of the United States for serving its interests. On its part, India has had no compunctions in jettisoning its long-held principled stand—of championing the cause of global nuclear disarmament—in lieu of the dubious honour of being covertly conferred “recognition” as a nuclear weapon state by the United States. Ultimately, India’s subjective craving for “recognition” as a nuclear weapon state has triumphed over its objective stand as a champion of global nuclear disarmament.

Reneging on Disarmament

Just a month after Dr Mammohan Singh gave his assurance to Parliament regarding India’s commitment to global nuclear disarmament, the Indian Prime Minister had made a similar commitment before the XIV Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit at Havana on September 15, 2006. Dr Manmohan Singh had stated that:

…it is a matter of regret that the issue of disarmament and the special focus on nuclear disarmament has been marginalised in global discourse. Even though India is a state in possession of nuclear weapons, we strongly believe that the best guarantee against the threat of proliferation of WMD lies in disarmament. In 1988 Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had presented to the UN General Assembly a detailed and credible Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament. I believe the time has come for NAM to once again assume an active and leading role in advocating nuclear disarmament. [emphasis added]

Earlier, the India-EU [European Union] Strategic Partnership—Joint Action Plan, which was adopted in New Delhi on September 7, 2005, too had emphasised that:

India and the EU have a shared interest in working towards achieving the goals and objectives of universal disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

[emphasis added]

The Joint Action Plan went on to state that:

We will establish a bilateral India-EU Security Dialogue at Senior Official level which will include regular consultations on global and regional security issues, disarmament and non-proliferation to increase mutual understanding and identify possible areas of cooperation. [emphasis added]

While the European Union has had no hesitation in seeking to achieve the goal of “universal disarmament” along with India, it is evident from the recent Indo-US joint statements that the United States is extremely allergic to the very word “disarmament”. The United States apparently despises the word “disarmament” to such an extent that the word “disarmament” is not mentioned even once in any of the joint statements that the United States has issued with India especially in relation to the Indo-US nuclear deal. (In fact, by 1997 itself the US Administration actually went to the extent of merging the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), which was set up by President Kennedy as an independent agency in 1961, with the US Department of State. The downgraded functions of the ACDA have been handed over to an Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, a post that has been lying vacant for a long time! The sordid treatment meted out to the ACDA exemplifies the attitude of the US Administration towards disarmament.)

India’s decision to backtrack on its commitment to disarmament is all the more inexplicable since India has always recognised the direct link between disarmament and development and Dr Manmohan Singh himself had prioritised the fight against poverty as one of his primary concerns. In his reply on August 3, 2005 to the Lok Sabha (Lower House) debate on his visit to the US in July 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh had stated:

What we are seeking is that we need an international environment which is supportive of our development efforts. India’s principal concern is to get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and diseases which still afflict millions and millions of our population. Great things have been done since India became independent but that journey to get rid of poverty is still unfinished and we will make all efforts domestically to reach that goal. In the world that we live in, no nation today can prosper independently.

Furthermore, in his suo-motu statement on March 7, 2006 before Parliament on ‘Discussions on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation with the US: Implementation of India’s Separation Plan’, Dr Manmohan Singh had reiterated that:

I believe that the needs of the people of India must become the central agenda for our international cooperation.

In his reply on March 11, 2006 in the Lok Sabha to the debate on civil nuclear energy cooperation with the United States, Dr Manmohan Singh had also stated that:

I can assure this hon. House that pursuit of India’s enlightened national interest is the dominating concern and it is this concern which has guided us in dealing with the United States.

Therefore, the question is: is the issue of universal disarmament in India’s supreme national interest? If “India’s principal concern is to get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and diseases” and if “the needs of the people of India must become the central agenda for our international cooperation”, as the PM has argued, is it possible to do so without arresting the mindless expenditure towards arms build-up? Is it possible to do so without ensuring the diversion of the same for developmental purposes? The fact that India is now willing to sacrifice the goal of universal disarmament for a strategic tie-up with the United States does not augur well for India’s own future and for the future of the rest of the world. Such a stance on the part of India constitutes nothing but a betrayal of the principles and purposes of the Non-Aligned Movement. It would also nullify the call of Dr Manmohan Singh at the XIV NAM Summit at Havana on September 15, 2006 to “fellow members of NAM to join us in our efforts to achieve universal nuclear disarmament and a world free of all nuclear weapons.”

Honourable Way Out

In a rearguard action, but in a manner that is totally outside the context of the 123 Agreement, the Prime Minister has, in para 19 of his statement dated August 13, 2007, reiterated India’s commitment to “non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament”

The PM has repeated that:

Our commitment to universal, non-discriminatory and total elimination of nuclear weapons remains undiminished. It was this vision of a world free of nuclear weapons which Shri Rajiv Gandhi put before the UN in 1988 and this still has universal resonance.

Furthermore, in para 21 of his statement, the PM has added that:

Despite changes in government and changes in political leadership we have always tempered the exercise of our strategic autonomy with a sense of global responsibility and with a commitment to the ideals of general and complete disarmament, including global nuclear disarmament.

Indeed, if the PM is so committed to the goal of universal disarmament, the only honourable way for India to demonstrate such commitment is to take the initiative in convening an international conference on global nuclear disarmament forthwith with the explicit objective of declaring the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons as a crime against humanity. Such a conference can also work out a timetable for the elimination of nuclear weapons and for proceeding towards the ultimate goal of general and complete disarmament on the lines of the McCloy-Zorin accord, which was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 20, 1961, and on the lines of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan of 1988. If the Government of India fails to take steps to advance the cause of universal disarmament, the PM will expose himself as a person indulging in double-speak. If he does initiate such steps, concrete progress towards nuclear disarmament will have the power of making any unjust nuclear deal infructuous (provided, of course, appropriate precautions are taken against any adverse economic impact arising from the deal).

N.D. Jayaprakash belongs to the Delhi Science Forum.

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