Keeping in mind that knowledge on nuclear issues does not sediment in time and opinions are not appropriated by certain sections of the society, participation of young scholars in the nuclear debate and their role in providing fresh perspectives on the issue is crucial. Such an opportunity was provided by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, to a group of MPhil students from the Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Under the Project on Nuclear Issues run by CSIS, an Indo-US Young Scholars Dialogue was organized in Washington, DC on 6 and 7 April 2010. In the process, issues of great consequence for nuclear proliferation and disarmament came up for intense discussion. The panel discussions included issues such as the impending nuclear renaissance and its impact on non-proliferation and disarmament, nuclear terrorism, the crisis enveloping the NPT, the instability- stability debate in South Asia and, the new disarmament momentum and arms control agenda. However, there were certain seminal points which came out of the discussion and in fact provide a glimpse of the vivacity and forcefulness of the dialogue.
The role of India in the non-proliferation regime and the consequences of Indo-US nuclear deal on the NPT was the focus of the discussion. The fundamental point which came up in this regard was that the non-proliferation regime is not limited to the NPT. Whether it is the Nuclear Supplier’s Group or the Proliferation Security Initiative, NPT is only one, though a very important element, of the non-proliferation regime and therefore, if the Indo-US deal allows India to be formally a part of the regime, it must be seen as a welcome step. However, a case against such backdoor entries in to the non-proliferation regime and selective privileging of certain countries being detrimental to the overall health of the NPT regime was also forcefully presented. Arguments were made for a recreation of the NPT or accommodation of the outlier countries such as India, Pakistan, and Israel. There appeared to be healthy consensus on the fact that reshaping of the NPT is surely beyond realms of possibility and accommodation of the outlier countries can lead to the unraveling of the NPT.
Equally important was the issue of nuclear terrorism. Although there appeared to be a consensus that terrorists can acquire or can at least try to acquire nuclear weapons, the common assumptions of terrorists necessarily using Weapons of Mass Destruction was questioned since such acts can erode the very legitimacy of any terrorist organization. The safety and security of weapons in nuclear armed states with internal conflicts and precarious domestic situations also came up for intense discussion, especially in the context of Pakistan. Without denying the probability of theft or other contingent situations, cogent arguments were made against prospects of terrorists laying their hands on a state’s nuclear weapons.
Intense was the discussion on the issue of the advent of nuclear weapons in the South Asian region and the concomitant stability-instability paradox. Worth noting was the participants’ focus on the changing nuclear doctrines and the postures of both India and Pakistan, especially the pessimistic scenario it generates when it comes to the matter of nuclear exchange. In other words, the flux in which the nuclear strategy of India finds itself was targeted as the primary source of instability in the regional nuclear scenario. The cacophony which the chaotic domestic political situation engenders, especially the rousing public opinions in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in India, was also situated among the many sources of instability.
As far as the new disarmament momentum was concerned, concerns were raised regarding the mismatch between rhetoric and action of the leading players. The pessimistic opinions were however diluted by the release of the Nuclear Posture Review and the signing of the new START agreement. Concerns were also raised on the possibility of the new arms control agenda being appropriated by the powerful states to discipline others, especially the so called rogue states, rather than availing the opportunity to take concerted steps towards disarmament. The role of India in the new wave of disarmament also came up for intense scrutiny and questions were raised regarding India’s position in this regard. The dilution of the India’s No First Use policy and the rapid accumulation of fissile material were considered to be in contention with India’s overall position on disarmament.
Over all, the exercise of involving young scholars from the two countries allowed a real flow of ideas and opinions on matters nuclear. Listening to the way others feel about the subject adds much to one’s own understanding of the subject and vitiates obvious downfalls of one-sided political analysis. However, a point worth noting is that such dialogues should not over-emphasize on regional dynamics be it of South Asia or any other region. Contextualization helps in retaining focus; however, over-contextualization leads to the creation of a false picture of regional uniqueness. Disarmament may have regional connotations but it is essentially a global issue.