India and Global Nuclear Disarmament
Yogesh Joshi ·       

Nuclear Disarmament is in vogue again. Relinquished in the ‘dustbin of history’ after the cold war and especially during the regime of President Bush, it has risen like a phoenix to become one of the most pivotal concerns of the contemporary world. Partly, credit goes to President Obama, and US interests in general: since his Prague speech, the drive towards disarmament has gained unprecedented momentum. However, even though the initial steps towards arms control taken by great powers are extremely important, if the goal of disarmament is to be realized, other nuclear powers will have to pitch in. Having been recognized as a nuclear-armed state, thanks to the Indo-US nuclear deal, where does India stand on the issue of nuclear disarmament? In this context, India and the Global Nuclear Disarmament edited by Lt Gen (Retd) V R Raghavan provides considerable insight into India’s position on global nuclear zero.  

Though most of the chapters in this edition accept the threat posed by non-state actors as the most important reason behind the current process of disarmament, many have put forward some more intriguing hypothesis. For Shyam Saran, stopping threshold nuclear states like Iran is an important motivation for the US to take disarmament seriously.  Manpreeth Sethi, on the other hand, points to the threat posed by ‘states of proliferation concern’ (page 13). These are states that actively use the cover of nuclear weapons to pursue their revisionist goals: Pakistan fits the bill in the Indian subcontinent and North Korea in East Asian region.

The authors agree that national security should be the parameter on which merits of nuclear disarmament are to be judged. Gurmeet Kanwal asserts that a nation’s arms control and disarmament policy should be based on the necessities of its external security. He explicates three conditions for successful arms control and disarmament treaties depending upon their effects: First, arms control treaties should decrease the probability of war; second, reduce the consequences in case war occurs; third, reduce the costs for preparing for war (page 63). He argues that China’s outlook towards disarmament will be a ‘litmus test’ for India’s participation in the process. In a characteristically different take on the issue of China, Manpreeth Sethi argues that since India has no designs against China and is satisfied with the status quo, India can deter China’s conventional superiority with a modest increase in its conventional strength. This assessment suggests that India requires a nuclear deterrent only against China’s nuclear capability and not its conventional weapons, and is in harmony with India’s nuclear posture: Nuclear deterrence is meaningful only against nuclear threats.

Sethi further argues that only a nuclear free world would be in the overall interests of India’s national security; mere arms control will not suffice. For her, the most salutary consequences of nuclear disarmament would be in the theatre of asymmetrical conflict with Pakistan. In a nuclear free world, India will be willing to use its superior conventional military power in case of Pakistan’s recalcitrance. The threat of a major conventional war would act as a deterrent against Pakistan and its continued support for terrorism. Unlike the restraint imposed upon India in responding to Pakistan's deliberate provocations in the last couple of decades because of the presence of nuclear weapons, in a nuclear free world, India can make full use of its comparative advantage in conventional weapons. The same logic underlines both Rajesh Rajagopalan and Gurmeet Kanwal’s forceful argument that India should resist any linkage between nuclear disarmament and reduction in conventional weapons whenever the process of disarmament gains momentum.

Arvind Gupta highlights the persistent tendency among Western nations to reduce disarmament into an exercise of arms control. NPT, CTBT or FMCT, treaties which should have been viewed through the lenses of disarmament, were reduced to the convenience of arms control. In this light, Rajesh Rajagopalan makes an interesting argument. He asserts that despite a number of successful arms control treaties in the history of disarmament negotiations, disarmament still remains a distant goal. While India’s stand against nuclear weapons emanates from a moral judgement, which is that nuclear weapons are inherently evil in character, the western approach on disarmament, on the other hand, is historically predicated upon the stability of the nuclear equation and in recent times, on the dangers of non-state actors and threshold states. The very rationale behind Western approaches is perilous to the cause of disarmament since there is a probability that if these short-term interests are met or are perceived to be met by some intermediate and ad hoc steps, the West may not be willing to take the extra burden of carrying forward the process to its logical conclusion.

Existing nuclear practices in India are in line with its commitment to the goal of disarmament. For Kanwal, India’s adherence to a credible minimum deterrence (CMD), its unambiguous declaration of a no first use, relinquishment of the use of tactical nukes and the de-mated and de-alerted status of nuclear weapons point in the same direction. According to him, India’s nuclear doctrine is “anchored in India’s continued commitment to nuclear disarmament”. Kanwal asserts that India should have no problem in signing the CTBT or the FMCT. Most of the contributions in this edited volume accept that delegitimization of the use of nuclear weapons, promulgating a no first use pledge and a universal treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons such as the model Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) on the lines of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are some practical suggestions that India could contribute in the quest for global nuclear zero. However, one of the thorniest issues in this context is India’s continuous production of fissile material. Unlike NWS of the NPT, all of whom have declared a moratorium on fissile material production, India has no such intentions. Prof Rajaraman argues that even though the question of India’s fissile material needs is technical in nature, it is also politically significant since it directly impinges on India’s nuclear doctrine. According to him, the ‘how much’ question can be answered by converting the ‘qualitative idea’ of both CMD and massive retaliation - the edifice of India’s nuclear doctrine - into a concrete number; perhaps a hundred nuclear weapons will be enough for India to maintain a robust deterrent.

This book is an original contribution to India’s approach to global nuclear disarmament. The prose is lucid and the arguments are engaging. However, the weakest link is the conspicuous neglect of the intricacies of domestic politics. The authors have assumed that there will automatically emerge a domestic consensus once national security issues are adequately addressed. However, in the India polity, nuclear weapons are much more than just instruments of national survival. They also play a role in bureaucratic and identity politics. The scientific community is a quintessential example, within which ‘bomb bureaucracy’ meets ‘atomic identity’. The ruckus over safeguarding the fast breeder reactor programme during the Indo-US nuclear deal and the debate surrounding the success of the 1998 nuclear weapons tests provides a picture of the complexity of disarmament in the Indian context.