The Nuclear World Post NPT RevCon 2010
Chair: Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee, Director, IPCS
Panelists: K Subrahmanyam, Senior Defence Analyst
Lalit Mansingh, Former Foreign Secretary of India
Siddharth Vardarajan, Strategic Affairs Editor, The Hindu
Yogesh Joshi, Research Officer, IPCS
Two contrasting tropes underlie the 2010 NPT Review Conference. First was the fear of the unraveling of the treaty. The 2010 NPT Revcon was construed as a make or break moment for the NPT. The second trope was regarding the new disarmament momentum of President Obama. The disarmament initiative of the Obama administration induced new optimism among members over the prospects for nuclear disarmament. Agreement on START and the new mellowed down Nuclear Posture Review is a testimony to the Obama efforts.
The NPT has a membership of 189 states. Article VIII of the treaty mandates Review Conferences every five years. In the 2010 Review Conference, a host of issues were discussed. After the first week of General Debate, three main committees were formed to discuss specific issues involved in nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Main Committee 1 discussed issues such as approaches to nuclear disarmament, irreversibility and verification; time bound disarmament, negative security assurances and the nuclear weapons convention. Main Committee 2 discussed the Middle East Weapons Free Zone, the issue of Additional Protocol, the legality of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and treaty’s Universality. Main Committee 3 reviewed Article IV and the inalienable right to Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (PUNE) and Multilateralisation of the Nuclear Fuel Cycles. It also extensively discussed the withdrawal clause under Article X.
The RevCon’s Final Draft reflected almost all of these discussions, but diluted the language. On disarmament, the RevCon came out with a 22 point action plan, and reaffirmed the unequivocal undertaking by all NWS to eliminate nuclear weapons. For the first time, RevCon’s final draft mentioned time bound disarmament as well as an explicit mention of the Nuclear Weapons Convention. On Additional Protocol, the final draft reasserted the voluntary nature of the safeguards. For the first time in the history of the NPT, the final draft explicitly called the non-signatory states– India, Pakistan and Israel – to unilaterally disarm and join the NPT as a NNWS. The NWS denied providing legally verifiable negative security assurances to the NNWS, evident in the final draft’s diluted language. However, the conference’s most important contribution has been the renewal of the disarmament process in the Middle East. The final draft called upon the relevant state parties to participate in an UN-sponsored regional disarmament conference in 2012, and has asked the UN Secretary General to appoint a facilitator for the job.
The NPT holds that the P-5 countries have the right to bear nuclear weapons, while other signatory states would have access to safeguarded nuclear fuel. In the last ten years, under the Bush presidency for example, attempts have been made to renegotiate elements of this core bargain in a way that is further unfavorable to NNWS. These efforts include attempts at restricting access to fuel processing, enrichment facilities, etc. In addition, proposals have circulated of a higher degree of safeguards over and beyond those originally envisaged, including tinkering with article X, making additional protocols mandatory. Furthermore, a US measure to censure North Korea for having withdrawn from the treaty further indicates the undermining the voluntary nature of the original treaty.
Against this backdrop, of a decade of tightening the rules for both NWS and NNWS states, the consensus achieved at the end of RevCon 2010 should be viewed as a success. As reflected in his Prague speech, President Obama is viewed in a different light from his predecessor in terms of global disarmament, and the Revcon 2010 has allowed for the build-up of momentum of how the world would treat nuclear weapons. This would be accomplished with minimal adjustments to the right of the US to use nuclear weapons in any ways that it sees fit. In light of the recent Nuclear Posture Review and statements on nuclear security, the Revcon endorses the Obama approach, and frees the US in dealing with its nuclear forecast. Under issues in Main Committee III, including Article X, fuel enrichment, etc, the US got the Revcon to endorse the validity or importance of its initiatives, even though the language fell far short, including the need to continue this discussion and require a greater role of the Security Council. In terms of drafting new rules, the NPT fell short of what the US would have wanted to achieve.
On the Middle East NWFZ, the final draft reflects a compromise which the US had to accept for fear that the 2010 Revcon would collapse like its predecessor. However, the negative statements from high ranking US officials, such as National Security Advisor James Jones, have rendered meaningless the concept of having another conference on the issue. Eventually, the US would strip it, or wriggle its way out of it. If the NWFZ does however gain momentum, the focus would be on Israel’s regional actions, including Gaza. It also has the possibility of dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, something the US would view with great interest. The introduction of a Nuclear Weapons Free Middle East Zone is a setback to Israel, and it will be interesting to see its dynamics unfold.
With the Revcon out of the way, the Obama administration can get back to business as usual in moving forward with the question of the CTBT ratification, the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty, and further strengthening of commerce rules at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The CTBT remains where it was, with no foreseen momentum for gaining ground towards its ratification in the Senate. The FMCT is where the secretary general’s conference might energize discussions on that front. One issue which needs to be flagged is the upcoming NSG meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, where enrichment and reprocessing facilities would be discussed. India would view this with concern, as discussions could undo a part of the waiver it received from the civil nuclear deal.
Irritatingly, India has been clubbed with Pakistan over the need to strengthen its nuclear export laws, which under an ideal world the US would have opposed. At the same time, it should be observed that the India-Pakistan nuclear program is not viewed in the same light as North Korea, which is viewed as a threat to peace and security in North East Asia. Furthermore, it is disappointing that there was no revision of doctrines, including no-first use which came up in the final statement.
Amb. Lalit Mansingh
I will try to add a few comments to what all have been said. I differ from the cynicism which Siddhartha expressed over the NPT, and would rather like to dilute it in my presentation. To judge the NPT as success or failure depends on one’s point of view. If one had high expectations from the RevCon, it would be counted as a failure. However, if you had low expectations, it may be seen as a success. About high expectations, I will give two examples. One is the Australian-Japan commission known as the International Commission on non-proliferation and disarmament. The commission expected the Revcon to bring out a 20 point statement updating the 13 practical steps of the 2000 RevCon. They wanted results in three areas. First was the joint consensus statement; second was to strengthen the NPT and NSG; and third was the issue of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free zone. Similarly, the Middle Powers Initiative announced a series of their expectations. However, others thought that the 2010 RevCon was a success since it resulted in the final document unlike the disaster of the 2005 RevCon.
Coming to the issues which affect India in particular, there are four basic concerns: India’s status as a Nuclear Weapon Power, the question of CTBT, FMCT, and a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East. The RevCon made it pretty clear that the de jure status for India’s nuclear weapons program is extremely unlikely. Heavy criticism of the Indo-US nuclear deal followed. Though, the US tried to convince others that the fallouts of the deal are not detrimental to the non-proliferation regime, it did not come out with a robust defence of India, as was during the Bush years. The CTBT is another important issue. It will be very hard for President Obama to get the treaty ratified in his first term if we look at the numbers available to him in the Senate. This delay in US ratification also comforts many of our brethren in the India strategic community who feel the need for more nuclear tests, at least to prove our thermonuclear capabilities. However, this is a false hope. The world is inevitably moving towards nuclear zero. CTBT will be ratified, and when that occurs, pressure will be on China, and then we also have to comply. If we do not, severe consequences will result. We will lose the status of a responsible nuclear power. There will be economic sanctions. India will also have to forget the dreams of being a great power. On FMCT, some of our strategic thinkers have taken comfort in Pakistan’s dilly dallying in the CD. This is nothing but short-sightedness. There is serious movement towards making CD more effective in taking the negotiations forward or bypassing the CD to move forward on the issue. The question is what will be the impact of such a move on our strategic posture? Many in the US have been asking India to review its nuclear doctrine and to bring in more transparency. We have kept our nuclear policy deliberately ambiguous. Much has happened since 1998, and we have to come out with fresh ideas to accommodate the changing realities.
Our conventional thinking has been that NWFZ’s are inconsequential for our security. We need to take a different view. There are six declared nuclear weapons free zones in the world today. Yesterday, in a conference in the National Maritime Foundation, Mr. Subrahmanyam said that Iran’s nuclear weapons are directed against the Sunni states of Middle East, rather than Israel. If that is so, a major realignment of political forces is taking place in the Middle East. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has taken a pretty clear and unambiguous position on this. We are clearly against any development of nuclear weapons by Iran. Any clandestine development of nuclear weapons will be against our security interests. In this case, we can make a common cause with the Sunni states in the Middle East to stop Iran from proliferating. If push comes to shove and we have to make a choice between Iran and the states in the Middle East, we should align with the Arab states.
Mr K Subrahmanyam
The NPT review conference of 1995 did maximum damage by extending the NPT indefinitely and unconditionally, thereby legitimizing nuclear weapons. Review conferences, barring this significant one, have been reduced to rituals because of treaty obligations, where discussions take place on developments which have occurred outside the NPT. The most significant development this year would have to be the statement by President Obama that the risks of nuclear confrontation have decreased, while the risks of nuclear attacks have increased. For the first time, a country that argued that proliferation was posing a great threat to the world, has now said that the risk is coming down. If that was the case, why are we discussing non-proliferation among states in the Revcon, instead of the risk that non-state actors pose to the world?
Significantly, countries which argued for greater transparency in India’s nuclear program hid numbers of their own nuclear arsenal from 1945 to 2010. The US and Britain announced the number of nuclear weapons they have, and it brings into the focus the question of minimal deterrence and its magnitude of repercussions. Secondly, a conference which emphasized the safety of nuclear materials, prescribed an action plan and a number of steps to achieve the action plan is a reflection of the earlier established NPT Action Plan. The announcement by Russia and the US to cut down on their nuclear arsenal has nothing to do with the NPT or the Revcon. This is indicative that moves towards disarmament would be independent and are not going to occur through the NPT processes.
Obama’s NPR possesses a distinct change in tone and rhetoric. Obama wanted to include no-first use, but was overruled by the Senate and so a compromise was made in that it authorizes use only in extreme circumstances. In that sense, the NPT should also be seen as a success for having a final document, but without any real substance.
There is an agreement in thought that the 2012 Nuclear Free Middle East Conference would not have any result. It wasn’t only James Jones who was critical of the venture, but even Obama himself had regretted the special mention of Israel in the final document. Israel will not disarm even if a new peace agreement is signed with the Palestinians which provide them a homeland, and therefore hold little expectation for the outcome of the conference.
We should spend time developing our own nuclear posture independent of the NPT, and how it evolves into a relationship with the other powers of the world. At no point of time since the 1970s have we been in agreement with the Non-Aligned Movement on the nuclear issue. Rumors such as giving India position as a Nuclear Weapons power would unravel the NPT, and therefore would not be seriously considered. The NPT regime is held up by one hegemonic power, supported by the other four hegemonic powers.
On 11 May 1998, I had endorsed the CTBT and FMCT, because I do not go by the question of number of warheads or the explosive capabilities of the warheads, also because a nuclear war is not winnable. No substantive literature exists on how to initiate, sustain, and end a nuclear war meaningfully with military resources. Political considerations and its troubled neighborhood dictated. It had nothing to do with a thought process towards using nuclear weapons. However, we should use our leverage over the CTBT to reinforce the pillars of the NPT in the neighborhood, which are being violated under the disguise of energy deals.
I would support China giving Chasma III and IV to Pakistan, because it would deter Pakistan from attacking India, since the reactors become vulnerable to an Indian counter-strike, especially since they would all be located in one region. What should be worrying the international community is the plutonium producing reactors Chasma II and III in terms of an arms race, to be seen in context of the latest figures, which suggest that Pakistan has a quantitative advantage over India in fissile material. However, India should build on its successful second strike capability, which does not require an arms race.
The extra plutonium is not targeted against India, but would be supplied to Saudi Arabia. This should be seen in the context of the missile proliferation nexus between China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The extra plutonium warheads of Pakistan would help the Saudis counter the nuclear ambitions of the Iranians, which is seen as a serious threat to the Saudi influence in the region. It holds behind it a more divisive relationship of Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam, which is as old as Islam itself. This should be factored in with the Iranian importance vis-à-vis Afghanistan, in India’s dealing with the precarious situation.
- In order to have a fissile material treaty with Pakistan, we would need to ensure a verification regime exists.
- The nuclear figures released by the US and UK are limited to deployed weapons only, and not the numbers held in the arsenal.
- We need to articulate how nuclear weapons figure in our overall security doctrine as opposed to a political doctrine. This is because when dealing with states, it is not relevant what you believe, however, what the other person believes should be relevant.
- The exchange ratio is not to be viewed in quantitative terms but in qualitative terms. The costs of losing one target should be made subjectively high enough to deter even the complete annihilation of the adversary.
- It is important for India to consider moving to recognize the Indo-US or Indo-NSG agreement as an International agreement which would bypass the laws which govern nuclear commerce between states in NWFZ and non-NPT signatories.
- China is using the grandfather clause to cover its nuclear relationship with Pakistan, however, if internationally opposed; it would make China in open violation of an international agreement.
- The North Korean economic situation would force it to succumb to the pressures of the West sooner than later.
- It is important to note that while Israel is singled out for not contributing to a NWFZ in the Middle East, it has introduced a similar notion in 1980 wherein bilateral agreements with a security assurance for Israel could have been signed, which would have facilitated such a move.
- The unnatural relationship between a Shiite state (Iran) and a group formed from the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas leads to the possibility of a working relationship between Al-Qaeda and Iran. This would be troublesome in light of the continued militarization of the Iranian nuclear program.
- Linking the two issues of political/ territorial disputes with that of nuclear disarmament is dangerous, since it would not lead to a resolution.
- The Chinese role in the Middle East needs greater scrutiny, wherein it is continuing to provide through proxy channels nuclear support to Iran and playing a double game in the international arena.
- Indian interests do not lie in the NPT Revcon, but in the external developments which have shaped the final outcome of the NPT Revcon 2010.
- India does not have a vision or a goal as to what it wants to accomplish in the neighbourhood, and as a result we are always playing catch up with the Chinese.
- The NPT Revcon, while being a ritual. is important in international politics, for it has a membership which is surpassed only by the United Nations. Its importance can also be traced to the formation of the NWFZ around the world, the rolling back of nuclear program, and having only three non-NPT nuclear weapon states. This would explain why NPT continues to hold importance in the international system than a bilateral arrangement with India, which was asked to join it.
- We look at deterrence vis-à-vis irrational state actors, however, the very nature of irrational behavior leads to the fallacy of the argument.
- It is India’s official policy that we are NPT compliant without being signatory to the NPT. Therefore we are not moving to degrade it, but moving towards a Non-Proliferation Regime, rather than a treaty.
- We have often forgotten that the Middle East is a strategic area for us, and our security is bound in the security of the Middle East, and therefore we need to play a more active role.
- Israel became a nuclear power in 1967, and in this way it was defective that it did not acknowledge Israel into the original nuclear powers.
- The reason for the NPT’s success was not the treaty but alliance management, which meant a nuclear umbrella for the Non-Nuclear Weapon States. However, the fallacy of this argument is akin to being a self described teetotaler because one doesn’t pay for his drinks. For example, Germany which was trained in handling nuclear weapons and had nuclear weapons on its soil was called a non-nuclear weapons state.
Yogesh Joshi and Siddharth Ramana
Research Officers, IPCS