Is a Nuclear Bargain Possible?

28 Nov, 1997    ·   32

P. R. Chari says that India might agree to a moratorium on testing and production of fissile material for weapons/military purposes if the United States and Russia (joined at a later stage by other nuclear weapon states) linked it to the reduction of nuclear stockpiles

A two-year interaction between the Asia Society, Japan Institute of International Affairs and select individuals from India and Pakistan has just concluded. Two conferences were held in 1996 ( New York and New Delhi ) that focussed on the future of nuclear energy. Two more conferences were held in 1997 ( Tokyo and Islamabad ) that discussed nuclear strategy and nuclear policy. A report on these deliberations will be published by the Asia Society for world-wide dissemination to policy-makers and the strategic community.



During these discussions the view-point was expressed that, whilst nuclear weapons have lost their relevance in the international security system, no effort seems to be proceeding in the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to delegitimise the maintenance of nuclear arsenals. On the contrary, efforts were proceeding to develop new techniques for testing the reliability of existing nuclear stockpiles, develop new nuclear weapons without field-testing, and find new military purposes for using these weapons in actual combat.



Undoubtedly, major political and economic problems are involved in the elimination of nuclear weapons. But, the unwillingness of the NWS to even consider the possibility of contemplating and negotiating the achievement of this objective over a foreseeable time frame is egregious. Their simultaneous demand that the Nuclear Capable States (NCS) should abandon their nuclear option and that the NNWS should continue their nuclear abstinence seems both unjust and illogical.



In South Asia , the dialogue between India and Pakistan is practically non-existent. Their ambiguous nuclear postures have yet to stabilise their relations in any meaningful way. On the other hand, the introduction of missiles into the sub-continent that could potentially be equipped with nuclear warheads adds to existing tensions between them. It is generally accepted now that rolling back their nuclear capabilities is not a feasible or realistic option. On the other hand, the possibility that India might conduct a nuclear test, and reports about its location of Prithvi missiles close to Pakistan’s border fuelled apprehensions that a nuclear-missile arms race could develop between them and lead on to a more dangerous level of military confrontation.








A realistic approach to reinforcement of nuclear restraints in South Asia must start with the fact that India and Pakistan have established the capability to make nuclear weapons, even if, unlike Israel , they have, perhaps, not assembled them. They should, therefore, be treated as a category different from States that have either exercised or renounced their nuclear option. Note should also be taken of the fact that India has not conducted a test explosion since 1974, while Pakistan has refrained altogether from testing and, in addition, discontinued the production of fissile uranium since 1990. Both countries have pursued a responsible policy by refraining from the transfer of nuclear technology.



In these circumstances, a modus vivendi to the intractable issues of global and South Asian non-proliferation could be sought at several intersecting levels in the form of mutual bargains. They are described below:



A grand bargain can be visualised between the NWS, NCS and NNWS. In return for the NWS proceeding towards eliminating their nuclear weapons, the NCS would keep their nuclear option constrained, and the NNWS would abjure their rights to exercise their nuclear option.



In the ad interim period a bargain between the NWS and NCS could be devised for pursuit over the shorter term. The following actions could be taken by the NWS towards approaching the objective of eliminating their nuclear weapons:



·                     De-targeting/de-alerting their nuclear missiles


·                     Establishing a UN register of nuclear weapons in the interests of greater transparency


·                     Separation of nuclear warheads from missiles


·                     Placing excess weapons grade fissile materials from retired nuclear weapons and production facilities under international control


·                     Make a firm commitment in a multilateral forum to their objective of nuclear disarmament and ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons


·                     Issue security assurances to all NNWS that they (NWS) would not use nuclear weapons against them


·                     In return the following actions could be taken by the NCS


·                     Despite periodical alarms they have not tested their nuclear devices – this restraint should be formalised into their declaration of an indefinite moratorium on nuclear testing


·                     A similar moratorium could be declared by the NCS on the further production of fissile materials for weapons purpose


·                     A declaration could also be made revealing their stocks of weapons usable fissile materials


·                     Their present restraints in transferring nuclear/missile technology could be incorporated within a suitable legal framework


·                     Additionally, India has broached the possibility of making a bilateral no-first use of nuclear capabilities pledge to Pakistan . Implicit in that proposal is the idea that neither will be the first to produce nuclear weapons. This needs pursuit


The Indian stance on CTBT and the proposed FMCT could also be probed in greater depth.



India might agree to a moratorium on testing and production of fissile material for weapons/military purposes if the United States and Russia (joined at a later stage by other nuclear weapon states) linked it to the reduction of nuclear stockpiles. Pakistan may also be expected to endorse such a coupling, since it has been prepared to join any restraint regime in South Asia to which India has subscribed. This could form the subject of negotiations with the United States within the ambit of the strategic dialogue initiated between them.