Review: Possibility of Replication of Arms Reduction

08 Mar, 2013    ·   3839

Shubhra Chaturvedi reviews the RUSI's Whitehall Report on, "Small Nuclear Forces, Five Perspectives"

Shubhra Chaturvedi
Shubhra Chaturvedi
Research Officer

Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

The Kazakhstan talks with Iran, and the third nuclear test carried out by North Korea have sparked further debates on the future of proliferation, disarmament, and arms control. The report aims to try and look at the management of nuclear weapons, and analyses the possibility of a multilateral and multi-actor process of nuclear restraint. Is it possible to take lessons from this report and implement the same in different regions?

The report flags certain features in the nuclear doctrines of five “smaller nuclear weapon states” (UK, France, China, India, and Pakistan), and looks at the possible implications of the same on future efforts towards nuclear restraint and stability. The problem is that the report falls into the mould it aims to break, which is to ensure that the various nuclear disarmament and arms control initiatives do not get confined to being “glacial in progress” and “peripheral to newly empowered geopolitical actors”.

Is the Replication of Individual Nuclear Lessons Possible?
Though the report attempts at placing the views of experts from the five states, the statistics are seen and analysed only with respect to the US and Russia. There is a latent presumption about the existence of similar expectations and belief systems everywhere with respect to nuclear restraint. Every state has a specific perception involved in the decision making process and hence, such assumed uniformity in the belief system may not be a right argument. Is there not a fundamental problem in addressing the nuclear issues, in terms of common nuclear lexicon?

Second, the report talks about the reduction in nuclear arsenals after the Cold War. The expectations for similar steps in the current scenario are problematic. Can this process be replicated in India and Pakistan inspite of the serious intricacies that exist between them? The historical and cultural baggage will not let such initiatives succeed in South Asia. Camile Grand in France and Nuclear Stability at Low Numbers speaks of the need for “de-legitimisation of nuclear deterrence”. The main challenge is to look for a way to do that.

Third, Malcolm Chalmers in Introduction and Overview points out the existence of a legacy of large arsenals that exist in the US and Russia, which is physical as well as conceptual. The problem lies in this belief. That ‘legacy’ cannot be seen as a justification of the large number of arsenals they possess, and acceptance for the same by other states would be problematic. That leads to the mention of concepts like “relative restraint” and “satisfied state”. The former has been used with respect to the Chinese and Indian nuclear policy. This term is extremely subjective, and can be shaped by different states with respect to their specific political and economic conditions. Iran could be a classic case of propagating “relative restraint”. The use of “satisfied” state with respect to nuclear weapons is also questionable. The UK is referred to as the “satisfied state”. How true is this assertion vis-à-vis the UK, given that it is modernising its Trident submarines. This brings out the uncertainty in the definition of such terms and conclusions. Despite its dependence on the US for deterrence, the UK has gone ahead with modernisation. Is the UK, then, a “satisfied state” as the report suggests?

Fourth, Teng Jianqun claims in China’s Perspectives on Nuclear Deterrence and Disarmament that China has participated in international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. This claim is questionable in light of the current rhetoric and actions concerning China’s subtle response to several acts of violation of international norms by North Korea. This highlights the limitation in gauging the intentions of a state in the participation in disarmament initiatives.

The report highlights the uneasiness regarding the disparity that exists between the arsenals of old superpowers and the new nuclear armed states. That itself leads to the impossibility of future multi-partner regimes with respect to nuclear disarmament. The report does address stat- specific ways to deal with nuclear disarmament, but can these ways cover the current rise of North Korea and Iran, or the possibility of such actors and non-state actors in the future?

Multilateral Disarmament Processes: The Difference between Principles and Reality
The report emphasises the need for certain principles that should be followed for any multilateral disarmament process in the form of:

• Adoption of constraints associated with CTBT and the future FMCT
• Additional reductions by Washington and Moscow
• Confidence-building transparency
• A robust WMD and non-proliferation regime dealing with nuclear players like Iran and North Korea.

While these pre-requisites seem fine on paper, there are several problems with them:

• The slow progress in terms of ratification of CTBT and FMCT speaks of the politics that exist in the realm of nuclear domain.
• The transparency in nuclear politics is a risky option, especially in regions like South Asia and West Asia.
• In spite of the claims regarding the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, Iran is gradually progressing towards a well developed nuclear programme, and North Korea is defying all the international norms.

This report highlights issues that can be focussed on while looking at South Asia, but ends up leaving loop holes with a large space for perception and self definition of terms like “security”, “transparency”, “sufficiency” and “restraint”. Since these terms are the pre-requisites for a productive process of multi-lateral disarmament, the definitions of these terms are necessary. However, the bigger challenge is the universal acceptance of the definitions. Replication of the norms mentioned in the report, and the justifications provided are specific to time and space. Till the time there is a proper lexicon that gets accepted and does not overlook actors beyond the US and Russia, the road to zero is still far away.