More on the Nuclear Bargain: A Response to Selig Harrison

29 Dec, 1997    ·   48

Responding to the proposed nuclear bargain by Selig Harrison, P. R. Chari feels that linking India’s acquiescence to constraining its "open" nuclear option for gaining access to technology (including nuclear) transfers would deflect the focus from the disarmament aspect of this "nuclear bargain".

In an important article contributed to Current History, Selig Harrison has outlined the contours of an Indo-US "nuclear bargain". This would allow their estranged relations, deriving from India ’s quasi-nuclear weapon status, to effloresce.



Harrison ’s "nuclear bargain" envisages India retaining its nuclear option, but agreeing to steps that would "make its commitment to capping unambiguous". The following steps are suggested towards this end:



·                     India signs the CTBT whilst reserving its right to conduct further tests until this Treaty comes into force. Or, India unilaterally declares in Parliament that it will comply with the CTBT’s provisions.




·                     India extends IAEA safeguards upon its existing and future civilian nuclear reactors, and signs the FMCT.




·                     India makes binding commitments not to export nuclear technology.




In return, the United States would permit sale of nuclear reactors and transfer of nuclear technology to India by amending its prohibitionary legislation. Further, the United States would genuflect towards India ’s demand that the nuclear weapons states pledge to eliminate their nuclear arsenals within a time-bound framework. Towards this end, Harrison suggests a universal moratorium on fissile material production; and significant "deep cuts" in the American-Russian nuclear arsenals; followed by China , France and the UK . For its part India could link its continuance of restraints on abjuring nuclear tests and manufacturing fissile materials with continuing steps toward their reduction of nuclear weapons.



As accurately predicted by Harrison , a "nuclear bargain" is anathema to New Delhi ’s nuclear hawks. They believe overt weaponisation of India ’s "open" nuclear option would advance its claims to Great Power status more assuredly than continuing with its nuclear restraint. Surprisingly, this proposal has also been opposed by the nuclear abolitionists. They argue that conceding India ’s threshold nuclear status would legitimise its quasi-nuclear status; retard pursuit of the global disarmament objective; and deify nuclear power, which is an unsafe and hazardous technology. It would be fair to concede that India 's need is not for nuclear technology transfers, but access to the finances required for enlarging its energy infrastructure.



The domestic debate apart, the Indian Ambassador to the United States has set out a three-point agenda for the nuclear weapons powers.



·                     They should make a no-first-use declaration;


·                     The United States and Russia should further reduce their nuclear warheads inventories and dismantle their nuclear weapons;


·                     And the other nuclear weapon states should also follow suit.


After all that happens: " India would seriously consider making the same gesture". He acknowledged, however, that we "don’t have anything to put on the table at the moment", although India "can put it (nuclear weapons) together very soon". (The Hindustan Times, December 12, 1997.) It is difficult to understand what "same gesture" India could make without possessing nuclear weapons? Perhaps, His Excellency was misquoted.



In view of the need to further explore the modalities of this "nuclear bargain", the establishment of an Indo-US dialogue on this issue is urgent. Could the agenda be extended from nuclear to general energy technology and, further, to high technology in the military and non-military areas? Can the United States amend its prohibitionary laws for this purpose? There are conflicting opinions being voiced in Washington about this matter. However, it would be "trivialising" this contractual agreement by deflecting its thrust from the nuclear weapons dimension. .



A nuclear bargain relating only to the nuclear weapons dimension could be sought at two inter-related levels. A grand Indo-US bargain can be envisioned with the United States proceeding towards eliminating its nuclear weapons and India progressively constraining its "open" nuclear option. This would be its ultimate objective. A timetable would, obviously, lend this exercise some meaningful content.



A petit bargain can also be envisioned with the United States proceeding step-by-step with the elimination of nuclear weapons. Some preliminary steps could be the US declaring its inventory of nuclear weapons; de-targeting/de-alerting its nuclear missiles; separating nuclear warheads and fissile materials from its surplus missiles; placing its surplus warheads and fissile materials under IAEA safeguards and so on. India could, for its part, declare a moratorium on conducting nuclear tests/manufacturing fissile materials for military purposes, and pledge to continue exercising its current restraints on exporting nuclear/missile technology.



These self-imposed restraints could be converted into more binding liabilities either by passing suitable resolutions in a forum like Parliament; or making appropriate declarations in the United Nations; or, even more firmly, by the amendment or enactment of enabling domestic legislation. In other words, the petit bargain envisages a quid being provided for a quo and vice versa.



More systematic thinking must obviously be bestowed on fleshing out these proposals. But, also, in drawing up, in advance, the counter-arguments for meeting the objections that will be raised by hawks and doves on both sides of the non-proliferation divide in the United States and India . The need of the moment, however, is an intellectual engagement between the two countries at both the official and non-official levels. Maximalist positions adopted largely for posturing and debating purposes are not exactly helpful for synthesising this intellectual engagement.