15 Mar, 1998    ·   67

Report of the NAS-IPCS Seminar 20 January 1998, USI, New Delhi

A seminar was held by the IPCS with a visiting group from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to discuss their report "The Future of U.S. Nuclear Policy". The visiting NAS group included John P.Holdren, Director, Program in Science, Technology, and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; John D. Steinbruner, senior fellow, Brookings Institution; John Boright, and Jo Husbands.

Holdren, who had chaired the NAS group that prepared this Report, made a short presentation. He stressed its salient findings viz. that the international situation favoured a further reduction in nuclear weapons; that nuclear deterrence should be confined to its core function of deterring nuclear attack or threat thereof; that the idea of the existence of nuclear weapons provided effective existential deterrence; that the United States could further reduce its nuclear weapons inventories in the first phase, and foster an international milieu in the second phase that would make their possession redundant; and that the possession of nuclear weapons should be prohibited. A distinction was drawn between the "prohibition" and "elimination" of nuclear weapons on the grounds that no practical means could be devised to prevent their reappearance in the world.

Acting as the discussant, P.R.Chari, Co-Director, IPCS, drew attention to the Report's unexceptional findings, but noted that it did not proceed far enough in the direction of nuclear disarmament. Several irresoluble dilemmas attended the concept of nuclear deterrence eg. when could they be used in a conflict if the end-result would be mutual annihilation; how to balance the needs of nuclear stability with the credibility of the nuclear deterrent; and so on. He also emphasized the need for making a paradigm shift, and to take cognizance of the altered nature of future threats to national securitywhich had shifted from the external to the internal and non-military dimensions--rather than remaining hypnotized with the illusory security provided by nuclear deterrence. Finally, he stressed that the end-goal of all exercises to change nuclear force structures and to reduce nuclear weapons had to be their ultimate elimination for a melange of strategic, military, legal and moral considerations.

A lively but intensely focussed discussion took place thereafter, with several pertinent issues coming up. It was pointed out that the problems associated with Russian nuclear inventories had to be urgently addressed. Stability had improved with greater transparency of their stockpile. But the Russians are no longer for nuclear disarmament or no first use. Or, for that matter, ratifying START II, which largely reflected their security concerns with the enlargement of NATO. This must cause concern. It was pointed out that the Stockpile Stewardship Program in the U.S. was expressly designed to obtain the support of the weapons laboratories for entering the CTBT. Indeed, the slogan in the Pentagon was "Reduce but Hedge". Apropos, attention was drawn to two subsisting problems i.e. continuing research in the U.S. to develop new types of nuclear warheads; and the fact that the numbers of "reserve warheads" equaled deployed warheads, but were not being taken into account in the START negotiations.

The "prohibition" modality was defended on the practicability thesis, because the "elimination" of nuclear weapons proposition was wholly unacceptable to large elements of the American establishment, and even to members of the NAS group that drafted this Report. Still, it was argued that it should be possible to use the phraseology obtaining in the Chemical Weapons Convention to do away with nuclear weapons. This would require very intrusive verification measures to be emplaced, which needed to be discussed in the CD at Geneva. For that matter the Canberra Commission Report also needed to be discussed by the UN General Assembly.

In the end, it was agreed that the issues discussed were very complex, and involved several related dimensions. It was important that these issues continued to be discussed by interested groups in the United States and India