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Nuclear Discourse:Reviving N-Friendly World, by Sitakanta Mishra,11 March 2008 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 11 March 2008

Nuclear Discourse

Reviving N-Friendly World

By Sitakanta Mishra

Contemporary nuclear discourse exhibits two apparent trends: on the one hand a consensus is emerging for atomic power as the viable alternative source of energy and on the other a call for global nuclear disarmament is gathering steam. India, the precursor of both trends for decades, has reiterated its tenacity to delegitimise nuclear weapons by proposing a seven-point agenda at the recently-concluded Geneva session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

Over 30 countries, ranging from advanced economies to developing nations, are now actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programmes, which they don’t have. Number of reactors operable in the world till January 2008, is 439, producing 372,059 MW.  The number of reactors under construction by the same period is 34, which aim to produce 27,798 MW. The number of reactors which were planned and proposed by January 2008 is 93 and 222 respectively. Interestingly, the Cold War veterans George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, who viewed nuclear disarmament as a fantasy, now forcefully argue for putting the same back on the international agenda. A conference was held in Norway in February to mobilise support for the initiative.

While the global renewed interest in atomic power promises a hospitable and energy-sufficient world, increasing availability of nuclear technology generates the fear of it slipping into the wrong hands. The recent initiative by the Cold Warriors is praiseworthy but such appeals for ridding the world of nuclear weapons are not new. For decades, many leaders and peace movements have been urging this.

Recall that two decades ago Rajiv Gandhi, along with Olof Palme and others, attempted a major initiative towards this end but was lost in deaf ears. Again, the prospects of blood and death have never been deterrents for innovation of lethal weapons; rather the inclination to kill and destroy is historical constants. Therefore, the renewed disarmament task seems onerous.

Since the dawn of the nuclear era till date, India's stand in the nuclear domain is axiomatic. However, since 1998 until the February Geneva conference, New Delhi has drifted away a bit from its conviction to lead the way towards a non-violent, peaceful world, a world free from the shadow of mass annihilation. Not that it has abandoned its cherished goal but rather it halted its endeavour to drive the world towards a time-bound, non-discriminatory delegitimisation and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons for a decade. Except codifying its self-imposed No First-Use pledge in the Draft Nuclear Doctrine, India had not embarked upon any substantial initiative allaying the world of nuclear danger.

In the formal statement of Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao at the CD on February 28, India enunciated "seven concrete proposals" towards achieving the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world in the sprit of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan. The only difference is the agenda does not carry a strict time-frame tag. However, the initiative is vindictive of not only the Congress-led UPA government's interest to revive Rajiv Gandhi's visions of universal disarmament, but also its responsibility to crystallise India's global obligation to reduce the importance of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy. Moreover, the Geneva initiative would garner global support and legitimacy for India as a major global player and would certainly facilitate India's claim for special treatment to conduct nuclear commerce and nuclear energy cooperation.

India's seven-point agenda for nuclear disarmament includes: one, reduction of the salience of nuclear weapons in national security strategy; two, negotiation of an agreement on no-first use of nuclear weapons among nuclear weapon states; three, negotiation of a universal and binding agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons;  four, negotiation of a convention on the complete prohibition of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons; five, negotiation of a nuclear convention prohibiting development, stockpiling and production of nuclear weapons, moving towards a global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of these weapons; six, unequivocal commitment of all nuclear weapon states towards the goal of eventual elimination of nuclear weapons; and lastly, adoption of additional measures by nuclear weapon States to reduce risks, dangers and possibility of accidental use of these weapons.

While the aim to hook nuclear weapon States into specific commitments is explicit in the above proposal, delegitimisation and circumscription of the utility of nuclear weapons in security doctrines is firmly implicit. India's call for the appointment of a Special Coordinator to initiate consultation for building consensus on the proposal has not been reciprocated. Also, it is to see how the IAEA and countries like the US and Russia perceive the initiative.

It is unwise to expect much when States still consider nuclear arsenals as currency of power. Further more, it is to understand that nuclear weapons would continue to dominate strategic thinking so long as something bigger than the bomb is not invented. Therefore, it is foolish to expect a global consensus in the foreseeable future to smoothly wither nuclear weapons. Global disarmament will require several attempts before it is achieved. Again, we need to introspect, would nuclear disarmament completely dispel the dangers contemporary world faces? It is certain, as long there is nuclear know-how and fissile materials, risks will exist. Nuclear is more psychology and politics than physics.

However, India today is in a position to take the initiative of Shultz and Co. forward – towards a new global consensus to outlaw nuclear weapons. For the vision to be accomplished, New Delhi along with like-minded countries needs to start vigorous diplomatic manoeuvres. Instead of idealising and consigning the goal of nuclear disarmament to "the top of a very tall mountain", India needs to bring it down to plain site and chuck out graduated steps. Foremost, the world community needs to embark on stringent control of sensitive technologies and radioactive materials by further strengthening the non-proliferation regime; or else, the current proposal would face the fate of the earlier initiatives.

Nuclear disarmament, as realised by Shultz and his compatriots, is still a distant goal. What India urgently needs to do is to finalise the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation and become a role model; propagate and divert States' attention from nuclear weapons to nuclear energy. In the meantime, it should prepare its own blue print of de-weaponisation through graduated steps while persuading others, especially the US and Russia, to follow suit. India would match the emerging consensus on disarmament in the US around the idea floated by George Shultz and others, at best, as a starting point, by forming a high-level committee towards this end.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




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