The return of nuclear weapons on the global platform
Context: An international conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) concluded at the United Nations in New York without a consensus document.
- India, one of the world’s nuclear weapon powers, ought to be paying a lot more attention to the international nuclear discourse that is acquiring new dimensions and taking a fresh look at its own civilian and military nuclear programmes.
- The parties to the NPT, which came into force in 1970, undertake a review of the treaty’s implementation every five years.
The failure of the Tenth Review Conference, however, does reveal many of the new challenges facing the global nuclear order today and their implications for India.
- First, is the deepening divide between the main sponsors of the NPT back in 1970 – America and Russia.
- Even at the height of the Cold War, there was always one major area of cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union — strong support for the NPT.
- Second, the lack of progress in implementing the disarmament provisions of the NPT.
- The situation today is worsened by the absence of any dialogue between the nuclear powers on arms control.
- Third, the invasion of a non-nuclear weapon state, Ukraine, by a nuclear weapon power, Russia, has generated a whole series of new questions.
- Russia’s decision to put his nuclear forces on alert and threaten the use of nuclear weapons has sent a shiver down the spine of those who are on the periphery of nuclear weapon states.
- Fourth, China’s political campaign against the AUKUS arrangement has found some resonance in South East Asia. When the US and UK announced their plans to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered attack submarines in September 2021, China argued that the agreement violates the provisions of the NPT
- Fifth, nuclear power is coming back into reckoning around the world amidst the growing challenge of climate change.
- The draft final statement noted that “nuclear technologies can contribute to addressing climate change, mitigating and adapting to its consequences, and monitoring its impact”.
What kind of implications does the unfolding global nuclear discourse present for India?
- One, India must find ways to end the current stasis in its civilian nuclear power generation, especially to meet its clean energy target.
- India, which commissioned Asia’s first nuclear power station more than 50 years ago, is stuck today with a total generating capacity of barely 7,000 MW.
- The enormous political and diplomatic energy that went into ending India’s nuclear isolation was squandered by the disastrous 2010 Civil Nuclear Liability Act which has made it impossible for private players — internal and external — to contribute to the programme.
- Revisiting that law is now an urgent imperative for any Indian strategy to rapidly raise the contribution of nuclear power to India’s energy mix.
India must also recognise and adapt to the return of nuclear weapons as major instruments of great power military strategy. Delhi must ask itself if its nuclear weapons can deter China’s expanding atomic arsenal. After 1998, India premised its strategy on building “credible minimum deterrence”. The time has come to reflect on the “credible” side of that strategy and redefine what the ‘minimum’ might be.
Timeline of India’s Nuclear Policy
- 1944 – Homi Jehangir Bhabha established Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, a nuclear research center.
- 1962 – Chinese attack on India gave impetus for the development of Nuclear Weapons.
- 1968 – India refused to sign Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
- 1974 – Operation Smiling Buddha or Pokhran I nuclear test.
- 1998 – Pokhran II nuclear test.
- 1999 – Announcement of India’s Nuclear Doctrine and NFU
- 2003 – Establishment of Nuclear Command Authority
India’s Nuclear Doctrine
- India’s Nuclear Doctrine is founded on the idea that it will only use nuclear weapons in reprisal for a country’s effort to use nuclear weapons against India, its states, or its army.
- India became the first country to achieve nuclear power without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The following are the pillars of India’s Doctrine Treaty:
- Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent;
- A posture of “No First Use” nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere;
- Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.
- Nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorized by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority.
- Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states;
- However, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons;
- A continuance of strict controls on the export of nuclear and missile-related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.
- Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament.
- Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) – India established a three-tier Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) to oversee its nuclear weapons on January 4, 2003.
Nuclear Command Authority (NCA)
The NCA is made up of the following members:
- political council
- executive council
- strategic forces command
- The Prime Minister heads the political council. It is the body that gives the go-ahead to use nuclear weapons.
- The prime minister’s National Security Adviser leads the executive council. Its job is to provide input to the NCA’s decision-making process and to carry out the political council’s directions.
- The strategic forces command (SFC) would be in charge of the nuclear forces’ administration and would be in charge of firing nuclear weapons.
- The establishment of the NCA will give India’s nuclear posture more credibility. The NCA stands out for its unwavering commitment to nuclear deterrence through civilian management of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
- Signed in 1968, the treaty entered into force in 1970, now has 190 member states. It requires countries to give up any present or future plans to build nuclear weapons in return for access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
- Three main objectives of the treaty are non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.
- India is one of the only five countries that either did not sign the NPT or signed but withdrew, thus becoming part of a list that includes Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan.
- India always considered the NPT as discriminatory and had refused to sign it.
- India has opposed the international treaties aimed at non-proliferation since they were selectively applicable to the non-nuclear powers and legitimised the monopoly of the five nuclear weapons powers (United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China).
Source: Indian Express