Knowing India’s nuclear credentials

imagesThere has been a concerted attack on India from the usual suspects in recent days even as it was entering into negotiations to formally accede to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. As if on cue, Jane’s Intelligence Review carried out a “(non)-exposé” of an Indian military nuclear facility in Karnataka. As exposés go, it was lame even by Jane’s standards. The nature of the facility and location have been publicly available since 2010. Yet, this new “expose” was carried by all mainstream print news outlets and predictably sensationalised with everyone feigning alarm and anxiety. This manufactured outrage culminated with a sanctimonious editorial in The New York Times that was remarkable for the sheer incoherence of its own arguments. As the designated chief of the non-proliferation ayatollahs (with blinkers) and representative of a motley anti-India group in the U.S. that is shrinking ever so rapidly, this too was on expected lines.

Assault on credentials

Nevertheless, it is important to dismantle the uneasy arguments of this concerted assault on India’s credentials. The first proposition that must be taken issue with is the propagation of a falsehood that Pakistan and its reckless build-up of nuclear stockpile is somehow driven by India’s posture. While Pakistan’s careless impulse may be a result of more than one central factor, it is important to understand that this may have a lot to do with its suspicion of American intentions. The oft-quoted argument is that Pakistan seeks to equalise the conventional mismatch with India through a misguided reliance on numbers of strategic and tactical warheads. The irrationality and illogic of this behaviour has been proven by the fact that a country like North Korea has deterred both the U.S. and South Korea with explosions that may not even have been nuclear. Pakistan’s vertical proliferation has no mooring to India’s strategic programme — only to its own paranoia. The question is what fuels this? There is no denying the fact that Pakistan was able to obtain “nuclear immunity” for its sub-conventional activities against India with even 10 warheads. It may well be the fear of the U.S. that motivates its build-up today.

One motivator is the pressure the U.S. has been applying on Pakistan (without success due to the China factor) to sign onto the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), which will forever cap the Pakistani arsenal. Contrary to what the commentary would have us believe, the FMCT, instead of curbing fissile material, has demonstrably accelerated Pakistan’s programme. So much for flawed logic. The second is the fear of the American “Plan B”, which involves the seizure and confiscation of much of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The former has driven Pakistan to enrich their extant stockpile of radioactive material to weapons grade at breakneck speed. The latter has ensured that Pakistan is rapidly weaponising its fissile stock, in order to disperse and complicate any such weapons seizure plans. These facts are well understood in Washington policy circles. The exposés and op-eds of the past weeks are for most just another edition of Aesop’s fables.

The second issue has to be the demonstrated lack of understanding of the reality that shaped the landmark civil nuclear agreement between the U.S. and India. This nuclear deal was based on one clear principle — that India’s military programme would irrevocably be separated from the civilian programme. This was not an optimal solution for India or for the P5, but like all international agreements it was based on arriving at an outcome that would benefit all parties and enhance the global order. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohammed El Baradei in an op-ed in the Washington Post, specifically welcomed the deal without reservation, his rationale being “either we begin finding creative, outside-the-box solutions or the international nuclear safeguards regime will become obsolete.” This is now accepted wisdom. The IAEA has gained unprecedented access to India’s nuclear facilities. India has accepted additional protocols this June, and has strengthened its own export laws. Significantly, the same journals and reports confirm that India’s own arsenal has remained stable over the period with no increases despite the turbulence in the neighbourhood. The benefits of bringing India inside the ‘non-proliferation tent’ are therefore vast, visible and tangible.

While these editorials and reports may very well have got their facts and numbers right, the analysis is so convoluted that the facts they quote cease to be relevant. The argument goes that India needs to sign the FMCT, the CTBT, and agree to mutual weapons reduction with China and Pakistan, since it is the nuclear deal with the U.S. that has set the cat amongst the pigeons. Here then is some measure of reality. India is already providing active support to the FMCT negotiations — it is a work in progress, not yet a concrete treaty. It has been Pakistan that has been blocking the work at the conference on disarmaments negotiations.

Additionally, India’s signature on the CTBT is explicitly linked to a similar U.S. and Chinese commitment. As long as they do not ratify these two treaties, India has a voluntary unilateral moratorium on testing. What is holding up Indian accession is U.S. and Chinese accession.

Experts in Beijing claim that China’s expansion and modernisation of its nuclear forces is being driven by the ill-advised and deeply destabilising withdrawal of the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. This has nothing whatsoever to do with India.

India, therefore, is first being made the whipping boy for the failure of the American non-proliferation lobby in their own country and then it has to accept blame for the complex relations the U.S. shares with Pakistan and China that is driving these Asian allies to increase their arsenals. Can we get real, please?

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.

(Courtesy: ORF)

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