Non-proliferation challenges: An Indian perspective

CBRN Journal | Dec 1, 2015

Robert Gallucci, a former top non proliferation official at the State Department who negotiated a 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea, urged the US Congress to reject the deal because it "Trashes" the non proliferation regime. Such a regime could provide a Key building block in a comprehensive nuclear non proliferation strategy, promote the development of peaceful nuclear energy and institute automatic consequences for non compliance with IAEA safeguards.

Weaknesses in the Non-proliferation Regime

1. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), the most important building block of the international non-proliferation regime has 188 members and only three major countries have opted to stay out. The three pillars of the NPT are non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and enabling technologies by any of the signatories to the treaty, the right to peaceful energy and technology for all and nuclear disarmament by the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). Of these three pillars, disarmament is the most neglected.

2. Contrary to the expectation that the NPT would provide a “universal standard of nonproliferation”, it has only been partially successful. Since the NPT closed the gates in 1970, several states have crossed the nuclear threshold. While India and Pakistan openly announced themselves to be States with Nuclear Weapons (SNW) in May 1998, Israel is widely suspected to be a nuclear power. Since 1991, several ‘wannabe’ SNW have come tumbling out: Iraq in 1991, North Korea in 1992, Libya in 2003 and Iran in 2003. The revelations in 2003 of the proliferation Wal-Mart run by the AQ Khan network from Pakistan were the last straw that virtually broke the back of the international non-proliferation regime.

3. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, emphasis in nuclear non-proliferation was normally laid on arresting horizontal proliferation by denying technology to countries outside the ‘London Club.
There was little concern about vertical proliferation within the five recognised Nuclear VWWeapons States (NWS). Serious thought was never given to Article VI of the NPT by the NWS and the world failed to move towards eventual nuclear disarmament. After the end of Cold War, the focus shifted to protecting the fissile material stockpile of the former Soviet States from falling into the wrong hands and also on containing possible leakage of nuclear weapon technology. Around this time, the three major non signatories of the NPT acquired nuclear weapons. Israel did so through the acquiescence of the Western World, India by converting its indigenous Civilian programme to weapons capability and Pakistan through clandestine arrangements with other countries that shared common interests. Today, there are nine nuclear powers in the world, including North Korea. Iran, also an original signatory of the NPT, is a cusp state that may threaten to go nuclear and even withdraw from the NPT because of the continued perception of the extraordinary deterrence value of nuclear weapons.

There are six principle outstanding issues that are undermining the non-proliferation regime further :-

(a) Disinclination of the P-5 to move towards total nuclear disarmament.
(b) Failure to accommodate the three SNW.
(c) Continuing illicit quest for nuclear weapons and unauthorised assistance to wannabe states by signatories to the NPT despite protestations to the contrary.
(d) Failure to ensure cooperation in nuclear energy and technology for peaceful use (Article IV)
(e) The possibility of withdrawal from NPT by some of the signatories who see the regime has having crumbled.
(f) Weaknesses inherent in the verification mechanism that are not being satisfactorily addressed.

5. There has been renewed emphasis on preventing proliferation of WMD since September 11, 2001. The real risks of WMD proliferation emanate from countries that despite being parties to international treaties, do not comply with their treaty obligations and those that are international pariahs. Nations have varying motives for crossing the nuclear threshold. Among these, the following are some of the major motives :-

(a) To warn, resolve, preclude or dissuade big power intervention.
(b) To rally potential allies through a demonstration of strength, resolve or capability.
(c) To deny access to ports, facilities, supply routes or natural resources.
(d) To forestall military or political defeat.
(e) To precipitate the intervention of an otherwise neutral state or to alter the dynamics of an opposing coalition.
(f) To validate nuclear capability, equipment and / or procedures.
(g) To acquire nuclear power / great power status.
(h) Retaliate for a conventional, chemical or biological attack.
(j) To shift international approbation to another state or group (by making it appear they were responsible for the detonation).

6. There are some notable internal reasons as well, that motivate a decision to opt for nuclear Weapons :-

(a) To demonstrate to a leader’s own party or followers his resolve to stand up to the US its allies or to other regional adversaries or competitors.
(b) To impose loyalty on restive or rebellious factions.
(c) To legitimise investment of resources in nuclear weapons R&D and acquisition.
(d) To save or restore face after a perceived insult or defeat.

Upsetting the Applecart : Some Recent Trends

7. In recent years, unsettling trends have been gaining momentum in the field of nuclear nonproliferation. North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its subsequent nuclear test without serious consequences is likely to encourage other states to also take the plunge or threaten to do so. Iran’s violation of IAEA safeguards has led to further tensions in the West Asian region that is already plagued by a war in Iraq and low intensity conflict in Palestine and Lebanon. The flourishing international black market in nuclear and missile items from Russia and other post Soviet states might put nuclear weapons grade material and even nuclear weapons up for sale. The spread of biological and chemical weapons has increased the chances of WMD terrorism and the danger that it will inflict deep wounds on democratic societies. Despite grand policy pronouncements, China is yet to become a consistently reliable partner in the global battle against proliferation. Other negative factors include inadequate export controls attempts by non state actors including international terrorists, to gain access to weapons of mass destruction; the continuing proclivity to acquire and proliferate WMD’s as a result of intractable regional crises and the weakness or absence of national export control measures on the part of many states.

8. The West is widely blamed for its “double standard” approach to non proliferation that exempts pro Western regimes and states from criticism for their nuclear programmes and concentrates exclusively on those third world regimes that oppose the West ideologically, politically and / or militarily. Many Western moves such as unilateral sanctions against alleged proliferations are seen as being intended to eliminate competition in profitable areas of international trade, e.g. nuclear energy production, rather than as steps to fight proliferation. France, UK and the US have declared their intention to use nuclear weapons against “Rogue States” even if attack is non nuclear. Such perceptions result in widespread doubts about desirability of following in the wake of non proliferation policies and initiatives promoted by the West.

9. The international community is seriously concerned over missile development programmes of lran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. The US is continuing to design new technology and hybrid designs, well tested elements of older design combined with new safety and security measures. Computer simulation may not be enough and actual testing may be needed. Abrogation of the ABM Treaty by the US is seen as a new obstacle for non proliferation efforts. The deployment of a National Missile Defence System by the US is likely to lead to :-

(a) Modernisation of nuclear forces by China. China is likely to build over 100 new mobile ICBMs with MIRV-ed warheads. These will threaten not only the United States, but also Russia, India and Japan.
(b) Consequent to the above development Japan and Taiwan may choose to exercise their nuclear option.
(C) Stalling of further movement toward deep cuts In nuclear arms by Russia.
(d) Possible growth in the arsenals of India and Pakistan.
(e) North Korea has a long history of missile exports and related technical assistance to Iran and Pakistan that could be extended to other countries.

10. However, it must be noted that there have been some positive developments and success Stories as well. Iraq destroyed its nuclear weapons infrastructure post 1991 Gulf War. NPI extension and CTBT signature in 1995 and 1996 reinforced non proliferation norms. Russia has accepted the MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement export controls. China has finally embraced nuclear export control laws and policies consistent with the NPT and will hopefully implement them diligently. The Pakistan Army and AQ Khan nuclear Wal-Mart has been exposed, though other rogue scientists in Pakistan are still to be exposed and booked. The post test nuclear programme freeze in North Korea is a positive sign. Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Romania and South Africa have renounced nuclear arms and accepted strict international controls. Post Soviet Belarus, Kazakhistan and Ukraine were de-nuclearised in 1996 and joined the NPT as Non Nuclear Weapon states (NNWS).

11. The Notable Case of Libya. The international community, led by the US, made Libyan efforts to acquire nuclear weapons capability difficult and frustrating. Increasingly painful costs were imposed on Libya for its covert nuclear weapons ambitions. Credible prospects of tangible and meaningful benefits were held out if Gadhafi turned away from pursuing his goal to acquire nuclear weapons. Threats of dire retribution were also held out. Gadhafi was eventually persuaded of the ultimate futility of acquiring nuclear weapons. The lesson that clearly emerged was that even nuclear weapon ‘wannabes’ can be persuaded to reverse course and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

India’s Position on Non-Proliferation

12. Even though India opted to stay out of the NPT, its policies have been consistent with the key provisions of the treaty contained in Articles |, Il and VI that apply to the NWS. It Is now well recognised that India has neither transferred nuclear weapons to any other state nor assisted any other state to acquire nuclear weapons. India’s exports of nuclear materials have always been under safeguards and India has been a leader in urging the NWS to pursue negotiations to achieve the goal of total nuclear disarmament. Compared with this impeccable track record, some of the nuclear weapon states have been active collaborators or silent spectators to continuing clandestine and illegal proliferation, including export of nuclear weapon components and technologies. The NWS have followed a discriminatory and inconsistent approach to enforcing the treaty, with selective focus on the recipients of clandestine proliferation but not enough attention on the sources of supply. The United States and Russia have consistently refused to cut their nuclear stockpiles substantively even after the end of the Cold War. Such an attitude feeds and strengthens the belief that nuclear weapons are a currency of power.

13. Dr Amitav Mallik, a former Indian DRDO scientist has written “The NPT has enjoyed only partial success in the past mainly because it was conceived with the limited world view of the cold war period and hence could not be truly universal. Today’s globalised and interdependent world is vastly different from the 1960’s. Nations striving for rapid progress and economic competition can no longer afford the price of war, leave alone a nuclear war. Therefore, the real non-proliferation focus has shifted to the concerns of nuclear weapons or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) technology getting into wrong hands, either with the rogue states or with non state terrorist or fundamentalist entities, who always aim to gain asymmetric power for their unbalanced agenda. At the same time there is a revival of interest in nuclear energy, not just due to rising oil prices but also due to serious environmental concerns leading to rising demand for clean energy and also due to the inevitability of the shrinking fossil fuel resources. Today’s challenge is to simultaneously ensure that while horizontal as well as vertical proliferation of nuclear warhead technology is prevented, trade and commerce in nuclear technology are allowed to flourish unhindered

Impact of Indo-US Nuclear Deal

14. The non proliferation ayatollahs the world over have been up in arms against the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement. Policy and opinion makers in India readily accept that the Indo-US nuclear deal represents a major concession that has been made by the US and fully understand that it is an issue of concern for the international non-proliferation community.
However, they like to emphasise that this privilege has been accorded in recognition of India’s responsible and unblemished conduct in limiting horizontal proliferation and that there sufficient safeguards have been built in to take care of the non proliferation concerns that might arise as fallout of the deal.

15. In this era of strategic uncertainty, it is important to see the Indo US nuclear deal in the larger geo-strategic framework and US policy and opinion makers are clearly taking their bearings from the emerging world order. Analysts in the US are divided in their perceptions of the deal. Dr Stephen Cohen is of the view that the agreement enhances American strategic interests and ‘If properly implemented, it will advance, not retard, American non proliferation objectives.” The initiative will help India move to an energy strategy that makes it less dependent on imported oil and that will positively address global environmental concerns. Former Defence Secretary William Perry and a former top Pentagon aide, Ashton Carter, back the agreement. However, Robert Gallucci, a former top non proliferation official at the State Department who negotiated a 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea, urged the US Congress to reject the deal because it “trashes” the non proliferation regime. There are other detractors of this deal as well. Noam Chomsky believes that “the agreement, if implemented, will be a serious blow to the NPT and the network of treaties and international regimes in which it is embedded, some of which have already been dismantled by the Bush administration.

16. The fact that India has agreed to place two thirds of its nuclear reactors under international safeguards has gone down well with most US lawmakers. Congressman Jim Kolbe said In his testimony to the House International Relations Committee “If Congress enacts this legislation, India will have tougher nuclear scrutiny than is given to China, Russia and the major nuclear powers.
None of these countries reactors are under any inspection regime. India would place at least two thirds of its programme under the direct eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency”. It is this fact that finally convinced many initially sceptical Senators and Congressmen that the deal would have positive non proliferation fallout and they supported it whole heartedly.

17. Ashley Tellis goes one step further by saying that “Bringing India into the global non proliferation regime through a lasting international agreement that defines clearly enforceable benefits and obligations not only strengthens American efforts to stem proliferation but also enhances US national security it recognises that it is unreasonable to ask India to continue to bear the burden of contributing to ensuring the viability of the global non-proliferation regime in perpetuity, while it suffers stiff and encompassing sanctions from that same regime.” Michael A Levi and Charles D Ferguson recommend that the US should focus on the right objectives which incorporates, finding a workable path forward requires that Congress reserves the bulk of its political capital for a handful of top tier objectives. It should focus on preventing Indian nuclear testing and fundamental changes in Indian nuclear strategy, rather than on blocking growth in the number of Indian nuclear weapons. It should focus on obtaining cooperation from India as well as other countries in controlling the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies, instead of on measures that would shape the development of nuclear technology in India itself. Further, it must also be careful not to assume that all its top non proliferation ends can be met simply by getting the US-India deal right.”

18. In an brief of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, Dr Harinder Sekhon has written that “Both countries should pursue this agreement within the broader parameters of their respective strategic concerns and so the agreement must look at the larger global scenario and not just the issue of non proliferation. Perhaps this deal could be an incentive for others to emulate and seek similar concessions. India could play a more proactive role in using this opportunity to attempt a reorientation of the non proliferation order so that it becomes a more pragmatic and transparent mechanism based on responsible ownership of technology. Perhaps it could be used as a means of limiting the dangerous side of sensitive technology while promoting legitimate civilian use and commerce”.

19. Most analysts in the West do not subscribe to the thought that the Indo-US nuclear deal has in any manner influenced the recent actions of Iran and North Korea. Michael Krepon, President Emeritus of Stimson Centre, Washington DC does not see a direct connection to the North Korean test or the Iranian programme, which are driven by different factors. However, there is a generalised impact of any important development on the entire system of non proliferation. It is very hard to dissect, but trend lines are given direction by specific events. It is not surprising that, as countries nave less confidence in the global non proliferation system, they increase hedges. Enrichment programmes now beginning in Brazil, Argentina and South Africa are witness to this trend. In retrospect, the 1998 tests may prove to be a major fork in the road for the non proliferation system. Dr Stephen Cohen doubts whether the deal could have influenced Iran’s decision making on Uranium enrichment. “| doubt it, but without better access to the Iranian decision making system, no one can really draw a conclusive judgment; certainly the Iranian’s have for some time been using India derived rhetoric to trash the NPT, but then India wasn’t a signatory.”

20. Dr. Sumit Ganguly, a South Asia expert, does not think “the deal had the slightest impact on Iran’s calculations” and is of the view that the North Korean decision to test was “due to the security fears of its squalid dictator and the failure of American policy.” He does not visualise Argentina, Brazil and South Africa re-calculating their options because of this deal. It emerges clearly from the views of these South Asia experts that the Indo US nuclear deal had no significant impact on the decisions of Iran and North Korea. In any case, North Korea has now agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme in return for energy and other aid and unless the regime changes its mind again, the curtain has rung down on the most dangerous threat to the non proliferation regime. Iran continues to blow hot and cold but also appears to be gradually veering around to becoming more accommodating. While it will definitely react with immense violence to a military attack on Its enrichment facilities, it is likely to eventually see reason if it is engaged diplomatically, but after it has asserted its NPT mandated political right to enrich Uranium for its energy needs.

21. In stark contrast with Iran and North Korea, India has agreed to take steps that will bring It into the non proliferation mainstream, including :-

(a) Placing its civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and monitoring.
(b) Signing and implementing an Additional Protocol, which allows more extensive inspections by the IAEA.
(c) Ensuring that its nuclear materials and technologies are secured and prevented from diversion, including its recent passage of a law to create a robust national export control system.
(d) Refraining from transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess them and supporting efforts to limit their spread.
(e) Working to conclude a Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMC 1).
(f) Continuing its moratorium on nuclear testing.
(g) Adhering to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines.

22. While some US analysts are of the view that the deal will make more fissile material available to India for nuclear warheads, Indian analysts are apprehensive that the deal would jeopardize India’s strategic weapons programme. Dr Manpreet Sethi has written that “The US non proliferation lobby has expressed the fear that India would end up accumulating too much fissile material as a result of nuclear cooperation. This, according to them, would be the outcome of imported nuclear fuel becoming available to India for power generation, thereby freeing up domestic Uranium reserves for use in un-safeguarded reactors for weapons production. On the other hand, certain sections of Indian strategic thinkers tend to believe that by acceding to the terms and conditions of this agreement, India would end up restraining its ability to build up enough fissile material stockpiles.” Both the sides overstate their case as India already has sufficient stocks of fissile material for its minimum deterrence policy. It can be justifiably argued that India does not need more than 200 nuclear warheads for credible minimum deterrence.

23. It would be reasonable to conclude that the Indo-US nuclear deal does not in any noteworthy manner undermine the nuclear non proliferation regime even as it makes a positive contribution to It by bringing the bulk of India’s civilian nuclear power reactors under the ambit of IAEA safeguards and inspections. President George W Bush expressed it best when he said that “India has conducted its civilian nuclear energy programme in a safe and responsible way for decades. Now in return for access to American technology, India has agreed to open its civilian nuclear power programme to international inspection. This is an important achievement for the whole world. After 30 years outside the system, India will now operate its civilian nuclear energy programme under internationally accepted guidelines and the world is going to be safer as a result”.

Non Proliferation Strategies

24. International non proliferation efforts would be considerably strengthened if all nuclear weapon states were to cut their arsenals, lower the alert status of their strategic weapons and boost cooperation in nuclear technologies for economic development, especially in the energy sector. Cuts in the nuclear arsenals of the NWS would be meaningful only if these were irreversible and verifiable. The strategies that must be followed to further international non proliferation efforts should frustrate emerging nuclear weapons wannabes, contain “loose nukes” and build walls between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The “Closed Fuel Cycle” gives errant countries an inherent capacity to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

25. The P-5 should build an international regime alongside the NPT to promote civilian nuclear power but discourage or prohibit closed nuclear fuel cycles. Such a regime could provide a Key building block in a comprehensive nuclear non proliferation strategy, promote the development of peaceful nuclear energy and institute automatic consequences for non compliance with IAEA safeguards. There is an urgent need to continue efforts to tighten export control regimes and understand and accommodate rather than confront threshold states. Iran is one nation that needs sensitive handling. Nothing will be gained by questioning Iran’s nuclear energy needs and military action against it will definitely be counterproductive. At the same time, Iran must honour its NPT obligations. Indian engagement with Iran provides a viable channel that can be exploited for negotiations. A regional approach to non proliferation and arms control would pay rich dividends In West Asia.

26. Early agreement on the FMCT will be an important step forward. For counter proliferation, international support is needed for the PSI and CSI initiatives launched by the US. Wider consultation is always better than “go it alone” strategies. Above all else, there is a need to accelerate efforts towards total universal nuclear disarmament. 27,000 nuclear warheads are 27,000 too many. It has to be understood by the P-5 that total nuclear disarmament Is a zero sum game.