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The Rediff Special/ Gaurav Kampani

The route to bottling the nuclear genie does not lie in revolution

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Pokhran II has reopened the question of India's relationship with the Non Proliferation Treaty. The second round of nuclear tests has also sparked off a great new debate on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Besides focussing on issues of weaponisation and induction of nuclear weapons into the armed forces, the debate has come to centre on two key questions: First, should India seek entry into the nuclear club as a de jure member of the NPT? And second, now that India's programme of nuclear tests has been completed, how should it approach the CTBT?

Should India join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state? The short answer is no. To be recognised as such would require an amendment to the NPT. The difficulty lies not so much in recognising India and Pakistan which are de facto nuclear possessor states; the problem is that the nuclear weapon states cannot strike a deal at the expense of other countries that have renounced their nuclear option.

Among these are Kazakstan, Ukraine, and Belarus, which emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union and inherited nuclear arsenals by default. Included also in this category are Argentina and Brazil, which concurred in the early 1990s to forego their nuclear option. Finally, there is the example of South Africa, perhaps the only state in history to have ever rolled back its nuclear weapons programme. Other signatory states to the NPT are also unlikely to endorse the legal expansion of the nuclear club. India and Pakistan's actions violate the central norm of the nonproliferation regime that seeks to prevent any further horizontal proliferation in the international system. Expanding the nuclear club would set a dangerous precedent that over time could lead to disintegration of the nonproliferation regime. Were such an eventuality to occur, the consequences for global peace and security would be devastating.

Consider a scenario in which every state possessed nuclear weapons. Statistically, it would make a nuclear war by design or accident far more likely. Although the NPT undergirds an unjust global nuclear order, it also provides tangible security benefits. Thus it is in India's long-term security interests not to rock the nuclear boat.

Seeking formal entry into the nuclear club now would also be morally reprehensible. Until recently, India opposed the NPT on grounds that it legalised nuclear apartheid. A group of countries formally arrogated to themselves the right to possess and use nuclear weapons while exhorting everyone else not to acquire them. Given its historic stance, India simply cannot do a nuclear about-face and become a participant in that unjust moral order.

On the other hand, the conditions surrounding India's rejection of the comprehensive test ban have changed radically. India did not entirely reject the CTBT out of moral outrage or because the nuclear weapon states disregarded its proposal for time-bound nuclear disarmament. India rejected the CTBT because it had a basement arsenal of untested though highly reliable nuclear weapon designs. Formal accession to the treaty would have made it difficult to test warheads and deploy a nuclear deterrent with absolute confidence.

But India now has a proven and credible nuclear weapons capability. It can build nuclear warheads for deployment with a variety of delivery systems. India has tested a two-stage thermonuclear weapon, a miniaturised warhead design for the Prithvi, and a tactical nuclear device. Hence there is no reason to hold up signature to the CTBT. Furthermore, should India need to test in the future, the CTBT has a "supreme national interest" clause that permits withdrawal from the treaty.

There is some concern in India that loopholes in the CTBT will permit nuclear weapon states to design a new generation of nuclear weapons with confidence. Attention has focussed on sub-critical tests, the construction of above-ground experimental (AGEX) facilities for nuclear weapons physics, and the accelerated strategic computing initiative (ASCI) under the US's "science-based" nuclear stockpile stewardship programme.

The CTBT, however, does not make a distinction between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states. Accession to the treaty will not bar India from embarking on its own programme of stockpile stewardship. There are, of course, important differences between "science-based" and "administrative" approaches to stockpile stewardship. A "science-based" stewardship programme of the US variety seeks to simulate nuclear weapons physics through micro-nuclear explosions and three-dimensional computing.

An "administrative" approach, however, would maintain confidence in the nuclear weapons stockpile through periodic remanufacture of proven nuclear warheads to test-certified specifications. There is no need to mimic unthinkingly the US model. If India's objective is security assurance through deterrence, then a modest "administrative" stockpile management programme will be sufficient to maintain confidence in the existing stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Stockpile stewardship will allow the United States to maintain a robust stockpile of nuclear weapons and refine some older warhead designs. It also proposes to develop warhead prototypes for potential replacement of systems currently deployed. A key objective is the retention of nuclear weapons-related scientific and engineering expertise; the current generation of nuclear weapons designers will be replaced by an incoming generation with the hard and tacit knowledge to develop and build nuclear weapons. Stockpile stewardship does not, however, envisage the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons.

India has so far adopted a purist and doggedly ideological approach to the global nonproliferation regime. There is no doubt that the regime is flawed. It is riddled with contradictions. But India's seductive solutions are patently unpractical. The notion of time-bound nuclear disarmament is almost as quixotic as attempts to outlaw war. India's objective, as many suspect, is not to radically restructure the global nuclear order; the objective instead is to create enough nuisance to be accommodated a junior partner within the nuclear club.

As a revisionist state within the international system India has the ability to disrupt the global nuclear order. But it does not have the clout to control its outcome and Indian security interests would be threatened by uncontrolled proliferation. The route to bottling the nuclear genie, therefore, does not lie in revolution. The solution lies in incrementalism. Incremental measures, that during the early next century, will lay the foundation for a co-operative system of global security.

Global nuclear disarmament would be an ideal resolution to many of India's security and political needs. But before Indian interests are harmed in the unrealistic pursuit of an ideal goal, New Delhi must consider the axiom that the best is often the enemy of the good.

The author is a Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey CA. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies or the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

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