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Sunday, October 11, 2009

ON DISARMAMENT PROSPECTS IN SOUTH ASIA

President Obama chaired the UN Security Council meeting that resulted in Resolution 1887 calling on states to abide by obligations under NPT. This presumably includes those under Article VI regarding ‘negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. This is in keeping with his agenda outlined at Prague of ‘America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons’.

In conveying India’s position on the Resolution its Permanent Representative endorsed Obama’s aspiration on ‘prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and providing for their complete elimination within a specified timeframe’. However, that the onus was on the US was evident from the twist in the tail: ‘It is clear that the international community would look to the countries with substantial nuclear arsenals represented on the Council for meaningful steps towards nuclear disarmament.’ India’s position is quite clear. The bottom line is that India is agreed with Obama’s most quoted sentiment from his Prague address: ‘This goal will not be reached quickly - perhaps not in my lifetime.’

The global disarmament initiative can be expected to progress with India’s tacit support at least till the Non-proliferation Review Conference in May next year. Any prospects of progress on a regional level are linked with those on the global level due to presence of China as a player in southern Asia. Given that India seeks notional parity with China and China, in turn, would look towards movement on the US-Russia nuclear front, the regional nuclear situation cannot be expected to change. However, the worsening regional security environment, with India figuring in both conflict dyads possible, suggests a South Asian track needs be progressed irrespective of the global agenda. In respect of China, while a war has been predicted as early as 2012, the difficulties of late

A consideration of the position of those with stakes involved would indicate whether this can happen. Some scientists of the ‘strategic enclave’ have already staked out their position for more tests. The strategic community would busy watching the global scene and writing ‘I told you so’ editorials. Maximalists would lead the drive for maximising fissile material stocks before the window closes. Academics would add a chapter to the disarmament syllabus. The military is content with the ‘triad’ that has something for all three. The politician is not likely to go out on a limb. The government is yet to recover from its Sharm es Sheikh revealed limitations. The NSA is reduced to cautioning the media against foreign policy determining levels of ‘hype’.

A disarmament agenda is not likely to come about on its own. Redirecting the energies of these institutions would be required. The scientists would require to be held accountable for delivering in the power sector, now that the nuclear deal has opened up vistas. The military would be happier with conventional armament made possible by a speedier acquisitions process. The strategic community should be challenged to divine contours of a peace dividend that it had visualised in the run up to nuclearisation. With these three sectors quiesant, the less pressured the political class can permit a reaching out to neighbours. The government, not requiring watching its back, can proceed more firmly. The media will then catch the fresh wind in its sails. A self-reinforcing loop can then bring a regional disarmament track alive.

Such an agenda can be set in case nuclear dangers in South Asia are openly discussed. Presently, reliance on the good health of deterrence is such that military strikes are discussed as response options to another 26/11. With no ongoing talks to act as buffer, such a response may be inevitable. The expectation that Pakistan is a rational state – one repeatedly proven false earlier - may not withstand the test of conflict. With respect to China, the mutual NFU is taken for granted. Three chiefs have in the recent past hinted at the redefinition of China in Indian perceptions. China for its part, either to take pressure off Pakistan; in reaction; or cognisant of the subtext of the Indo-US strategic partnership, is making the moves that serve to justify Indian apprehensions. Given the ‘face’ staked in any future conflict, rescinding of the NFU in a crunch situation by either side would be small price.

Proximity of nuclear dangers should be used to energise a peace and disarmament movement. It can originate only in India. Pakistan, given the feisty media and middle class, would likely catch it thereafter. China would then have no recourse but revert to the bonhomie of ‘peace and tranquillity’. For this to happen, the peace discourse requires going mainstream. Operating out of the margins only enables its marginalisation as ‘radical’ or ‘out of the box’. The key argument for breaking out would be that it would otherwise take a break in the nuclear taboo in South Asia to usher disarmament; now a distinct probability.

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