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Regional and Global Nuclear Disarmament: Going Beyond the NPT

The accession of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States is an opportune time to revisit the issue of global and regional nuclear disarmament. What are the options open to civil society? The two routes to global and regional disarmament are obviously connected but not in a manner whereby movement along the latter is made conditional on forward movement along the former where the us has always been the biggest obstacle, the pace-setter in creating and deepening the global nuclear mess. This article is about where we stand today and what future directions in the cause of nuclear disarmament may be worth pursuing.


Regional and Global Nuclear Disarmament: Going Beyond the NPT

Achin Vanaik

The accession of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States is an opportune time to revisit the issue of global and regional nuclear disarmament. What are the options open to civil society? The two routes to global and regional disarmament are obviously connected but not in a manner whereby movement along the latter is made conditional on forward movement along the former where the US has always been the biggest obstacle, the pace-setter in creating and deepening the global nuclear mess. This article is about where we stand today and what future directions in the cause of nuclear disarmament may be worth pursuing.

Achin Vanaik ( is with the Department of Political Science, Delhi University.

he importance of the accession of US President Barack Obama for the prospects of nuclear disarmament should not be exaggerated. He is still pretending that the placement of missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic is about Iran and on this fraudulent basis is trying to negotiate with the Russians. But even though he has said nothing so far about the wider Ballistic Missile Defence or BMD project, and of course remains hypocritically silent about Israel’s nuclear weapons, he is nonetheless seeking to negotiate with Russia about possible arms reductions. This seems an opportune time then to revisit the issue of regional and global nuclear disarmament and this article is about where we stand today and what future directions in the cause of nuclear disarmament may be worth pursuing. It is structured as follows: (1) Explaining India’s decision to go openly nuclear in 1998 and the meaning of the Indo-US nuclear deal; (2) evaluating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); (3) revisiting the much debated issue of the efficacy of nuclear deterrence; and (4) post-cold war dangers and what now?

Indian Acquisition and the Deal

Much of the commentary on Indian acquisition of the bomb has seen a basic line of continuity between India’s Pokhran-I test in 1974 and those of 1998 when it declared its open nuclear status. This is certainly the basic argument put forward by the pro-bomb Indian lobby that mostly emerged after Pokhran-II with one major qualification made more specifically by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance that formed the coalition government in 1998 but all the other political parties in the ruling coalition were kept completely in the dark about the decision while the unelected RSS was privy to the decision to go nuclear.1 This combine claimed both continuity with the past and a distinctive break – the decision was necessary and desirable and largely prepared by past actions but only the Sangh had the “courage” to finally cross the nuclear Rubicon. Elsewhere the pro-bomb lobby has insisted that continuity not rupture is what ultimately explains Pokhran-II.

In claiming as much, the structure of argument has to lean much more strongly towards emphasising the “logic” of “nuclear preparations” and the politics surrounding this, rather than towards the more complicated, wider and uncertain “politics of nuclearisation” as such. Such an approach largely elides the difference between the two political courses. Among those who hold this view are fierce critics of the NPT as essentially a charade. Adherence by many non-nuclear weapons states (NNWSs) with

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obvious nuclear capabilities to the NPT is then to be explained by the fact that they are “threshold states” which lose nothing, indeed whose status gets legitimised, by joining the NPT. More conventional and more normal usage restricts this label to countries that practised nuclear ambiguity and wished to maintain the option such as India, Pakistan and, once upon a time, Brazil and Argentina whose eventual renunciation of the option is significant. Threshold status should also be distinguished from a posture of nuclear opacity of Israel and apartheid South Africa (the African National Congress always opposed such possession when in opposition), where post-apartheid renunciation was indeed a meaningful step.

Broadly speaking there have been three general lines of argument for explaining why countries, including India, have gone or go nuclear. Even when such arguments are combined, one line is predominant. There are changes in threat perceptions. There is the hypocrisy of nuclear weapons states (NWSs) (of which the NPT is emblematic) that presumably finally drives some NNWSs to go nuclear. There are changes in elite self-perceptions (much more open to internal pressures) that prove decisive. Contrary to the expectations of many an anti-nuclearist, hypocrisy alone does not produce any kind of comeuppance for pre-existing NWSs, nor does it drive potential NWSs to become new entrants. The reasons have to be far stronger, although the charge of hypocrisy is always a useful form of justification. The US, France and UK did not go nuclear for fear of the nuclear power of another country but because of post-war elite perceptions. The US was declaring its global dominance and sending a message of its anti-communist determination. UK and France as declining colonial powers wanted to remain at the high table of global powers and for France it was also a way of declaring its relative independence. The USSR and China were more obviously motivated by external threat perceptions, and for China, from both the US and USSR.

India’s decision was status-driven and not threat-driven – akin to the cases of UK, France and US while Pakistan’s was reactive and akin the cases of USSR and China. The evidence against assuming any line of continuity from 1964 or from 1974 to 1998 is very strong. While the Chinese test was a key factor in India ultimately deciding not to join the NPT (although it played a role in preparing earlier drafts) 10 years separate it from Pokhran-I. This took place in a context of considerable internal pressures on the Indira Gandhi Congress government. It was called a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE) and Indira Gandhi herself gave the best explanation for it. “The PNE was done when we were ready. We did it to show ourselves we could do it.”2 In 1977, Prime Minister Morarji Desai of the post-Emergency government publicly announced his displeasure at Pokhran-I and renounced further such experiments. Indira Gandhi as the prime minister of a Congress government in 1980 announced that resumption of tests was conceivable but not becoming an NWS. Consideration of testing between then and 1998 by subsequent administrations had to do with concerns about technologically upgrading the option than with any determination to go openly nuclear.3 Nuclear ambiguity or keeping the option open yet not foreclosing or exercising it was the consensual posture accepted by all parties from the left to the right with the BJP seeing it as the lowest common denominator,

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although it and its forerunner (the Jan Sangh) had demanded the bomb from the 1950s before China, let alone Pakistan, had developed it. That is to say, the BJP’s consistent advocacy had everything to do with its Hindutva ideology of “uniting Hindus and militarising Hinduism”.

In short, the story of why India went nuclear in 1998 has to be situated in the deeper, more encompassing story of India’s overall and steady drift to the right from the 1980s onwards in foreign, economic and other domestic policies. A realist, and especially Waltzian approach, with its “levels of analysis” theorisation for separating the domestic and international is a particularly inadequate lens for explaining why India went nuclear in 1998. In my book India in a Changing World written in 1994 and published a year later, I made two predictions (Vanaik 1995). I had said that of the three NPT holdouts – India, Pakistan, Israel – if any one was to go openly nuclear, the first would be India. Israel’s and Pakistan’s retention of capability or “bombs in the basement” was always much more strongly linked to externally perceived threats and thus the two countries could more easily spell out the conditions under which they would be willing to give up nuclear weapons. The Pakistan government since the mid-1980s has repeatedly made proposals for denuclearising South Asia even after its Chagai tests. Israel has supported a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in west Asia but only in the context of an overall peace settlement – a shameful and unacceptable form of international filibustering. But even if in part or whole this is d iplomatic one-upmanship by the two countries it allows them a diplomatic coherence that India has never had (ibid: 83-84).

My second prediction was that on the accession of the BJP to power “Finally, India would go openly nuclear. The BJP is the only major party to officially say so and there is no good reason to doubt its determination in this regard.”4 While the India-Pakistan relationship has always oscillated (periods of lesser or greater tension) around the fulcrum of strategic hostility, the dominant view in India’s strategic establishment about the Sino-Indian relationship is that its fulcrum has lain between the two ends of strategic friendship and strategic hostility, closer to but not congruent even with the posture of strategic rivalry; hence the deep uncertainty about how to deal with China.5 Immediately after the 1998 tests, Prime Minister Vajpayee publicly justified these by referring to the threats posed by Pakistan and China, although, after the collapse of the USSR followed by China-Russia rapprochement, Sino-Indian relations had significantly improved with the signing of two treaties easing border-related tensions. In fact such was the diplomatic faux pas vis-a-vis an angry China, that within a month the Vajpayee government publicly declared that India’s bomb was “not country specific” and within a year it was stated that it was “not threat specific” either.

What about the Indo-US nuclear deal? Is it an example of wishful thinking and incompetence on the part of the US and thus a spectacular example of India outmanoeuvring the US? On the contrary, in spite of the US’ overall global political decline, the world remains a “hub-and-spoke” arrangement with the US at the hub. The initiative for the deal came from the Bush administration and took India by surprise. Washington wanted to accelerate the process of strategic partnership initiated by the Clinton


administration once it had reconciled to a nuclear India itself also desirous of forging a strategic alliance with the US and a much closer relationship with Israel.6 It is the strategic pay-off represented by the deal that is most important to Washington and it is willing to accept an India that will for a long time to come remain a small nuclear power (SNP). In the US-China-India triangle the future trajectory of the Sino-Indian relationship will be essentially determined by the US-China relationship, which itself will be decisively determined by US behaviour with China as the r eactive power.

India, post-1998 continued to oppose the BMD but abandoned objections after the US abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty only asking now to be contractually and politically involved in the process of preparing and deploying the BMD-TMDs (Theatre Missile Defence) shield. New Delhi has endorsed, though not yet joined the US-led and illegal Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). It is also now a willing junior partner of the US in the Indian Ocean and has a level of military cooperation (exercises, training and officer-exchange programmes) with the US that goes well beyond what it ever had with the USSR. The US sees India, Japan and Australia as the key nodes in the construction of an “Asian NATO” (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) with other south-east Asian countries being invited to provide supplementary support.7 As recently as 23 October 2008 India and Japan inked a declaration for a “Strategic and Global Partnership”. India is only the third country – after the US and Australia – with which Japan has signed such a document.

As for Iran, even the pro-US lobby in India would have preferred to pursue parallel paths of sustaining and strengthening relations with both since New Delhi has had a long-standing and important friendship with Tehran reaching back to the time of both the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini. But the US forced India to choose and it buckled under the pressure as the Indian vote at the governing body of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed, enabling a transfer of the Iran dossier to the UN security council (UNSC) on the flimsiest and most unjustified grounds so that the possibility of punishment via sanctions could now be exercised. The role of El Baradei, who has been unjustly eulogised in far too many circles, needs to be properly understood. The fact that El Baradei has to maintain some credibility for the watchdog role of the IAEA means he has to distinguish himself from Washington. But at crucial points – allowing the Iran dossier to go to the UNSC, endorsing the Indo-US Deal, helping the US (which bullied “recalcitrants”) to swing over the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – he has fallen in line. The US’ maximalist desire is for India to give it significant support in its efforts to isolate and weaken Iran. Its minimalist aim is that India should not in any serious way obstruct these efforts, in effect its political neutralisation vis-à-vis Iran. India is operating at a position slightly above the minimalist US aim.

Evaluating the NPT

It is easy enough for all to agree on the discriminatory nature of the NPT, the perfidious behaviour of the NWS signatories in failing to live up to their end of the bargain embodied in Articles I, IV and VI as well on the inherent contradiction of the treaty in simultaneously promising to help NNWSs to develop the wherewithal for a bomb through promotion of a civilian dual-use programme as an inducement to formally abjure a military nuclear programme. Thereafter differences in evaluation emerge. Some judge the NPT to be a limited success for two reasons. It has lasted with no breakouts barring North Korea (which may well prove temporary) and has prevented horizontal proliferation. But it is only by insisting that the NPT must not be seen as a “stand alone” measure that one can give it a “credit by association” as it were. There have been limited successes in the field of nuclear arms restraint (the ABM Treaty), reduction (the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 which did eliminate for the first time a whole class of arms), formalised abstinence (nuclear weapon free zones – NFWZs). So future advances, like getting the CTBT into force or eventual success in negotiating a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), would, presumably, lend new credence to the NPT.

It would be wiser to subscribe to a much more negative evaluation. Except for the commitment to drawing up a CTBT that was the price to be paid by NWSs to get a permanent extension of the NPT in 1995 (a measure that further reduced what little leverage NNWS signatories had) the NPT has been a “stand alone” agreement. Management of nuclear arms racing allowing qualitative improvements in arsenals, alongside occasional quantitative reductions and restraint measures such as NWFZs have all taken place independent of the NPT. So why has such an iniquitous treaty survived and why have so many countries adhered to it including those with bad relations with the US? Could this be because of the NPT’s dual-use character as well as its escape clause (Article X) that allows a member-country to withdraw if the “supreme national interest” demands this? But this is a standard clause in virtually all inter-state/international treaties. On the other side, why has the US in the post-cold war era sought to undermine the NPT and more generally the non-proliferation regime so suitable for it, for example, by rewarding India? The puzzle is more apparent than real. The US aims to extend its global (including nuclear) dominance which leads it to both use the NPT as cover and to defy it whenever circumstances demand this.

Coming into force in 1970 by its first five-year review conference in 1975, the NPT had 91 state parties. By 1980 this rose to 110, to 128 by 1985, to 138 by 1990, to 178 by 1995, to 190 by 2003. But was this post-cold war expansion predominantly a manipulated one even for the stronger potentially NWSs? Was it created by prodding and bribery of all sorts by the P-2? But can one seriously claim that Brazil, Cuba and some others like Argentina and South Africa (remember that the ANC always opposed nuclear weapons) fell prey to this kind of manipulation?

There is a more plausible general form of explanation for such membership by potential NWSs that took place at specific times in specific historico-political contexts. For some like Egypt, Switzerland and Turkey there was a significant time gap between signing and ratification. For others the decision to sign and ratify came later. Why with the exception of North Korea has there been no withdrawal and why have so few members (Iraq and Libya) sought to secretly build an arsenal? As for Iran, given its disavowals and the willingness of Iran to cooperate with the IAEA there is more reason to believe that the dominant elite view has

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been of keeping the option open with a current willingness to even foreclose it if given appropriate inducements.

The general point to be made is not that the NPT itself has been such a barrier to proliferation (vertical and horizontal) and therefore it has endured but that potential NWSs for one reason or the other decided at different points of time to finally renounce nuclear weapons programmes and only then signed/ratified the NPT, and barring a very few, have found no reason to re-evaluate that decision. In some case this can be seen as confirmation of the assessment by fiercely independent and often beleaguered countries of the “strategic uselessness” rather than the presumed “strategic usefulness” of nuclear weapons.8 The NPT has been the expression of a prior resolve to renounce. It should not be seen as either a bulwark against horizontal proliferation or as some kind of trap to which potential NWSs have been lured or bullied into. The NPT should not be assigned any virtue nor should its iniquity be exaggerated. It is best treated as irrelevant. It cannot be r eformed and there is no point in demanding its abandonment. Serious efforts at disarmament will need to ignore and bypass it.

Harsher judgment of the NPT sometimes segues into seeing it as an unwarranted obstacle to even a selective spread of nuclear weapons to countries outside the existing nuclear club, for example to Iran or North Korea, which could then be countervailing forces to the US’s imperial project. This would be a good thing but for the NPT. We return therefore to the long debated counterfactual – the efficacy or otherwise of nuclear deterrence.

Nuclear Deterrence and the World Order

Can nuclear weapons deter? The answer is yes. But deterrence is not the mere registration of this property. It is a rationalisation, a theorisation that constitutes a much bolder and considerably less plausible claim that this property is so strong and so lasting that a country can rely on it for its enduring security. To believe in nuclear deterrence is to believe that terrible fear will always ensure that fallible human beings (state leaders and managers) will behave as you want them to though they and you operate in circumstances and conditions (sometimes of great stress) that neither they or you can ever fully control. Security, of course, is a nebulous term which even when it is understood conventionally and narrowly involves an inescapable psychological element. The proportion of one-time believers, including top echelon officials of civilian and military personnel in NWSs, who have defected from belief in the efficacy of nuclear weapons to the ranks of critics and sceptics is several times greater than defectors in the opposite direction. Illustrative though this is, it cannot of course be a serious intellectual riposte to deterrence defenders. It is Kenneth Waltz who can claim to have provided the strongest such foundation through his cautious conditional “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better”.

Waltz’s argument for proliferation cannot be separated from his overarching and foundational international relations (IR) theory of Neorealism or Structural Realism. Severe weaknesses in his broader theory should alert us to being more critical in assessing his specifically nuclear arguments. Neorealism for all its parsimonious elegance and internal consistency, logically speaking, remains a deeply flawed theory of limited explanatory

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power, of even more limited scope and given its positivism quite lacking any critical self-reflexivity. Some have taken note of his “Realist abstraction of the differing social character of states” but the problem goes deeper. His whole approach is ahistorical and asocial and as an IR theory has long passed its peak of influence. From the 1980s onwards it has been assaulted from certain strands of feminist IR theory, from certain political economy approaches to IR, from Critical Theory, and most powerfully from the Neo-Marxism in IR of Justin Rosenberg and Benno Teschke (Rosenberg 1994; Teschke 2003).

While the “problematic of the International” like the “problematic of the economic” is always trans-historical, its proper understanding must involve historicised and socialised concepts and theories like those of Marx. Instead of Waltz’s face-saving artifice of different “levels of analysis” he should have realised that interrogating the concept of capitalism, which bridges the domestic and international, has always been the best way of understanding modern geopolitics. It is not in the least surprising that his theory is inspired by borrowings from the utterly abstract, and socially and historically speaking, barren conceptual field of neoclassical economics. Similarly, his thinking on the specifically nuclear front is abstract, a-historical and asocial.

Before examining Waltz’s particular failings in this regard, let us remind ourselves that all strategic nuclear thinking is inescapably speculative and must therefore be disciplined by reference to (a) empirical controls, and (b) the balance of plausibility in argument. Take the “long peace in Europe” issue attributed to the cold war militarised face-off. There are three distinct claims that are made here. Nuclear weapons were necessary and sufficient to prevent nuclear and conventional war between the east and the west. Nuclear weapons were necessary but not sufficient to preventing such wars. Nuclear weapons prevented intra-European wars as well. The opposing stance towards all three claims is that nuclear weapons were irrelevant to the issue of long peace. But even a conventional war between the US and USSR would have been third world war and world wars are by their nature multicasual and a single-factor explanation for their presence (though the trigger can be singular) or absence is untenable. The problem with even the second claim is that it is still a single-factor form of explanation of the absence of a world war, even if there can now be a number of such necessary single-factors whose absence can also do the trick. Of course after the cold war ended intra-European wars erupted despite the existence of a nuclear overhang. Is it not more plausible to explain the long peace by the existence of a cold war glacis – itself a multi-causal phenomenon – wherein nuclear weapons were an expression and promoter of cold war tensions but not a decisive cause of this glacis?

If one is to respect the logic of Waltz’s argumentative structure, then deterrence works and is stable only if each of the confronting NWSs has a credible second strike capacity. A new entrant would have to be allowed time to develop such a capacity against opponents, whether near or distant. Since Waltz operates through asocial and a-historical categories he must provide an essentially “abstract rationalist” answer (backed by weak empirical illustrations) as to why a new entrant will be given such time and f reedom from a pre-emptive or preventive strike aimed at its


fledgling nuclear weapons system. Waltz would have us believe that a preventive strike would only harden the resolve of the targeted country to make successive future efforts to make the bomb until it was ultimately successful. Once a few bombs are developed deterrence of a pre-emptive strike will succeed because even the absence of the capability of, say, a west Asian country to make intercontinental missiles that can reach the opponent will not be a problem. Just the fear that a few rudimentary bombs can quite belatedly be secretly moved by plane, ship or land to a distant enemy is enough of a deterrent. So a very small nuclear arsenal can serve as a credible second strike capability and this can be developed in a very short time (Sagan and Waltz 1995: 19).

This argument is important to note given Israel’s history from its bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1991 to its 2007 bombing of IAEA safeguarded facilities in Syria. There is higher plausibility in the belief that if push comes to shove neither Israel nor the US will tolerate even a rudimentary Iranian nuclear weapons system and it is now very much harder for a highly monitored state to achieve this secretly. As for the notion that a second strike equilibrium can be reached quickly and then remain stable, all historical evidence indicates that this is always an upwardly moving “equilibrium” related to the nuclear ambitions/preparations of perceived opponents. This brings us to the issue of arms races, conventional and nuclear. Yet another Waltz claim invalidated by reality is that new and small nuclear powers are more likely to reduce conventional arms spending and not engage in arms racing once they acquire nuclear weapons. This has not been the case anywhere among paired rivals including India and Pakistan precisely because nuclear weapons cannot do what conventional arms can do (ibid: 29).

But the greater embarrassment for Waltz is that no sensible notion of deterrence can explain the ridiculous overkill capacities and the extraordinary range and levels of tactical weaponry developed by the US and Russia. Waltz can only bemoan that rather than pursuing “deterrence by punishment” the two great powers pursued (and in due course perhaps other NWSs might pursue) “deterrence by denial”. The point here is that Waltz’s overarching Neorealist theory focused as it is on the primary goal of “survival” and the value of nuclear deterrence in relation to this, has no room for the reality that whether before or after acquiring nuclear weapons, states aim to use them for purposes beyond mere existential survival and for general foreign policy support. This drives them to build a “ladder of escalation” that, in turn, promotes a momentum of continuous arms racing. The “what if” question has to be addressed. What if, since there is never a guarantee against it, that nuclear weapons are somewhere, sometime used between nuclear rivals? Then the existence of a range of different nuclear arms provides tactical flexibility for trying to control this “ladder of escalation”. Waltz’s own view is that should nuclear war break out, it will very quickly come to a halt – a comforting reflection designed to shore up his view of “more may be safe enough” but hardly an impressive line of argument.

In fact, Waltz in no way seriously interrogates what can be called the “escalation dynamic” and can therefore be more complacent about nuclear weapons not being used. While deliberate use of nuclear weapons is not that credible, one can credibly create a situation – the Cuban crisis – where tensions can escalate into a nuclear exchange. Any number of nuclear strategists from Henry Kissinger to Thomas Schelling (but not Waltz) have developed different models of “calculated risk taking” recognising that different levels of nuclear brinkmanship is very much a part of the larger nuclear “game” that in reality is played once one moves away from the simplifying assumptions of Waltz. Between Pokhran-I and Pokhran-II there was no war between India and Pakistan. In 1999 believing it had a “nuclear shield”, Pakistan launched the Kargil war and both sides readied their nuclear arsenals for use. Shortly after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, India and then Pakistan mobilised over a million troops in all on both sides of the border for some 10 months till tensions were defused with the help of the US. This was the largest and longest such mobilisation anywhere in peacetime since the end of second world war. Both sides once again made nuclear preparations.

Subsequently in 2005, lieutenant general Khalid Kidwai, the head of the Strategic Planning Division of Pakistan’s National Command Authority and one of the two “fingers” (the other is current military chief, lieutenant general Ashfaq Kayani) spelt out the country’s nuclear red-lines, the crossing of which by India would result in the use of nuclear weapons – severe military defeat by India, serious territorial advances towards any of Pakistan’s major cities, economic strangulation through a blockade, political destabilisation. After the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, the then RSS supremo, K S Sudarshan in an interview by a freelance journalist, declared that a war with Pakistan would turn into a nuclear one, but that

it was necessary to defeat the demons and there was no other way. And let me say with confidence that after this destruction, a new world will emerge which will be very good, free from evil and terrorism.9

Of course, Kidwai and Sudarshan are in large part displaying a mixture of bravado and bluster. But both the first is a vital decisionmaker and the latter also whenever the BJP is in power. Such attitudes and beliefs are disturbing. The lesson that needs to be drawn is that in a context of enduring hostility, an escalation dynamic can throw things out of control. Minor incidents can trigger a chain of events leading to an outcome – nuclear exchange – that neither side to begin with would have ever wanted since it would be completely disproportionate to the purposes initially sought by both sides. And this is a key point of weakness in deterrence thinking.10 There is good reason to worry about India’s and Pakistan’s nuclearisation and about further horizontal proliferation.

Contemporary Dangers: The Way Forward?

How then do we move towards global and regional disarmament? The two routes are obviously connected but not in a manner whereby movement along the latter is made conditional on forward movement along the former where the US has always been the biggest obstacle, the pace-setter in creating and deepening the global nuclear mess. It has always been the case that civil society pressure from within the US against Washington’s global role, even as it is connected to civilian and governmental

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p ressures from outside, is the single most important terrain of confrontation. Neither the rise nor decline of the great independent (not controlled by communist governments) anti-nuclear peace movements in the west (and Japan) of the late 1950s/early 1960s and then in the mid-1970s/early 1980s are to be explained by reference to the NPT. Both the inspiration for, and decline of such movements have different roots. The rise of such movements was founded on the growing “felt danger” among a disproportionately middle class base. This has been the shared mass sentiment, the psychological glue that kept it growing. But no movement based on constant fear can sustain itself beyond a limited time horizon. Such a foundation is too negative a sentiment and will also be eroded by the passage of time itself. As for the poorer parts of the world, other more basic and daily “felt needs” of poverty, unemployment, inequalities of all kinds, have always had greater priority. This includes today’s India and Pakistan where in any case the dominant attitude among the middle class is supportive of the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

So what now? In the post-cold war era, the danger of a global holocaust has greatly receded even as a “limited” and regional assault or exchange has grown. Two parts of Asia cause concern. Why then should ordinary Europeans or Americans feel so worried? Why should one feel surprised about the absence of older-type mass movements in these parts of the world? Fears about future confrontation with Russia and China through the US effort to build the BMD and related TMD systems could help to regenerate a mass opposition within the US and in Europe to the US’ plans of “full spectrum dominance” of which this project is a part. But aside from such hopes the larger question is what should be the strategic line of march particularly in the US of the antinuclear peace movement? This must lie in its participation in a wider, more encompassing anti-war/anti-imperialist movement. For all its unassailable military strength the US can be (and has been) politically defeated. Over the last century and a half there has emerged (especially after WWII) a growing disjunction between military power and political power/success that has thrown up strategic and intellectual problems that, Waltz and others in the realist/neorealist school, cannot adequately handle because their understanding of power is so under- and poorly-theorised.11

The political defeat of US ambitions in west Asia sends the message that the most extreme form of military power – nuclear weapons – is not a source of decisive or even significant political strength. Successes in building an anti-war/anti-imperialist struggle then facilitate the spread of a sentiment of anti-nuclearism. If it is accepted that this must be the key strategic line to adopt, then it follows that it is the deficiencies pertaining to the building of such a mass anti-imperialist movement today that are most important to correct, not so much the deficiencies in building an anti-nuclear mass movement. And in this regard the role and impact of the NPT are of even less, if not nil, consequence.

Of other possible scenarios, it is right to make light of the bogey of non-state nuclear terrorism, not just on the grounds of immense technical difficulties but also because it assumes that non-state actors are somehow more irrational when compared to state actors. In fact the scale of international suffering imposed

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by acts of state terrorism is immeasurably greater not because states have always had the greater means but because their terrorist acts are harnessed to much more grandiose ends – national security, defeating global radicalism, spreading democracy, protecting civilisation, etc. Indeed, such state acts of terrorism are not only more easily justified but all too often they are not even seen as terrorism. Two of the six ideological banners that the US is using after the demise of the Soviet Union as part of its software for its current imperial project (the hardware requires various regional alliances) are the “global war on terror” and “WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] in the wrong hands”.12

The danger is not the likelihood of non-state nuclear use but of the US using this as a justification for a possible small pre-emptive nuclear strike to convey the message that non-state actors should not even think of making such a strike on US soil, indeed of even considering a “dirty bomb” attack or a conventional assault on a nuclear reactor to which the US response could very likely be nuclear. As it is, after 1991 there has been a great blurring of the firebreak between conventional and nuclear weapons in US war preparations and war doctrines. With North Korea wisely deciding to use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to obtain security commitments from the US rather than relying on them to provide an “existential deterrent strategy”, the two other danger areas are west and south Asia.

Given the absence of mass civilian pressure, all that can be suggested by way of positive approaches no matter how uncertain their achievement, would be pursuing the following objectives. First, build pressure against the BMD-TMDs and PSI projects. There is some scope for future optimism here given the unease of some significant NNWSs besides China and Russia. Second, promote the effort to establish an early and unconditional WMDFZ in west Asia (no Israeli filibustering) as the best way to deal with nuclear dangers in this region. Iran and all 22 members of the League of Arab States have for decades demanded this and it is still for all its difficulties of realisation, the best political route to take to outflank Israel and the US and put them diplomaticallypolitically on the defensive. The alternative route of Iranian nuclearisation should not be promoted or endorsed.

Third, while India will certainly not accept a south Asian NWFZ there are ways of putting pressure to this end by pursuit of three measures: (a) demand that the whole of Kashmir on both sides of the existing ceasefire line be made an NWFZ. Interestingly, though this idea was first floated by peace activists in the two countries after 1998, it was taken up in August 2007 by the ruling All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference on the Pakistan side of the current border. Since neither India nor Pakistan has s tationed or intends to station nuclear weapons in Kashmir, a cceptance of this demand does not entail any practical sacrifice. It is also a way of their deflecting the criticism often voiced in the west and elsewhere of Kashmir being a “nuclear flashpoint”. This would be one way of deflecting all imputations of irresponsibility which do irritate the two governments especially when coming from existing NWSs. Of course acceptance by the two governments would constitute a “thin end of the wedge”, a way of legitimising partial regional de-nuclearisation which is all the more reason to pursue this call. (b) The Maoists and other


parties in Nepal should be approached at both the governmental and civil society levels to declare in its forthcoming Constitution that it, like Mongolia, will be a single-state NWFZ thereby embarrassing its two nuclear neighbours. (c) Bangladesh is the one neighbour that has publicly called for the establishment of a south Asian NWFZ.13 As a transitional measure, Bangladesh should explore the idea of a stretching of the Bangkok Treaty to include itself, thereby sending a message that will be uncomfortable to India and Pakistan.

Fourth, work for the signing and ratification of the zero-yield CTBT. It is an important restraint measure on qualitative advances on the US which is why Russia and China are willing to accept it and why the Bush Administration refused to ratify it. Yes, it locks the qualitative lead the US already has over other countries. But does anyone believe it is better that the US has the freedom


1 See Chapter 4 in Bidwai and Vanaik (2000). 2 See Goldblatt (1985: 114). 3 In 1995 during the intense CTBT debate on whether

India should join up or not, the Congress government of Narasimha Rao did consider having a test and then signing up to the CTBT but eventually decided against it before the US discovered the preparations and put pressure on the government. See Bidwai and Vanaik (2000: 69-73).

4 See Vanaik (1995: 12-13). As far as I am aware no one outside the Sangh parivar before then, had publicly predicted this.

5 See Bidwai and Vanaik (2000: 52-53, 69-74).

6 In the last few years it seems Israel has overtaken Russia as the largest supplier of military hardware to India just as India is now Israel’s number one

arms buyer. In the longer run Israel (and the US) may well enduringly replace Russia as India’s number one supplier.

7 See The Indo-US Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions by the US Deparetment of Defence, 2002. This a report based on interviews with 23 American military officers, 15 government officials and several members of the Indian National Security Council and outside experts advising the Indian government. Also see Tellis (2005) and Blank (2005).

8 Nuclear weapons possess a “threat power” so extreme that its fungibility or “exchange power” is negligible. No wonder then that it is so difficult to point to serious successes through nuclear blackmail attempts at which the US is most guilty. No wonder also that even in the most extreme conditions of actual war between NWSs and NNWSs they have been of no use, e g, the US in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan and that American presidents (Reagan and Nixon) have expressed their frustration over their political-diplomatic ineffectiveness when dealing with enemy states. Vietnam can certainly develop a programme to build nuclear weapons if it wants to but despite a 1,000 year history of enmity with China, it has decided to renounce this option by joining the Bangkok Treaty, i e, the south-east Asian NWFZ. There is as much if not more plausibility in the argument that not having nuclear weapons affords greater nuclear security vis-à-vis an NWS than having them.


10 An excellent analysis of this whole issue is given by Jean Dreze in “Militarism, Development and Democracy” in Ramana and Reddy (2003: 307-12).

11 The most serious intellectual contributions to understanding “power” have never come from conventional IR theory which places such central premium on the notion but from the disciplines of political science and historical sociology.

12 The other four are “humanitarian intervention”, regime change in the name of democracy, “failed states”,

to make further qualitative advances in such weaponry? Does anyone seriously believe that the gap would then reduce? And is it a bad thing for India and Pakistan to be denied the opportunity through further tests to reliably produce more advanced types of nuclear weapons? The new Obama administration may well move towards ratification and Israel has already endorsed the CTBT. India and Pakistan are the main holdouts and although not signatories must also sign and ratify for the treaty to come into force. They are quite likely to do so if the new administration in Washington applies serious pressure. One should also work for the resuscitation of the negotiations towards a Fissile Materials Treaty but the final outcome must incorporate the dismantling of all stockpiles held by the existing NWSs.

These are all worthwhile objectives. But the challenge, of course, is to make them more than just a wish list.

“war on drugs”. Their manipulation is made more plausible precisely because they are not simply concoctions but do refer to genuine problems. For an indepth analysis of the six ideological banners that have replaced the old cold war banner of “saving the Free world from the Communist threat” see Vanaik (2007).

13 Statement by Mr Masud Bin Momen, Director General (UN), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh at the First Committee of the 62nd UNGA, 17 October 2007.


Bidwai, Praful and Achin Vanaik (2000): New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament (New York: Interlink Books).

Blank, Stephen (2005): Natural Allies? Regional Security in Asia and Prospects for Indo-American Strategic Cooperation, Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College.

Goldblatt, Joseph, ed. (1985): Non Proliferation: The Why and Wherefore (London and Philadelphia: Sipri Publications/Taylor & Francis).

Ramana, M V and C Rammanohar Reddy, ed. (2003): Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream (New Delhi: Orient Longman).

Rosenberg Justin (1994): The Empire of Civil Society: A Critique of the Realist Theory of International Relations (London: Verso).

Sagan, Scott and Kenneth Waltz (1995): The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate (New York and London: WW Norton & Company).

Tellis, Ashley (2005): India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Teschke, Benno (2003): The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations (London: Verso).

Vanaik, Achin (1995): India in a Changing World: Problems, Limits and Successes of Its Foreign Policy

(New Delhi: Orient Longman).

– ed. (2007): Selling US Wars (Northampton, Massachusetts, US: Olive Branch Press, Interlink Publishers).


March 7, 2009

The Postnational Condition –Malathi de Alwis, Satish Deshpande, Pradeep Jeganathan, Mary John, Nivedita Menon,

M S S Pandian, Aditya Nigam, S Akbar Zaidi

South Asia? West Asia? Pakistan: Location, Identity The Practice of Social Theory and the Politics of Location Reframing Globalisation: Perspectives from the

Women’s Movement Postnational Location as Political Practice

The Postnational, Inhabitation and the Work of Melancholia Empire, Nation and Minority Cultures: The Postnational Moment Nation Impossible Thinking through the Postnation

For copies write to Circulation Manager

Economic and Political Weekly

320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. email:

–S Akbar Zaidi –Satish Deshpande

–Mary E John –Malathi de Alwis –Pradeep Jeganathan –Aditya Nigam –M S S Pandian –Nivedita Menon

april 18, 2009 vol xliv no 16

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