By Rabia Javed*
It is a known fact that nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism are among the most critical challenges facing the world today. New Delhi’s integration into global non-proliferation architecture—where it is not a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), can go against the non-proliferation regime, thereby, helping India in developing and modernizing weapon technologies. Over the past few years, the Indian government has time and again veered off into murk of nuclear power politics and rejigged its export control guidelines to fulfill its hegemonic ambitions. In contravention of nuclear non-proliferation rules, India’s case for integrating it in nuclear non-proliferation regime which otherwise is denied to other countries not party to the NPT, is setting a dangerous precedent for South Asia when region is already facing several challenges.
At present, one wonders why Indian nuclear history goes unchecked. New Delhi was denied access to global nuclear order for three decades, and the reasons are well known to everyone:
(a) India never signed the NPT or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
(b) In 1974, it misused civilian nuclear technology for acquisition of nuclear weapons.
(c) It also continues to be involved in aggressive vertical proliferation.
New Delhi’s nuclear behaviour is often unpredictable. First, there was the case of the ‘Peaceful Nuclear Explosion’ (PNE) in 1974, by exploding a device made out of stolen fissile material from a Canadian reactor provided for peaceful usage. This was then followed by the formal acknowledgement by India as a state possessing nuclear weapons in 1998, whereas, only a decade before the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan had put forth a clear-cut roadmap aimed at universal nuclear disarmament by 2010. The Indian nuclear test raised fears globally that nuclear technology intended for peaceful purposes could be misused, which soon led to the establishment of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
In 1954, Indian Prime Minister Nehru floated the idea of the CTBT, which was, subsequently, blocked by India at the Conference on Disarmament in 1996. These contradictions have only highlighted the ambiguity in India’s nuclear behavior and put a question mark on the ulterior motives that guide it. Moreover, the debates that have attempted to solve this puzzle have often limited themselves to two major concerns that drive India’s behavior: national security and energy. However, in their own capacities they have often left out a cardinal element: morality.
India has garnered the support of western powers to be mainstreamed in the strategic export cartels. The United States persuaded the cartels and supported the case of India’s membership for these cartels including the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) and the Australian Group (AG) to pave its way for the membership of NSG as a non-NPT member. MTCR addresses the missile technology control; the Wassenaar Arrangement is a multilateral cooperation that controls dual use technologies and conventional arms, which contribute to destabilization, while the Australian Group deals with the control of chemical and biological weapons export.
Most importantly, New Delhi’s futile pursuit to be a member of NSG ensures a safe passage for India to utilize nuclear energy for military purposes by freeing its domestic uranium reserves. Indian membership, if granted, could improve its access to nuclear technologies, which could have an impact on its nuclear weapons program. Additionally, U.S. Senator Ed Markey has already noted that India’s international treaty commitments as a non-party to NPT are not in accordance with the norm and mandate of the NSG. The discriminatory move to try to facilitate Indian NSG membership will further erode the strategic stability in South Asia. It will also encourage the arms race in the region, which will render the region towards more destabilization.
India’s NSG membership would give it “an opportunity to be involved in the wider decision-making process concerning the supply of nuclear materials and technology.” However, it is also important to consider concerns about India’s nuclear security record on its own merits. For instance, in 2016, the EU mandated Conflict Armament Research’s (CAR) report published upon weapons-specific issues in the conflict area, stated that seven Indian companies along with others had been found incorporating components used by the Islamic State to fabricate improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In its 2019 rankings, the Nuclear Threat Initiative actually ranked India 19th out of 24 countries regarding the security of its nuclear material from theft. This is further reflected in a case where Indian officials arrested 6 individuals for smuggling nuclear materials with numerous other nuclear security lapses, as outlined in a report by the Center for Public Integrity. Despite the poor track record and number of vulnerabilities in its nuclear security, the global nuclear order is focusing on making India a more reliable partner for nuclear technology and a future NSG member.
Given New Delhi’s reluctant attitude in accepting and fulfilling non-proliferation obligations like a moratorium on fissile material production, signing the CTBT, and strict nuclear fuel tracking by suppliers, a global nuclear order run by weak nuclear non-proliferation regimes with state-specific discriminative policies based on strategic interests of the major powers shall always remain fragile. To succeed, the imbalanced non-proliferation regime has to overcome its political bias and selective application of its own standards in favour of rule-based order.
*Rabia Javed is a graduate in defence and diplomatic studies from Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, Pakistan. She frequently writes on strategic issues on different forums.