India And Nuclear Non-Proliferation


“I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, unless the world now adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind”. – Mahatma Gandhi in response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings of 1945- Harijan- September 29, 1946

From the time of its independence in August 1947, India has been spearheading the movement for nuclear disarmament across the world. The origins of this cause adopted by India can be traced to the strong stand against nuclear weapons taken by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. In 1949, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Sir Benegal Rau, chaired the subcommittee which was entrusted with designing a proposal to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons. At the same time, however, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru realised the need to develop India’s nuclear infrastructure. India’s nuclear programme started in 1954 at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre(BARC) in Trombay which was originally set up as the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET).

In 1962, the Indian setback in its border war with China laid bare its military weaknesses. Though India joined the Partial Test-Ban Treaty in 1963, in October 1964 China tested a nuclear weapon, further increasing Indian concerns. The very next month, the then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri authorised work on the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion for Peaceful Purposes (SNEPP).

India has indicated its unwillingness to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in its current form, because it feels that “the treaty allows the five nuclear weapon states to retain nuclear weapons without a specific schedule for nuclear disarmament and has created two classes of states-the nuclear ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’” India has meanwhile offered to sign the NPT as a nuclear weapon state.

India conducted its first nuclear test on May 18, 1974 which it characterised as a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE). As part of its moves for promoting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, in 1978, India once again proposed a ban on nuclear weapons testing at the Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly in June 1978. In June 1988, the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi presented a landmark speech at the United Nations General Assembly where he put forward a proposal for a world free of nuclear weapons, an end to be achieved through an ‘Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear-Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order’, which later came to be known as the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan.

In May 1998, after a hiatus of 24 years, India conducted its second series of nuclear tests. As India’s economy booms, one thing that India desperately needs is energy. With fossil fuels fast draining out, India’s only recourse seems to be looking out for alternate sources of energy, which include nuclear energy. Although, at present, India generates only 4.7 gigawatts of nuclear power, which constitutes only about 3% of the total electricity generation, it has an ambitious plan to increase that to 60 gigawatts by the year 2035.

It was the India-US civil nuclear deal that led to the end of India’s nuclear isolation. The contours of this agreement were laid in a July 18, 2005 joint statement by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then U.S. President George W. Bush, under which India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place all its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards while in exchange, the United States promised to work towards full civil nuclear cooperation with India. However, it was only on October 1, 2008 that the US Congress gave its final approval to the nuclear deal. In a major success for India’s nuclear ambitions, the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on September 6, 2008 granted it a crucial waiver enabling India to carry out nuclear commerce and ending 34 years of isolation which started after its 1974 nuclear tests.

India has also been cooperating with other countries like France and Russia to meet its nuclear energy demands. During the visit of the French President Nicholas Sarkozy to India in the beginning of December 2010, India and France signed many pacts for deepening bilateral cooperation in the atomic energy sector, paving the way for construction of French nuclear reactors at Jaitapur in India’s Maharashtra state. In December 2009, India and Russia had concluded a bilateral agreement on cooperation in civil nuclear energy. Two Russian-designed reactors are to shortly go operational at Kudankulam in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.

However, in a setback to India’s quest for nuclear energy, in early 2008 Australia officially declined to supply uranium to India unless India acceded to the NPT. The present Australian government of Julia Gillard seems to be in no hurry to do a rethink on the issue. Hence India has been looking at other countries like Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Namibia besides Russia to meet its uranium requirements.

India has always promoted nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Given its security environment(there are two nuclear armed countries in its neighbourhood), it has developed a nuclear-weapons programme, but its peaceful intentions are aptly manifested in its no-first use policy and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. Indeed the world today, more than ever, needs to remember these words of Mahatma Gandhi which show his revulsion at the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“It is being suggested that the atom bomb will bring in Ahimsa (non-violence) as nothing else can. It is meant that its destructive power will so disgust the world that it will turn it away from violence for the time being. This is very like a man glutting himself with dainties to the point of nausea and turning away from it only to return with a redoubled zeal after the effect of nausea is well over. Precisely in the same manner will the world return to violence with renewed zeal after the effect of disgust is worn out.” – Mahatma Gandhi, Harijan, July 7, 1946

Rupakjyoti Borah

Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, India. He was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge, U.K. in 2009 and an Australia-India Council Australian Studies Fellow. The views expressed are personal.

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