Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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    Recently, an international conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) concluded at the United Nations in New York without a consensus document.

    Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

    • About: 
      • The NPTcame into force in 1970
      • The provisions of the Treaty envisage a review of the operation of the Treaty every five years.
      • The Tenth Review Conference, scheduled for 2020, was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • Aim: It seeks to inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons.
    • Members: A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States.
    • Important Pillars:
      • First Pillar: The States-Parties commit to general and complete disarmament.
      • Second Pillar: Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) forgo development or acquiring nuclear weapons.
      • Third Pillar: States-Parties can access and develop nuclear technology for peaceful applications
    • Withdrawal: India, Israel, South Sudan and Pakistan never signed NPT and North Korea has declared withdrawal in the past.
      • India refused to sign it on the grounds that the nuclear weapons states must agree to a clear plan for nuclear disarmament.
      • India reiterated its commitment to a Nuclear Weapons Convention calling for a verifiable and non-discriminatory elimination of all nuclear weapons.

    India’s nuclear doctrine

    • India, as a responsible nuclear weapon state, is committed to maintaining credible minimum deterrence with the posture of no-first use and non-use against non-nuclear weapon states.
    • India is also committed to the goal of universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament.
    • India has supported the immediate commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT).
    • India stands ready to play its role and work with fellow member states to achieve our collective objectives.

    Historical Linkages 

    • In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the US attempt to roll back India’s nuclear and missile programmes generated serious concerns in Delhi.
    •  India responded with a diplomatic strategy that sought to deflect external pressures. At the same time, Delhi also debated whether India should test nuclear weapons and declare itself a nuclear weapon power. 
    • After the nuclear tests in May 1998, India’s focus shifted to managing the consequences of that decision — including global economic sanctions.
    •  The historic India-US civil nuclear initiative of July 2005 finally produced a framework that brought to an end Delhi’s extended conflict with the NPT system.
    • At the heart of the deal was the separation of India’s civil and military nuclear programmes. 
    • The consummation of the India-US nuclear deal a few years later gave Delhi the freedom to develop its nuclear arsenal and resume civilian nuclear cooperation with the rest of the world which was blocked since India’s first nuclear test in May 1974.

    Present Challenges

    • The deepening divide between the main sponsors of the NPT back in 1970 – America and Russia.
      • Even at the height of the Cold War, there was always one major area of cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union — strong support for the NPT. 
      • Most review conferences were jointly managed by close diplomatic coordination between Washington and Moscow.
    • The non-nuclear state parties usually complained about the lack of progress in implementing the disarmament provisions of the NPT
      • The situation today is worsened by the absence of any dialogue between the nuclear powers on arms control. 
      • Rather than reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, the major powers now put greater emphasis on their strategic utility.
    • The invasion of a non-nuclear weapon state, Ukraine, by a nuclear weapon power, Russia, has generated a whole series of new questions:
      • Russia’s decision to put his nuclear forces on alert and threaten the use of nuclear weapons has sent a shiver down the spine of those who are on the periphery of nuclear weapon states. 
      • Russia may have put its nuclear sword away, but the impact of Moscow flashing it early in the Ukraine war has been significant. 
      • For those in Asia, who worry about China’s growing assertiveness, “Ukraine could well be the future of Asia”. 
      • There are real fears that China might decide to flex its nuclear muscle while seizing the territory of its neighbours. 
      • America’s Asian allies worry about the US’s ability to reinforce the “nuclear umbrella”. East Asian policymakers are debating various options. 
      • These include building one’s own atomic weapons, sharing the use of US nuclear assets, developing nuclear-powered submarines, building powerful long-range conventional counter strike capabilities, and strengthening missile defences.
    • China’s political campaign against the AUKUS arrangement has found some resonance in South East Asia:
      • When the US and UK announced their plans to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered attack submarines in September 2021, China argued that the agreement violates the provisions of the NPT. 
      • Although the NPT permits non-nuclear states to develop nuclear naval propulsion, Beijing persisted with the campaign. 
    • Nuclear power is coming back into reckoning around the world amidst the growing challenge of climate change: 
      • The draft final statement noted that “nuclear technologies can contribute to addressing climate change, mitigating and adapting to its consequences, and monitoring its impact”. 
      • Separately, a group of 12 countries led by the US, UK, Japan, and South Korea emphasized the importance of nuclear power in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.

    Way Ahead

    • India must find ways to end the current stasis in its civilian nuclear power generation. 
    • Revisiting the Civil Nuclear Liability Act 2010 is now an urgent imperative for any Indian strategy to rapidly raise the contribution of nuclear power to India’s energy mix.
    • India must also recognise and adapt to the return of nuclear weapons as major instruments of great power military strategy. 
    • India must ask itself if its nuclear weapons can deter China’s expanding atomic arsenal. After 1998, India premised its strategy on building “credible minimum deterrence”. 
      • The time has come to reflect on the “credible” side of that strategy and redefine what the ‘minimum’ might be.
    • India should be paying a lot more attention to the international nuclear discourse that is acquiring new dimensions and taking a fresh look at its own civilian and military nuclear programmes.

    Mains Practise Question 

    [Q] What kind of implications does the unfolding global nuclear discourse present for India?Comment .