The agenda of ‘nuclear abolition’ is under consideration by the administration of the United States led by President Barack Obama, according to T.V. Paul, director, McGill University Centre for International Peace and Security Studies and honorary professor at the K.P.S. Menon Chair for Diplomatic Studies.

Delivering a special lecture on the topic ‘Is Nuclear Abolition Possible?’ at the Mahatma Gandhi University here on Friday, Prof. Paul elaborated on the dramatic shift in the U.S. policy. “The Obama administration is seriously considering the question of nuclear abolition and this is a major change from the George Bush-era when Washington adopted a posture that allowed for the expansion of nuclear use and thereby, challenging the tradition of non-use or the taboo against nuclear use,” he said.

He said that the key driving forces behind the policy change for the U.S. administration are both “structural and normative.” “The normative predispositions of President Obama, who has been known for his position in nuclear abolition and the officials in the non-proliferation arena that he has assembled, seem to prefer radical steps in nuclear disarmament direction. Contained in the structural perspective are two arguments based on the notions of ‘great equaliser’ and ‘great nuisance’ as a result of the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional actors,” he said.

According to Prof. Paul, “the nuclear powers view their nuclear possession as status symbols, although over the years, this notion seemed to have eroded, partly because of the difficulties in using nuclear weapons as instruments of compellent or coercion.”

He added that nuclear possession by weaker regional powers can act as “a great equaliser” of major-minor power relations and thereby blur the distinction between major and minor powers. The expectation that the most destructive weapon is the exclusive preserve of the major powers is challenged by this development.

Prof. Paul argued that from a structural perspective, “a fully verifiable, comprehensive and complete nuclear disarmament treaty may be very difficult to obtain, even if persuasive normative arguments can be made.” Nuclear zero is a “highly ambitious agenda” and President Obama himself agrees that complete nuclear disarmament may not happen in his lifetime. He also said that there are powerful domestic stakeholders in all nuclear weapons states. A major question is whether the political elites in these countries do possess sufficient capacity to shake the power of these well-entrenched forces.

C. Vinodan presided over the session. A.M. Thomas and Mathew Kurian, also spoke. The series of special lectures by Prof. Paul will continue with a talk on the theme “Pakistan: Explaining the Garrison State” on December 14.

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