India’s response to the U.S.-sponsored resolution on non-proliferation may be worded diplomatically but there is no disguising the sharp differences between Washington and New Delhi that have opened up on a host of nuclear issues. These range from the role of the Security Council and the right of countries not to sign treaties to the emphasis on non-proliferation at the expense of disarmament.
At the heart of the Indian stance is a zealous attempt to guard the gains from last year’s granting of special status by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and International Atomic Energy Agency, something the Obama resolution is totally silent about.
The UNSC resolution --- passed at a Summit level meeting convened by President Barack Obama on September 24 --- calling for tightening international controls on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including universalizing membership of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the immediate adherence to its norms by non-parties. The principal target of the resolution may be Iran, North Korea and those non-nuclear weapon states opposed to greater policing of their activities. But the resolution also effectively calls on India to place all its nuclear facilities under international safeguards, a demand that flies in the face of its de facto nuclear weapons status. A last minute U.S. addition also reaffirms the outcomes of the 1995 and 2000 NPT review conferences which, inter alia, sought to introduce comprehensive safeguards as a condition for nuclear supply, the very requirement the NSG waived for India last September.
In a letter to the President of the Council on September 23, India’s Permanent Representative, Hardeep Puri, said that while New Delhi welcomed the U.S. initiative to convene a summit to consider matters relating to non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, it believes “an excessive focus on non-proliferation does a disservice to the essential principle of the mutually reinforcing linkage between disarmament and non-proliferation”.
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice currently holds the rotating UNSC presidency.
The letter says global efforts preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery were in India's interest “as the infirmities of the non-proliferation regime have had an adverse impact on our security”. After outlining Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 2008 proposal for a ban on such weapons, the Indian letter calls for intermediate steps like a Global No First Use Agreement and negotiation of a Convention on the Prohibition of the use of Nuclear weapons. It also reiterates India’s moratorium on nuclear testing and its own unilateral no first use commitment.
In a direct answer to the resolution’s call to sign the nonproliferation treaty, the letter says, “[There] is no question of India joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. Nuclear weapons are an integral part of India's national security and will remain so, pending non-discriminatory and global nuclear disarmament”.
The other highlights of the letter: Since non-proliferation obligations arise from treaties to which states are parties, non-compliance should be addressed in accordance with those treaties or agreements and not by the Security Council arrogating a new mandate for itself; India cannot accept obligations stemming from the NPT or agreements it has not signed or externally prescribed norms that infringe its sovereignty, national interest and constitution; The IAEA’s authority to apply safeguards or verify undeclared nuclear activity is not open ended but “is derived from specific safeguards agreements it enters into with member states”, the letter states, noting in this context that India had concluded a number of agreements and reciprocal commitments as part of its civil nuclear initiative.
Taken together, the Indian stand represents not just a defence of the country’s hard won status as an exception to the NPT regime but a reversion to its traditional arguments on disarmament. New Delhi had tended not to emphasise these over the past few years, perhaps in keeping with Washington’s approach during the Bush administration. But with Mr. Obama’s team harking back to the non-proliferation agenda of the previous decade, India now feels more comfortable returning to its long-held positions.