Why India should take forward Rajiv Gandhi's action plan for a nuclear-weapons-free and non-violent world order.

For India, a country that takes particular pride in its non-proliferation credentials, the stance taken by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with regard to the first round of talks between New Delhi and Tokyo on civil nuclear cooperation in June must have come as a disagreeable surprise.

Days after the talks were held in Tokyo, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, a Magsaysay award winner this year for his principled and determined leadership in mobilising public opinion against nuclear weapons, met Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. Along with other activists, he was protesting against Tokyo entering into a civil nuclear agreement with a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

India, along with Israel and Pakistan, refused to sign the NPT. But the similarity in their stands ends with the fact that all the three countries termed it discriminatory. India's abhorrence to nuclear weapons was highlighted right from 1954, when it gave a call for an end to all nuclear testing. The apogee was marked by the seminal speech made in June 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the United Nations General Assembly proposing 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.'

India has been periodically testing nuclear-capable missiles and has made known its determination to secure its assets in space, but Rajiv Gandhi's proposal for a nuclear-free world has ensured that India has never used its potential nuclear arsenal as a tool of foreign policy.

Rajiv Gandhi had termed nuclear deterrence to be the “ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism, holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few.” He proposed a three-stage process of total disarmament with the accent on a regime that was global, universal and non-discriminatory. Had the West, at that point caught up in the Cold War and dominated by conservatives, heeded the call, the world today would have been nearer to the proposal's ultimate aim of a binding commitment by all nations to eliminate nuclear weapons in stages by 2010 at the latest.

The Rajiv Gandhi Plan was ranked among the bolder initiatives to rid the world of nuclear weapons, along with Mikhail Gorbachev's call made two years earlier for the abolition of nuclear weapons. But the U.S. immediately rejected the Rajiv Gandhi Plan. Although the USSR welcomed the proposal, its opinion did not count for much as it was by then a declining power.

The U.S. rejection provided confirmation of the realisation that the West would continue to factor nuclear weapons into military calculations while paying lip service to the dream of complete disarmament. And they used the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty drafting process to get India to give up the “nuclear option” it had zealously held on to for two decades. But India in 1998 decided to shed its ambiguity by testing five devices and effectively declaring itself to be a nuclear-weapons state.

Around the world the Indian decision was seen by advocates of nuclear disarmament as a betrayal of the cause. At first blush, this was certainly true. But in truth, for a variety of strategic and political reasons, India had felt compelled to embrace key elements of the old Rajiv Gandhi agenda. Since 1998, New Delhi has kept its earlier plan alive and relevant through frequent interventions at the Conference on Disarmament and a working paper on a Nuclear Weapons Convention at the U.N. General Assembly in 2006. India also signalled its willingness to participate in the negotiations for an internationally verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament.

In the post-Cold War era, India's logic for complete nuclear disarmament has acquired greater weight because of its traditional close association with arms control and non-proliferation. For, India believes that the West's current preoccupation with forcing some countries to foil their attempt to enter the nuclear club is bound to be ineffective unless non-proliferation is linked to universal disarmament. The former National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan, said at last year's Munich Security Conference: “Our perception of arms control is that by addressing the issue piecemeal it merely tends to perpetuate nuclear weapons in the hands of a few chosen nations. Non-proliferation is seen as essentially an extension of the arms control regime.”

In today's world, where the five states that are officially nuclear are unable to deter others from following the same path by invoking the NPT, the Rajiv Gandhi Plan has once again emerged as a valuable solution. It seeks to totally de-legitimise the retention of nuclear weapons arsenals, whether under the excuse of a global treaty or by states breaking out on their own. That India would not be a beneficiary of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, unlike the NPT, only adds to the proposal's creditworthiness.

The Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were mollified when presented with New Delhi's approach to nuclear weapons which was once again aired at the Conference on Disarmament. But Indian diplomats face a long road ahead on this count.

The overhauled Indian plan now suggests the appointment of a special coordinator who would seek a consensus on setting up a committee on nuclear disarmament as the first step to revive the 22-year-old proposal. Apart from the de-alerting of weapons and universalising no-first use, India has proposed steps aimed at reaching the goal of complete nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, the U.S. and other nuclear-weapon states are not so enthusiastic about this. Even President Barack Obama, who endorsed the ‘zero option' in his Prague speech in 2009, said abolition would not happen in his lifetime. The latest Nuclear Posture Review endorses again the salience of nuclear weapons for war-fighting and deterrence. India, however, must continue to push for the acceptance of its ideas. States that wish to achieve peace or stability through the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent are hanging on to a doctrine that has lost its relevance in a multi-polar world.

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