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The reality is that India will remain outside the NPT

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MOHAMED ELBARADEI: We should see how pragmatically we can move step by step.
MOHAMED ELBARADEI: We should see how pragmatically we can move step by step.

Siddharth Varadarajan

Nuclear weapon states must recognise the inextricable link between nonproliferation and disarmament, says IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

In the second and concluding part of his interview to The Hindu, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei speaks about the prospects for nuclear disarmament and the logic behind the international community’s decision to lift restrictions on nuclear sales to India.

The recent U.N. Security Council resolution on nonproliferation (UNSCR 1887) is being seen as a new commitment by the nuclear weapons states (NWS) to disarm. But while the text talks of ridding the world of nuclear we apons, it is short on the specific steps needed to get there — like no first use, and a Convention prohibiting the use of such weapons. In your opinion, how genuine a step forward is it?

I think there is definitely a new environment that dawned with President Obama coming to power. He has made it clear that his major commitment is to see that we start working towards a world free of nuclear weapons. This is a new environment, but it is coming after two wasted decades when the NWS made no significant effort to move towards nuclear disarmament in fulfilment of their [commitment] under the NPT.

There are obviously still a lot of questions, different approaches. I am not sure all the weapon states have the same view of how to go about it. You are right, how exactly we go about it is not yet [clear]. Do we start with a convention, with no first use, or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT)? There are lots of different approaches. And of course, each NWS sees things from its own strategic perspective. But one this is clear. The U.S. and Russia, which have 95 per cent of the nuclear weapons in the world, have committed to slash their arsenal by at least a third and hopefully that will come before December, before the START treaty lapses. There is also an agreement that the FMCT will be negotiated in Geneva. There is a commitment by Obama that he will take the CTBT to Congress for ratification, and again the hope that once the Americans join or ratify, the rest of the world will follow. All this would be a significant step in the right direction. That’s not the end of the road by any chance. There are a lot of confidence-building measures no first-use is one. I think a Convention will obviously come at the end, when we are really clear what kind of security system we will have. That remains a major challenge. We can still go to hundreds of weapons, but once we decide to go to zero, we have to have in place a new security system that assures every country its security is not diminished, that it is protected and that it has built in a very strong mechanism for detecting and deterring any country that might think of violating that. That’s why I continue to argue that we need to start working on that alternative security system in parallel now. That obviously requires a different Security Council, a different security paradigm, a very robust verification system, a very transparent international community in so far as making sure they are in full compliance. It is a lot of work. But hopefully the new resolution ushers in a new era. How fast we go, how committed the weapons states are we will have to see in the next few months.

The NPT’s core bargain was that the NWS are obliged to disarm. Yet, the latest resolution seems to present that obligation as a trade-off for the non-nuclear states conceding even more. Do you think they will succeed in this?

I don’t think they can. Quite frankly, the NNWS are also alert, are aware of the bargain that was struck in the NPT. The fact that the NWS did not really make good on their commitment by significantly moving to nuclear disarmament does not mean we need to have a new bargain. The bargain is there. They have to accelerate the implementation of their commitment. It has to be a parallel process. I don’t think the NNWS will move forward very much to tighten the nonproliferation regime except in sync with the NWS making good on their commitments. Only if the weapon states demonstrate that they are moving irreversibly towards disarmament through concrete [steps] can they have the moral authority to call on the rest of the world to tighten the nonproliferation regime. The shortcomings in the system will not be [remedied] unless the NWS understand the inextricable link between disarmament and non-proliferation.

As a strong backer of the India-U.S. nuclear agreement and the exception India won from some of the restrictions of the nonproliferation regime last year, do you feel there is a disconnect between the IAEA and NSG decisions on India and the latest U.N. resolution which essentially calls on India to sign the NPT?

I am not sure there is a disconnect. There are three countries outside the NPT. In the Middle East, Israel is the only country with nuclear weapons, the rest are all in the NPT, and there is a perception of security imbalance there. India and Pakistan are different because both possess nuclear weapons and there is a balance of power if you like. There are countries very insistent that Israel should join the NPT and there is lot of frustration in the Middle East as the result of what they perceive to be a security imbalance. Now, whether the UNSC language was targeting the three or just the one, in reality I don’t see them joining the NPT any time soon. India and Pakistan have said a number of times that they can only come into the arms control system in the context of global nuclear arms control agreement. And as much as the region wants Israel to join NPT, I can see the realistic possibility of that happening [only] in the context of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and the context of peace and security.

So as DG, IAEA, your stand would be that this resolution really has no bearing on the obligations that India and IAEA have entered into.

I believe so. These are two different things. The India-U.S. deal did not make any judgment nor has the IAEA made any judgment they neither blessed nor condemned India being outside the NPT or having nuclear weapons. They accepted as a reality for the time being that India is outside the NPT and has its military nuclear component but the deal in my view has been much more forward looking, much more strategic ... It brought India as a partner in the whole nuclear order, and was the only way to bring India on board in preparation for nuclear disarmament — you cannot think of nuclear arms control agreement without India being part of it. The agreement also does not add or diminish from the fact that India has military components for its programme but it focuses on how much this nuclear trade will help India’s development and energy needs. And I am very glad the NSG accepted this and India has already started to make use of this, signing agreements with Russia, France, Namibia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

And, of course, India is also looking at nuclear exports.

Yes, looking at India’s fantastic base of scientists, R&D in the nuclear field, India could be a hub for support to all developing countries that are looking for nuclear power for development.

Do you think at some point in the future, once Pakistan allays the international community’s concerns about its proliferation record, the world may have to find some way of bringing Pakistan in to the regime?

Pakistan has been frustrated that India got a nuclear deal while it did not and in the beginning they were opposed to it. My advice to them was that you really need to support the deal because it creates a good precedent for you, that once you put your nuclear activities in order — particularly in the aftermath of the AQ Khan network and all that — you should be able to get a similar deal and I would support a similar deal for Pakistan under appropriate circumstances because again Pakistan needs energy. Sometimes, the international community needs to be pragmatic. It is ideal that we have the NPT universalised but we know this won’t happen. These three countries have a complex security perception and we should not just stick to ideology but see how pragmatically we can move step by step.

(The first part of this interview appeared on October 3.)


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