The global nuclear cloud is darkening

India should make a credible and objective intervention

Updated - April 26, 2018 06:43 pm IST

Published - April 26, 2018 12:15 am IST

Icon of air bomb or missile with radiation sign. Nuclear weapon symbol

Icon of air bomb or missile with radiation sign. Nuclear weapon symbol

The word ‘historic’ is appropriate to describe the April 27 summit between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. While there is considerable optimism that this meeting will mark the beginning of the long-awaited rapprochement in the Korean peninsula, the nuclear domain remains opaque.

When U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and North Korea were in diplomatic contact and that denuclearisation was on the table, there was a flurry of activity. However, in recent weeks, though Pyongyang has announced that it is suspending further nuclear/missile tests and shutting its test site, there has been no indication that it intends to give up its nuclear arsenal.

The term ‘denuclearisation’ in relation to North Korea is being selectively approached for its semantic exactitude. While the U.S. and Japan seek the equivalent of complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement, South Korea appears to be prioritising the rapprochement and normalisation of inter-Korean relations even while keeping the nuclear strand on the agenda. China and Russia, which are regional stakeholders, will be monitoring the summit for its outcome.

Mr. Kim has played his relatively weaker cards in an astute manner and the very fact that the Korean summit will be followed by a similar meeting with Mr. Trump later in May or in early June marks the end of the U.S.-led political and diplomatic ostracism.

Mr. Kim would be cognisant of the global nuclear trajectory and the manner in which the U.S. has dealt with the weapons of mass destruction issue in Iraq, Libya and Iran. Thus, while verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation is a desirable objective for South Korea, Japan and the U.S., it is the critical survival shield for the Kim regime.

The Iran nuclear deal

More recent developments in relation to the Iran nuclear deal and Mr. Trump’s determination to jettison it since it is a “bad deal” have led to a darkening of the global nuclear cloud. As per the original 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the U.S. President has to certify every 120 days that sanctions need not be enforced against Tehran and that the nuclear weapon programme rollback compliance undertaken by Iran is proceeding satisfactorily. United Nations-led external inspectors have certified that Iran’s compliance has been in keeping with the 2015 accord. The last such U.S. waiver was approved reluctantly by Mr. Trump on January 12. He had warned then that that would be the final endorsement by him of the deal, for he wanted more stringent conditions to be added to the current Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In short, the U.S. is changing the goalposts and the May 12 deadline is looming large.

Deteriorating relations

The last year has seen bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia on the one hand and between the U.S. and China on the other becoming increasingly brittle. This has also affected the weapons of mass destruction domain. Consequently, many of the major (nuclear-missile) arms reduction treaties and verification protocols between the U.S. and Russia that go back to the Cold War decades and the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union have become moribund, and the subtext is causing the global nuclear cloud to become even darker.

More specifically, both the U.S. and Russia have embarked upon major nuclear weapon modernisation programmes and the decision to resurrect the nuclear-tipped cruise missile at sea has very destabilising implications. This capability had been buried given its inherently deterrence destabilising characteristics. The nuclear-tipped cruise missile that can evade current missile detection systems has also been embraced enthusiastically by India and Pakistan. Collectively viewed, this trend is a disturbing augury.

India has urged nuclear restraint and universal disarmament since the 1950s and has been relatively muted after its May 1998 nuclear tests and the rapprochement with the U.S. over the nuclear issue that began in mid-2005. Given that it aspires to a seat at the global high table, India ought to make a credible and objective intervention that will burnish its profile as a ‘different’ nuclear weapon power – one that remains committed to restraint and the elusive Holy Grail of nuclear zero. The Xi Jinping-Narendra Modi informal summit may be an opportune moment to bring the darkening nuclear cloud back to the global political agenda.

C. Uday Bhaskar, a retired Commodore, is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.