‘India can play an important role in universal disarmament'

India must breathe fresh life into its universal disarmament proposal by assuming a high profile in advocating its basic ideas and goals, according to the Report of the Informal Group on carrying forward the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan (RGAP) on disarmament, unveiled in 1988.

Besides initiating a bilateral dialogue on disarmament with all the countries possessing nuclear weapons, India should also attempt a consensus on reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines, recommended the Group on carrying forward the RGAP in today's changed circumstances - India is now a State with Nuclear Weapons (SNW) and it has resolved to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent.

The Group, headed by Mani Shankar Aiyar, suggested renewed engagement with the Non-Aligned Movement and the seven-nation New Agenda Coalition for a treaty incorporating “binding negative security assurances” as well as to “keep the fires burning” in the Conference on Disarmament to push for discussions aimed at bringing countries together for complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

It also wanted active participation in civil society initiatives, strengthening the Ministry of External Affairs' Disarmament Division and raising India's profile in the United Nations General Assembly.

Most of the Group's recommendations, submitted to National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon on Rajiv Gandhi's 67th birth anniversary on Friday, deal with a more forceful advocacy of the goal of zero nuclear weapons. Testimony before the Group by some of Rajiv Gandhi's closest foreign policy aides revealed little bilateral or multilateral diplomatic action to canvass support. This was because there was little expectation in 1988 that the international community would seriously consider the RGAP.

The Group felt that India can and must play an effective and credible role as leader of a campaign for the goal of universal disarmament. India can bring in its moral strength from six decades of consistently campaigning for universal disarmament and the weight of its growing presence in the international system.

Moreover, a state with nuclear weapons leading a serious campaign for universal disarmament will be unique, “thus lending tremendous credibility” and increasing India's standing in the international community. Besides, New Delhi has been steadfast and consistent in championing the cause regardless of changes in government or changes in regional and global security conditions.

Dealing with the fundamental question whether the international setting is more favourable for meaningfully promoting these ideas, the report cited general and India-specific reasons to argue that the time is ripe for India to resume its traditional championship of the cause of disarmament.

The need for moving towards the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world was even more pressing today than during the Cold War years because more States have nuclear weapons and more could be tempted to join, thereby leaving a large tear in the non-proliferation fabric.

The Group took heart from United States President Barack Obama's speech in which he spoke about “U.S. commitment to seek peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” This is the first such assertion by a nuclear weapon state.

India is in a better position today to push for RGAP. In the pre-Pokhran days, India was in advocacy mode. It had little to bring to the negotiation table while making tall demands on others. That is no longer the case, the report argued, pointing out that the best security for India was in universal disarmament.

This was an opportune time internationally because the processes for reducing nuclear arsenals are gathering steam, the doctrines of mutually assured destruction are losing steam and the civil society has again come into prominence on the issue.

The report did not discount the hurdles - despite Mr. Obama's personal inclinations, the bulk of the U.S. establishment was far removed from this position; Russia and the U.S. have agreed to reduce nuclear arsenals but the question of elimination is nowhere on the agenda; and differences among States are standing in the way of meaningfully pushing for time-bound elimination.

Besides Mr. Aiyar, the Group consisted of Amitabh Mattoo, Arvind Gupta, Admiral (Retd.) L. Ramdas, Manpreet Sethi, Satish Chandra and Saurabh Kumar, Siddharth Varadarajan with Vidya Shankar Aiyar as Adviser.

  • India is now a State with Nuclear Weapons
  • ‘A SNW leading a serious campaign for universal disarmament will be unique'