Implementing the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and the future of Nuclear Disarmament-Part 1 – Telegraph Nepal

A five minutes read.

Dr. Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat

Nepal’s former Ambassador to Malaysia


First of all, let me begin by giving a glimpse of how dangerous and devastating would be the use of nuclear weapon to human beings and natural environment, which has been well-described in the quoted text below:

“A 20-megaton nuclear bomb…..would create a fireball one and half miles in diameter, with temperature of 20 million to 30 million degrees Fahrenheit….all living things would be vaporized within a radius of “ground zero”. Six miles from this point, all persons would be instantly killed by a huge silent heat flash travelling at the speed of light…. Within a 10-mile radius, the blast wave would slow to 180 mph. In that area, winds and fires would probably kill 50 percent of the population, and injure another 40 percent … Within 20 miles of the centre, 50 percent of the inhabitants would be killed or injured by the thermal radiation and blast pressures, and tens of thousands would suffer severe burn injuries… Medical “disaster planning” for nuclear war is meaningless”

When we go back to the history of this deadly weapon, the United States of America tested the first ever nuclear device on 16 July 1945 in Los Alamos desert in the state of New Mexico when the second great war was continuing since 1939. The nuclear weapons were used against the Japanese civilian population in Nagasaki and Hiroshima on 6th and 9th of August 1945 respectively by the US. Altogether 214 thousand innocent people were killed in Hiroshima (1,40,000) and Nagasaki (74,000). The Emperor of Japan Hirohito declared the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allies forces on 15 August. Two weeks later, Japan officially surrendered to the Allies forces on 2nd September 1945 by signing an agreement with terms and conditions heavily imposed on Japan.

The then USSR developed its nuclear weapon in 1949 whereas Britain acquired it in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. The US and these four countries became most powerful nations in the world after obtaining legitimacy of Nuclear-Weapons States through the required number of ratifications of NPT in 1970 by successfully testing the weapons before 1st January 1967 as per the treaty provision.

According to a report published in June 2020 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a watchdog organisation on nuclear weapons, has revealed that there are altogether 13,400 active nuclear weapons in the world. The report says that “the decrease in the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world in 2019 was largely due to the dismantlement of retired nuclear weapons by Russia and the USA—which together still possess over 90 per cent of global nuclear weapons.” According to the report, the US has 6,185 and the Russia possesses 6,490 nuclear weapons at its disposal. Similarly, China has 320, France 300, UK 200, Pakistan 160, India 150, Israel 90, and North Korea 30 nuclear weapons.

Situation in South Asia:

Let us examine from South Asia region as to why relatively poor countries like India and Pakistan need very expensive and dangerous nuclear weapons.

Many arguments have been put forward by various scholars about why a country needs weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons. “The most common argument is that states acquire nuclear weapons strictly to enhance their national security. From this perspective, a government’s decision to develop nuclear weapons rests primarily on perceived external threats to its security. A second prominent argument is that states acquire nuclear weapons as a means of earning respect from other states. In this view, the main incentive for a government to acquire nuclear weapon status is the political power it hopes to gain, not the military power associated with the national security argument. A third, less widespread, argument is that states acquire nuclear weapons for a variety of domestic political reasons. From this stand point, powerful domestic constituencies- politicians, civil servants, military officers, scientists, and the bureaucratic collectivities into which they are organised-are the main driving force behind a government’s decision.”

In this context, when we think of India and Pakistan acquiring nuclear weapons, above-mentioned three arguments fit well in their quest for nuclear weapons capability. For India, the primary reason was the eminent threat from China, which became more prominent from its victory over India in 1962 war and China’s acquisition of nuclear weapons in 1964. The border dispute resulting from the war in 1962 has not been solved yet between the two countries. The secondary reason was threat from Pakistan with whom India had already fought three major wars. Even though India won all three wars, Kashmir had always remained the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan from where a major war could break out at any point of time.

Another argument is that a certain country acquires nuclear weapons not only because it faces security threats but it also wants respect and attention from the international community and major powers. Robert O’ Neill observes: “There can be no denying that nuclear-weapons states have more clout in international system just because they have nuclear weapons. They attract more attention, they take each other seriously, their defence establishments think about each other in a more significant way, and they form an identifiable club, whose members include those states that other nations wish most to have close relations with or gain the attention of. And it is a club whose membership is not controlled by those who already wear the tie. New members simply have to be willing to make their own tie and wear it. The other members then have no choice but to recognise them.”

After India exploded the nuclear device on 11 and 13 May, 1998, it tried to explain its position to the international community and other heads of states. It had explicitly given China and Pakistan as reasons for its nuclear test.

“Prime Minister Vajpayee launched a diplomatic counter offensive by sending letters to 177 heads of state. The one to Clinton pointed to India’s two neighbours as reasons for the test: China, ‘an overt nuclear weapons state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962’ and Pakistan, ‘a covert nuclear weapons state’ that had committed aggression against India three times and continued to sponsor terrorism in Kashmir.”

In further elaborating the reasons for India becoming a nuclear weapons state, former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit has given the following arguments: “The first criticism levelled against India is that by conducting these tests it has abandoned its unqualified commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons and missile capacities. This is not true. New Delhi had noted the discriminatory orientations of the nuclear weapons powers at the time of the very inception of India’s own nuclear programmes…While abjuring the acquisition of nuclear weapons, despite suggestions to the contrary by the US in 1963, it took note of Chinese nuclear weapons programme in 1964, and decided to build up infrastructure capacities for a nuclear deterrent of its own. India’s building a plutonium-processing plant in 1964 was an affirmation of this intention….. India was convinced that regional and subregional nuclear-free zones were irrelevant in terms of non-proliferation. Nuclear weapons have global reach and most of the regions anyway had at least one nuclear weapons power already. India also noted that the discriminatory terms of reference governing the NPT remained the guiding principle of all international regimes being put in place, whether it was the missile control technology regime, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.”

In a major policy shift on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared on 29 November 2009 that India was ready to join NPT as a nuclear-weapon state. Earlier, India was critical of NPT region saying that its provisions were discriminatory specially pointing towards the provision of recognising the nuclear tests conducted prior to 1st January 1967 to become a nuclear-weapon state. Thus, only five countries were qualified as nuclear-weapon states which India had not approved through its statements at the UN. To declare India as the nuclear-weapon state, there was a need to amend the NPT which other powers did not give any attention.

From the view point of Pakistan, the sole reason for acquiring nuclear weapons is security threat from India after its nuclear tests on 28 May 1998.

When India said that one of the reasons for its nuclear tests was threat from China and deteriorating security environment in South Asia, “Pakistan’s official and unofficial circles rejected India’s China-threat explanation. They attributed the nuclearization decision to a host of factors: India’s desire to be treated as a major power at the global level, an uncertain security environment in the post-Cold war period, and the BJP’s narrow nationalist worldview as well as the domestic political gains the party perceived to be for the taking. Many people in Pakistan believed that India would use its nuclear status to pressure Pakistan to accept India’s perspectives on regional issues and especially on India-Pakistan disputes.”

Some scholars have given reason for India’s policy in opting for nuclear weapons to the expansion of the role of NATO. “ NATO’s global hegemony and its willingness to use force based on self-determined humanitarian grounds have provided added fuel to the pro-nuclear lobby in India. Amid the above trends and uncertainties, the strategic context of India’s nuclear policy is examined here first from two opposing directions: from a regional-to-global and global-to-regional perspective.”

Indian government officials have condemned the NATO attack on Yugoslavia and its expansion to “un-charted” territories. “ An expanding NATO now looms as an all-white colonial-type imperial expeditionary force determined to enforce its political diktats and moral standards on the rest of the world. It is not a defensive alliance but a massive military machine bringing together the economic resources of the most advanced industrialized states with a total population of nearly 800 million…. India’s Ministry of External Affairs criticised NATO’s actions in Yugoslavia and its new doctrine declared in Washington on 25 April, 1999, which permits operations beyond the Euro-Atlantic region and outside the territory of the alliance. This doctrine was stated to be the danger to the rest of the world. Any such action would contravene international law, norms of peaceful co-existence between the nations, and the UN Charter. …And Lieutenant General Satish Nambiar observed that the lesson of NATO’s war against Yugoslavia was that India should not allow itself to be weak militarily, politically, or economically.”

On the 17th of February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence with the tacit support of the United States and its 21 allied countries of EU membership. Russia and Serbia had to watch this incident helplessly.

NATO’s interference in the internal affairs of other countries has become worrisome for many countries. According to John Pomfret of the Washington Post, the Chinese military strategists saw a direct connection between Kosovo and Taiwan and Tibet. According to Colonel Wang, “If you impose your value systems on a European country, tomorrow you can do the same to Taiwan or Tibet…. Similar concerns exist in India about potential Western “humanitarian interventions” in Kashmir and other parts of India that may want to secede. Writing in the New York Times on October 22, (2000), Barbara Crossette suggested that the United States now turn its attention to Kashmir following the successful severance of Kosovo from Serbia and East Timor from Indonesia.”

Opposing such US tendencies, a senior Indian journalist, noted in the Hindustan Times on November 5, 1999, that “two days ago, the Congress of the United States began a hearing on human rights. It was not an enquiry into the state of human rights in America but in Kashmir, in a country that did not elect them, over which it does not have the remotest jurisdiction, and where even the most calamitous events would not affect America’s political or economic well-being.”

Thus, we can see that the US and military organization like NATO under the US leadership are trying to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries in the pretext of “humanitarian interventions” to further their interests in the area. Indian commentators and government officials are concerned about such tendencies of the US.

As regards the reasons for Pakistan’s nuclear tests on 28 May, 1998, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: ‘this had become inevitable for the security and the defense of the country after the five nuclear blasts and the subsequent threatening statements by the Indian leaders. We have settled the score…. It had become inevitable for Pakistan to give a matching response to India…… We waited a long time after the Indian blasts. Had India been made an example for others to learn a lesson (by enforcement of severe sanctions), had it not adopted an aggressive policy towards Pakistan, we would not have detonated the nuclear devices.’

Analysts have given several reasons for Pakistan’s acquiring nuclear weapons. “Since the Pakistani state emerged through partition in 1947, South Asia has been the site of a Soviet invasion, four Indo-Pakistani wars (including Kargil in 1999), one Sino-Indian war, several extended border clashes, and many insurgencies. Pursuit of nuclear capability represents, in theory, a rational response to a highly threatening security environment.”

Pakistan nuclear policy is India-centric and its leaders have time and again stated that if India is ready to abandon its nuclear weapons, Pakistan would do the same. Pakistan believes that if it does not have ‘minimum nuclear deterrent” against India, India would be a great threat to its security. “ The most noticeable feature of the design of Pakistan’s security perception is its rather simplistic linearity which identifies security and national interest mainly as response to an external threat. Moreover this external threat is mainly identified as from India. Interestingly, such a view is held despite the fact that Islamabad is itself keen on pursuing its interests without creating space for others.”

# Reference will follow in the upcoming concluding part: Ed. Upadhyaya.

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