The tacit taboo on the use of nuclear weapons that was in place after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is undergoing a change with nation-states changing their view on the use of nuclear weapons and embarking on a quest to expand their arsenal, said Dr R Rajaraman, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and former co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM)
Jul 18, 2019
The changing global strategic environment has brought with it an emerging nuclear disorder that the world is slowly grappling with. The tacit taboo on the use of nuclear weapons that was in place after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is undergoing a change with nation-states changing their view on the use of nuclear weapons and embarking on a quest to expand their arsenal, said Dr R Rajaraman, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and former co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM). He was delivering the Changing Asia Lecture Series co-hosted by the Society for Policy Studies and the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on June 17, 2019.
\Dwelling on the theme of ‘Emerging Nuclear Disorder’ with specific focus on Asia, Rajaraman lamented that the past decade has seen a return of nationalism and diminishing respect for international bodies and regimes, thereby leading to disorder emerging on many fronts, including in the realm of nuclear weapons and related policies.
Elaborating on the ‘nuclear order’ that is threatening to unravel, he noted that the phrase originates from strategic experts in the West and has two components: a) Enforcing non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through (UN backed) international Treaties like Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and institutions like International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); b) At the bilateral superpower level (US-USSR -now Russia) by decreasing nuclear arsenals, avoiding confrontation and increasing cooperation on strategic issues.
He pointed out that the NPT was not “entirely benevolent” and was highly exploitative and discriminatory in favour of those powers who drafted the treaty. But even then, the highly asymmetrical arrangement was amazingly successful in getting 190 signatory state-parties as carrots were offered to the non-nuclear weapons state (NNWS) in developing civilian nuclear power and the five nuclear weapon states (NWS) agreed to “pursue negotiations in good faith … on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”
India, Pakistan and Israel did not sign the NPT treaty as they felt it was “discriminatory”. Nevertheless, NPT is viewed as enabling a successful global order with North Korea being the only violator.
Prof Rajaraman pointed out that other non-proliferation treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that bans all nuclear testing and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) for preventing and capping production by others had the same discriminatory odour. This was because by the time the treaties were opened for signature in 1996, the P5 nations (US, Russia, France, UK and China) had conducted several nuclear tests and regular IAEA safeguarding was mandatory only on NNWS.
Turning to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 he highlighted the challenge of leaving the newly-born Russian Federation in a precarious situation with nuclear weapons being scattered and tasked with the responsibility of consolidating them. “During this period, US government and Congress wisely took several statesman-like measures to financially and technologically assist Russia in completing all these tasks… Such was the spirit of nuclear cooperation in those ‘Orderly” times’ he added.
By the mid ‘eighties the world had about 60,000 nuclear weapons, far more than sufficient for MAD and enough to wipe out mankind several times over. Fortunately, some wiser heads in the US and the USSR set in motion informal discussions towards some negotiated Arms reduction, leading to several treaties being signed.
“In 2009 President Obama reached out to his Russian counterpart Medvedev and they negotiated the New START Treaty (2010) which reduced the strategic arsenals of both sides further, to 700 deployed delivery vehicles (missiles + bombers) and 1550 warheads each. US and Russia are to be commended for these Arms reduction Treaties,” Prof Rajaraman added.
There were also several other steps taken towards more “Order”. Then US President Obama organized, in partnership with the P5 and Germany, negotiations with Iran to resolve the crisis caused by latter’s nuclear program. This led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA in 2015.
But things started going downhill as the end of President Obama’s tenure approached. A presidential campaign took over the US, and the very “contrarian” Trump was elected A more aggressive Putin returned to the Russian presidency replacing Mevedev, as pre-arranged. Having set up the elaborate architecture of nuclear order in the first place, US and Russia then started violating its spirit in a number of situations.
In 2019, both US and Russia announced that they will suspend their treaty obligations that are mandated in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This was signed in 1987 by Reagan and Gorbachev and had banned all ground-launched missiles between 500 and 5,500 km range.
Such a collapse of the global order has affected Asia the most, with it being the perpetrator as well as a victim. Giving the example of Iran, he said, “Iran has the dubious honour of having been both a contributor and a victim of the Nuclear Disorder.” He rued that the JCPOA that was signed in 2015 should have never been scrapped by Trump as that has led to the collapse of the “Order”.
He then referred to China as a serious violator of the international order long before Trump, George W Bush and Putin started tampering with it. “China reportedly provided Pakistan with 50kg of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in 1982, enough to make two nuclear bombs, and in 1983, the complete design for a 25 kt nuclear bomb,” he said.
Pointing to India, he observed, “India was a major victim, not so much of the emerging disorder, but of the old non-proliferation ‘Order’, suffering heavy sanctions after both the 1974 and 1998 Pokhran underground tests. By the time the ‘disorder’ developed, we were already free of the sanctions thanks to the Indo-US Deal.”
He then focused his attention on North Korea terming the country as the first violator of the nuclear “Order”. Comparing this with Japan’s deep aversion to nuclear weapons as the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack, Rajaraman pondered whether the new disorder will force Tokyo to take the nuclear route.
C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies who chaired the session said, “Nuclear disorder began with the Hiroshima bombing” and recalled the Indian response to an unfair nuclear treaty as a case of ‘disarming the unarmed.’ He observed that with technological advances, the domain is becoming far more complex and citizens need to be aware of the dangers embedded in the nuclear issue.