February 12, 2019
THE Trump Administration suspended Nuclear Arms Control Treaty with Russia last week following five years of heated debate over accusations by the United States that Moscow was violating the Reagan-era agreement, which were rejected and denied by President Putin. The decision is likely to trigger a new arms race — not only with Russia, but also with China, which was never a signatory to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). It also comes as the United States has begun building its first long-range nuclear weapons since 1991, which move appears to signal the end of more than a half-century of traditional nuclear arms control. The INF Treaty was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987which had prohibited Washington and Moscow from fielding ground-launched cruise missiles that could fly between 310 and 3,420 miles.
In September 2009 the United Nations Security Council, at a summit chaired by the then US President Barack Obama, had unanimously approved a resolution that envisaged a world without nuclear weapons. The resolution had called for stepped up efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote disarmament and reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. The US-drafted resolution also called for further efforts in the sphere of nuclear disarmament envisaging a “world without nuclear weapons”. It had urged all countries that have not signed the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to do so. The conference also aimed at promoting the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), first initiated in 1999. India was perhaps the first country to have given immediate reaction to the resolution before it was voted, and had refused to sign NPT and CTBT.
In direct answer to the resolution calling for signing the non-proliferation treaty, the then India’s permanent representative in the UN Hardeep Puri had said, “There is no question of India joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. Nuclear weapons are an integral part of India’s national security and remain so pending non-discriminatory and global nuclear disarmament”. The problem is that the US — the sole superpower — has double standards, one for its strategic partners and the other one for rest of the world. Israel is an undeclared atomic power, yet America would not like to see Iran or any Arab country develop nukes to meet the challenges from it. The US itself entered into a civil nuclear agreement whereby India enjoyed all the benefits accruing to a State that signed Non-Proliferation Treaty. This has disturbed the balance of power in South Asia.
On the other hand, members of US administration, government functionaries and think tanks continued propaganda against Pakistan that terrorists could get control of its nuclear assets in the event the state fails. In 2006, Pakistani press quotation Indian news agency had published news that National Intelligence Council, a think-tank organ of CIA in its 114-page report, among other observations, presaged that the world would need America’s help in resolving conflicts, and the US will have to intervene with a view to stopping Kashmir dispute from taking an ugly turn. It observed that in case India committed aggression against Pakistan, and got initial success due to its edge in conventional arms, Pakistan could use atomic weapons. The US had signed civil-nuclear agreement with India, whereby India, which is not member of the NSG, enjoys the benefits of membership under a 2008 exemption to NSG rules for its atomic cooperation deal with the US.
The US Administration perhaps does not realise that its policy of building up India as countervailing force to China would prove counter-productive, as India would never flex muscle with a powerful neighbour like China. American leadership did not realize that it was creating a monster for which the US might face the consequences of arming its potential rival in this region. India is said to have quantitative and qualitative edge over Pakistan in conventional weapons such as tanks, aircraft and naval ships; yet it is on buying spree and acquiring sophisticated weapons from the US, Russia, France, UK and Israel. Of course, the US policy of making India a strategic partner has emboldened India to continue to be stubborn and baulk at resolving Kashmir and other disputes. Anyhow, the two pillars of India’s strategy are a “minimum credible” deterrent and a doctrine of “no first use” of nuclear weapons.
Pakistan also believes in minimum deterrence but does not subscribe to the “no first use” because of India’s edge over conventional arms and size of the armed forces. On Friday, the Red Cross called for a total ban on nuclear weapons, warning of the growing risk that such arms could again be used with devastating effect. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a global campaign to generate awareness about the rising nuclear threat facing the world. They said some nuclear-armed states were straying from their “long-standing nuclear disarmament obligations” and were “upgrading their arsenals, developing new kinds of nuclear weapons and making them easier to use”. However, US President Donald Trump’s announcement that Washington is beginning a process to withdraw from the Cold War-era agreement in six months would trigger a new arms race.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.