Saturday, August 30, 2014

Seeking Nuclear Legitimacy, my article on India's nuclear security policy...

Here's my short essay on India's nuclear security policy, particularly in the backdrop of India's NSG membership talks... I make two points here: one, even as India has instituted rigorous measures to secure its nuclear installations, it had done poorly in advertising what it has done. two, for many of the NSG members, it is India not signing the NPT, which is at the heart of their lack of support for India's NSG membership, for instance. The sanctity of "NPT-signatory" is laughable because that is a crude way of assessing a country's nuclear non-proliferation record. China has signed the NPT but has flouted every single idea behind the treaty. On the other hand, while India is not a signatory to the NPT, it has upheld all the principles that are enshrined in the global non-proliferation regime.



The annual meeting of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was recently concluded in Buenos Aires, where India's membership issue was discussed with no clear answer. Several countries, including the US, UK, France have remained supportive of India's membership although countries such as China, among a few others, have remained opposed to the Indian membership issue. It is in the interests of India to be part of the NSG if it has to be able to shape the new non-proliferation architecture and exercise a greater say in how the global rules are played. For the international community as well, it is beneficial to have India inside the tent than outside.

Nuclear security has become an important concern for the global community. The threat of nuclear terrorism, including the so-called 'dirty bomb', has continued to increase over the last decade. The need for strengthening the current international mechanisms and establishing new rules if necessary is growing. Recognising the importance of the problem, the global community has held three 'nuclear security summits' which focused just on this problem. India has a lot to contribute to this effort, but we are being stymied by misperception about our own efforts in the nuclear security arena.

For India too, this is an important issue. The fact that the Indian Prime Minister participated in the first two nuclear security summits indicates the importance of this issue to India. New Delhi worries that one of the various terrorists groups in the region, especially those in Pakistan, might acquire some type of nuclear capacity.

While acquisition of nuclear materials and capabilities is not easy given the tight security around facilities and installations, the potential for such should not be ruled out. Accordingly, India has instituted strong measures around nuclear safety and security, which is at par with some of the other major nuclear powers. Analysts have been critical of India's policies and practices, but the reality is that India put in place both its institutional and legal architecture way back in the 1960s and 1970s. Obviously, there have been structural changes as well as amendments brought to these instruments in recognition of new threats and risks. In the backdrop of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the potential to carry out commando style attack or a sabotage by Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba is very real and India has to gear up its response mechanisms in a focused manner. Therefore, while terrorism is not a new phenomenon to India given its geographical proximity to global terrorism, it has to plan its response and contingency measures well. The ability to respond quickly and effectively, bringing together all the different agencies involved, will be a major challenge. While various agencies do periodic scenario building and exercises to test their response capabilities, mock drills involving all agencies are done very rarely.

International cooperation is particularly important given the nature of new challenges facing India in this regard. Even as India has instituted rigorous measures to secure its nuclear installations, it had done poorly in advertising what it has done. To a great extent, the consensus has been that we need not be so open in the area of nuclear safety and security. This may have served India's interests to a limited extent so far.

However, as India's interests grow and it makes efforts to integrate with the international nuclear community, its ability to shape the new non-proliferation architecture will depend to a large extent how open it is about its policies and postures. No one is arguing for total transparency wherein our security may be put to risk, but a more pro-active engagement and outlining of our broad approach might do India some good. Having said that, it should also be acknowledged that there has been some effort recently to outline India's nuclear security approach and what different measures India has taken to secure its nuclear facilities and installations. For instance, a report authored by the Ministry of External Affairs lays out in detail the structures and practices that India has adopted in the area of nuclear security.

Despite India having an elaborate system in place, the Nuclear Threat Initiative's (NTI) Nuclear Security Index 2014 has clubbed India along with countries that have extremely poor track record in nuclear security. How seriously should this be taken up? Should an attempt by a think tank to quantify this issue be accorded any importance? This question pops up in the backdrop of India trying to garner support for membership into major technology export control regimes including the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It should be important that other countries know what we do, in terms of our internal practices but also what we do in the international realm, particularly with bodies such the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

There is little that one could do if groups such as the NTI come with a pre-judged position on India's nuclear security policies and practices. To counter such perceptions, not only must India put in place a lot of institutions and practices but also advertise to the world what it is doing. This is important when we are seeking membership of various nuclear clubs and because we need others' cooperation on a number of nuclear-related issues. Having said that, for many, it is India not signing the NPT, which is at the heart of their lack of support for India's NSG membership, for instance. The sanctity of "NPT-signatory" is laughable because that is a crude way of assessing a country's nuclear non-proliferation record. China has signed the NPT but has flouted every single idea behind the treaty. On the other hand, while India is not a signatory to the NPT, it has upheld all the principles that are enshrined in the global non-proliferation regime.

India can consider a few steps that might strengthen its image on this issue among the larger nuclear community. One, India's nuclear doctrine could be elucidated further and updated as a means of bringing about more clarity. This may be something that the Modi government could contemplate upon. Such measures could also be used as important tools of international messaging. Two, India could issue detailed position papers and statement at important forums like the Nuclear Security Summit and such other platforms. Three, India should communicate to the international community by using different platforms to share its perspectives and concerns. For instance, participation in international conferences, which are many a time effectively Track 1.5 platforms, are a way to garner greater support while pro-actively shaping the global discourse. India on many occasions does not appreciate the significance of such platforms and whether intended or not, it has lost out on several opportunities to effect impact. India must take corrective steps in this regard sooner than later. India's establishment of the GCNEP has gone a long way to strengthen its credibility in the area of nuclear security. India could consider additional steps, including possibly establishing a CTBT Monitoring Station, which would be seen as a positive contribution to monitoring non-proliferation challenges in the region and beyond. All this could go a long way in correcting international misperception of India in the nuclear non-proliferation and security arena.

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