Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Disarmament Still A Talk Shop Topic


Here's the link to an article of mine on the recently concluded NPT Review Conference and how disarmament remains a distant dream for the near future.

As long as Asia continues in this vicious cycle of security and insecurity, the salience of nuclear weapons in the overall security calculus cannot diminish, which in a way indicates that nuclear weapons will continue to play a major role in the coming decades and the issue of disarmament remains a talk shop topic and not a reality.



NPT Review Conference 2010 was considered a success by many around the world, wherein 189 countries were able to finalize on a 28-page document that reiterated nuclear disarmament, the need to prevent “further proliferation of nuclear weapons,” as well as “preserving the [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Treaty’s vital contribution to peace and security.” Some in India have not been happy with the mentioning of India in the final document which called upon India, Pakistan and Israel to sign the treaty as non-Nuclear Weapon States and to put nuclear facilities under the comprehensive safeguards of the IAEA. But, by and large, the bottom line was that the Treaty is a good thing and it is also a good thing to be a “Friend of the NPT.” However, on the issue of whether the conference was a step forward, there are different views, depending on what one wanted to achieve through this conference. Assuming that stopping horizontal proliferation was a major objective, the conference did not see much progress. There are not going to be any “rollbacks” nor can one predict with certainty that more countries will not go nuclear in the near future, before the next NPT Review Conference in 2015. Therefore, global disarmament is likely to remain a pipe dream for the near future.

If nuclear proliferation is really as big a problem as the US and others seem to believe, then greater attention needs to be paid to nuclear disarmament. This is one side of the story – the demand side of the problem: as long as nuclear weapons remain legitimate for some, others are bound to seek it also. And this is not just for reasons of prestige, as it has been made out in the case of India. The Cold War rivalry drove the US and Soviet arsenals, and thereafter, Chinese insecurities about the US, and subsequently the Soviet power drove the Chinese to develop their arsenal. That same chain reaction led to the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. This quest is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Even if overwhelming American military power manages to stem the tide of proliferation for the next several years, the inevitable (relative) waning of American power can be counted upon to lead to a new round of WMD proliferation. Indeed, the disparity in power between the US and the other powers itself is likely to spur other nations to seek nuclear weapons. For example, North Korea seems to have decided that the main lesson of the decade-long crisis over Iraq is that one cannot challenge the US without first acquiring nuclear weapons.

The non-proliferation fundamentalists of Washington have found it very convenient to assume and even conclude that states pursue nuclear weapons for purpose of prestige, since it then precluded them from looking at the real reasons for acquiring these weapons – security-related reasons. If Washington shifts its focus to security concerns as the key, then the reasonably correct conclusion would be that the process of proliferation is inevitable unless there is some serious drive towards nuclear disarmament, which is rarely paid the attention it requires. Instead, the global (Washington’s) focus has almost entirely been on the supply side of the question: how and why states acquire these capabilities and what capabilities they acquire. But there are other issues that need attention too.

First and foremost, there should be questions as to how the policies of the great powers have encouraged such acquisition; Pakistan’s acquisition/development of nuclear weapons is a good point to start with. Without American and Chinese acquiescence or assistance, neither Pakistan nor Israel could have acquired nuclear weapons. The logic of such actions suggests that a significant source of future proliferation could be the imperatives of great power politics. The US policy approaches tend to be very short-sighted. In order to make some quick, tactical gains, these critical issues are often ignored. The manner in which Pakistan-China nuclear proliferation was ignored so as to have Pakistan on board for its Cold War policies against the Soviet Union is a classic example.

Second, NPT has been instrumental in seeing that there is no horizontal proliferation, i.e., states other than the five “haves” do not become nuclear weapon states. There has been hardly any mention of vertical proliferation and the need to stem that as well. This mismatch has to be looked into and until then, there cannot be any genuine progress toward nuclear disarmament. This issue needs to be addressed even if regional weapon free zones are to become a reality. Though there has been significant reduction in American and Russian nuclear arsenals, they still have thousands of warheads each and, of course, the other three nuclear powers are not yet part of this nuclear arms control process.

Third, the world is moving towards increasing insecurity. As the Cold War ended, the world in general was expected to become a much more secure place with the disappearance of the two superpowers and their rivalries. However, post-Cold War stability has given way to increasing insecurity, which in turn has put greater emphasis on military modernization, including nuclear weapons, which further increases insecurity. The Asian scenario is a classic case of this. There are several contributing factors, including US unilateralism, particularly during the Bush Administration. Rising China with major military focus has also contributed to the rising insecurities in the region. Similarly, Russian insecurities and its responses to that insecurity as well as increasing adventurism by North Korea have been factors contributing to the securitization of Asia.

As long as Asia continues in this vicious cycle of security and insecurity, the salience of nuclear weapons in the overall security calculus cannot diminish, which in a way indicates that nuclear weapons will continue to play a major role in the coming decades and the issue of disarmament remains a talk shop topic and not a reality.

No comments: