Thursday, March 31, 2011

Non-Proliferation Challenges in Asia: An Indian Perspective

This was subject of my presentation at a recent bilateral dialogue between ORF and a Russian think-tank.

While nuclear non-proliferation has remained a major challenge for more than sixty years, the enormity of the challenge has grown manifold particularly since the end of the Cold War. In the past where there was one major nuclear threat – US-Soviet rivalry and the threat of nuclear war – today the world is faced with other challenges – WMD proliferation, terrorism, with a special emphasis on nuclear terrorism. Today, the number of countries pursuing nuclear weapons has gone up significantly. It is particularly in this context that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) along with their delivery systems has become a major issue of concern. The threat is particularly loud and clear in India’s neighbourhood. Issues of China-Pakistan nuclear and missile cooperation, nuclear and missile activities of North Korea and Iran are of specific concern from an Indian perspective. Chinese proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology, including delivery mechanisms to North Korea, Pakistan and Iran has altered military balance in South Asia and beyond.

The paper is divided into three broad aspects. The first section of the paper provided a contextualisation to the developments taking place in Asia, wherein there is a major emphasis on military power, conventional or otherwise. This in particular dealt with the changing security environment that is feeding into these developments. The second outlined three major non-proliferation challenges in Asia – China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation; North Korea; Iran. The last section examines the Indian approach to proliferation and to each of these particular cases.

Having listed out particular crises, it has to be acknowledged that the biggest challenge is the crisis of confidence among major powers. The lack of consensus among major powers on agreeing a particular course of action has stood in the way of taking any effective action against these individual challenges and more importantly it has contributed to the weakening of the regime itself.

If anyone is interested in reading the full paper, I will be happy to mail it.

First, unless the major powers are able to reach a consensus on the challenges, there are going to be many more countries and entities that will exploit the weakness of the regime.

Second, importance and insufficiency of non-proliferation efforts based largely on technological control; supply side of the issue needs to be addressed. Technological controls or export control regimes or sanctions only let the hard-core countries buy time and invest domestic, dedicated talent towards weaponisation. These measures do not and cannot halt the programmes of the hard-core countries.

Third, as long as the P-5 members are not able to agree on a timeframe for nuclear disarmament, countries around the world are going to pursue these weapons. Under such a scenario, global disarmament appears to remain a pipe dream for the near future.

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