India set to take lead on abolishing nuclear weapons

By Shastri Ramachandaran*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW DELHI (IDN) – The Government of India appears to be in right earnest about taking the lead in pursuing universal disarmament. The renewed vigour – for reviving the climate and conditions wherein the basic ideas and objectives of nuclear disarmament can be advanced – is evident in a series of engagements being lined up to carry forward former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Action Plan (RGAP) for a nuclear-weapons-free world order.

The Plan, mooted in 1988 and known as ‘RGAP 88’, attracted much global attention when it was launched as the logical culmination of the Six Nation-Five Continent Initiative to pre-empt the outbreak of nuclear war at a time when the confrontationist rhetoric of the two superpowers was at its peak. India’s late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi could not succeed in making the United Nations General Assembly accept his idea in 1988.

Now, 23 years later, RGAP 88 has acquired new life with the Informal Group on RGAP coming out with its 284-page report in August 2011. Its nomenclature, ‘Informal Group’, can be misleading as there is nothing informal about it. On the contrary the IG, set up by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in October 2010, is the Prime Minister’s Advisory Group to revitalize the RGAP on Disarmament.

Headed by former Union Minister and Member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar, a career foreign service officer-turned-politician who was close to Rajiv Gandhi, the Group includes distinguished diplomats, strategic affairs and nuclear experts and academics.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up the Informal Group in the wake of US President Barack Obama’s speech in April 2009, in which he spoke about “America’s commitment to seek peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. President Obama, who deserves credit for being the first head of a nuclear-weapon state to commit himself to a nuclear-weapon-free world, had warned of the dangers of proliferation. He spelled out that the risk of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists was “the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.”

The report, which recommends action on how best the idea of universal disarmament can be carried forward, is premised on the realisation that possession of nuclear weapons has not resulted in a (greater) sense of security to India. The case for moving towards a nuclear weapon-free world is more compelling today than during the Cold War because more states have nuclear weapons and more could be tempted to join. Therefore, the report has called for a massive campaign within the country to spread awareness of the dangers of nuclear conflict and a terrorist nuclear attack.

Drawing attention to the fact that India faced the biggest and most tangible threats, whether by way of a nuclear attack or nuclear terrorism, the report argued that “the best security for India lies in universal nuclear disarmament”. The members of the Advisory Group acknowledged explicitly that they drew confidence from the US support to nuclear abolition, which was not forthcoming in 1988.

The report, which was presented to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister S M Krishna recommends, as the first step for revival of RGAP 88, the appointment of a Special Coordinator with the mandate to work out a consensus for constituting a committee on nuclear disarmament.

Seven-point Roadmap

The report contains a seven-point roadmap with 14 recommendations, which includes India reiterating its commitment to “eliminating its own arsenal as part of a universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable global process”; promoting consensus on reducing salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, No-First Use and binding negative security assurances; “keep the fires burning” in the Conference on Disarmament to press for discussions aimed at mobilising countries for total elimination of nuclear weapons; and, thereafter, moving to a Convention banning the use or threat of nuclear weapons. These are towards clearing the decks for “negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would discuss a world without nuclear weapons in a specified time-frame.”

The report recommends that India – as a State with Nuclear Weapons (SNW) which is  resolved to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent –should initiate bilateral dialogues on disarmament with all the countries possessing nuclear weapons. To sharpen the advocacy of disarmament, the report calls for the government’s active participation in civil society initiatives, strengthening the Disarmament Division in the Ministry of External Affairs and raising the country’s profile in the UNGA.

The Group wants the Government of India to take the lead in global efforts for elimination of nuclear weapons, bringing to the issue the moral force of 60 years of campaigning for the cause and its growing clout in the global arena. The report argues that the time is ripe for India to revive its traditional championing of disarmament. Besides, the prevailing global climate is viewed to be opportune because processes for reduction of nuclear arsenals are gaining.

It may be mentioned that the Advisory Group’s report takes the RGAP 88 forward by including elements of a Working Paper which India had submitted to the UNGA in 2006.

There are no dearth of national and international reports, proposals, committees and groups on the issue of nuclear disarmament. Yet if this Advisory Group’s report and recommendations deserve attention it is because of new dimensions to the issue and exceptional features of the report.

To take the second aspect first, the unique feature of the report is not the underlying philosophy, intent, language, approach or even the rhetoric.  But that it grasps the nettle in terms of the specific, practical steps needed for actualising the goal of nuclear abolition. The sequenced moves, spelled out in a step-by-step way, towards the goal of nuclear elimination offer a measurable yardstick of progress – or lack of it. This provides the advantage of setting specific stages for the campaign, which can serve as signposts.

The new dimensions that the report focuses upon are the altered and favourable international climate for a disarmament campaign, the US support for nuclear abolition, the Indian government’s forthright commitment to take the lead and a prescription of engagements for pursing the cause within the country and through bilateral, regional and international exercises beginning January 2012. This prescription forms part of the sequenced stages.

The fact that the Chairman of the Group, Mani Shankar Aiyar has begun acting on the proposed roadmap within the country and at the international level testifies to the earnestness of the efforts underway.

India at Conference in New York

At the international level, UN Day (October 24) this year provided an apt platform to draw attention to the report. At a conference organised in New York by the Global Security Institute, the East West Institute and the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation, speakers, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Aiyar, made a strong pitch for eliminating nuclear weapons.

The conference is a landmark not for the perorations but as a stage for revival of the campaign to build a new awareness for nuclear abolition. The high-level conference also turned the spotlight on the Secretary General’s Five Point Proposal, a comprehensive agenda for eliminating nuclear weapons, first presented three years ago.

“We know that the world of tomorrow is shaped by the decisions we make today. A world free of nuclear weapons is a concrete possibility,” Ban Ki-moon said, according to news reports of the event. In his keynote address, Ban emphasised the need for increased transparency and accountability, as well as the urgent need to strengthen the rule of law in nuclear disarmament obligations, and reiterated his 2008 call for work on a nuclear weapons convention.

“No country is more threatened than India is by the growing nuclear arsenals in our neighbourhood and the prospect of terrorists accessing nuclear materials or even weapons. Unilateral nuclear disarmament is, therefore, difficult to envisage,” Aiyar said at the conference. Elimination of nuclear weapons is the only way to ensure that they are not used for “mass genocide” by terrorists and “mass suicide” by states, he said, adding that “there is no third way.”

According to a PTI report, Aiyar pointed out that while unilateral nuclear disarmament would not be easy, India “could rid itself of these weapons” within the framework of an international convention for the universal elimination of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. “India must continue to pursue its vision of a non-nuclear world since a Nuclear-Weapons-Free-World would be good for the planet, good for the region and good for India’s national security.”

A week earlier, at the Inter-Parliamentary Union meet, the report’s call for a full-scale revival of the nuclear abolition campaign evoked a lot of interest, said Dr Vidya Shankar Aiyar who serves as Advisor to the Informal Group.


Bringing IDN up to date on developments following the presentation of the report to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Dr Vidya Shankar Aiyar said that India’s National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon, had been most encouraging in his support to the initiatives proposed in the Report.

The Group’s Chairman, Mani Shankar Aiyar, is now working to schedule a meeting with senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs in the presence of the Foreign Minister. This is in preparation for a national-level conference that the Advisory Group, together with the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), plans to convene in January 2012. This national conference is expected to bring together the community of strategic affairs specialists, experts on nuclear and disarmament issues and think tanks.

Thereafter, the Advisory Group, according to Dr Vidya Shankar Aiyar, proposes to hold conferences in the neighbourhood and develop a level of regional cohesion before bringing around the Permament Five (P-5) of the UN Security Council for developing an international platform.

All this may be cause for optimism. However, the obstacles on the path cannot be discounted, and the report itself takes realistic note of the challenges ahead. The challenges include resistance from powerful sections of the US establishment which do not share Obama’s position, the distinct lack of enthusiasm among some of the P-5 such as the US and Russia and differences even among those who agree on the larger objective but are divided on the steps to be taken.

*The author, an independent political and international affairs commentator based in New Delhi, is a former Editor of Sunday Mail, has worked with leading newspapers in India and abroad, including China, Denmark and Sweden. He was Senior Editor & Writer with China Daily and Global Times in Beijing. For nearly 20 years before that he was a senior editor with The Times of India and The Tribune. Besides commentaries for newspapers, radio and television, he has written books, monographs, reports and papers. He is co-editor of the book State of Nepal and co-author of Media, Conflict and Peace. He is a regular contributor to IDN.

© IDN-InDepthNews – December 2, 2011


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Subscribe to
TFF PressInfo
and Newsletter