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India holds the ace - The Sunday Observer

Robert Green ()
May 24-30, 1998

Title: India holds the ace
Author: Robert Green
Publication: The Sunday Observer
Date: May 24-30, 1998

Recently I spent two weeks in Geneva monitoring the second
preparatory committee meeting of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty Review Conference, to be held in 2000. It was a
frustrating experience. The meeting broke up in disarray after
the Nuclear Weapon States (NWSs), led by the United States of
America, blocked all attempts to make them honour their NPT
commitment to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Three days after the NPT meeting ended in failure, India carried
out its first nuclear tests since 1974. Whether by design or not,
this could not have been a more shockingly eloquent response. At
last the nuclear 'haves' have had their bluff called: both the
NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are now in jeopardy;
and India has wrested the nuclear disarmament initiative. The
crucial question is: how best can India turn this to its
advantage, and that of the over whelming majority of the
civilized world?

The risks are serious and immediate. By the time you read this,
Pakistan will probably have followed suit, raising the spectre of
a revived nuclear arms race in South Asia. Nevertheless, all is
not lost yet.

Several historic developments have presented us an opportunity to
enter the new millennium with a plan for the abolition of nuclear
weapons. These include the 8 July 1996 advisory opinion of the
International Court of Justice on the legal status of the threat
or use of nuclear weapons, and a succession of authoritative
reports and statements recommending complete nuclear disarmament,
for example, by 61 former generals and admirals and over 120
civilian leaders.

What's more, recent opinion polls in the USA and the United
Kingdom showed 87 per cent support for negotiating a Nuclear
Weapons Convention (NWC) like the one for chemical weapons, while
92 per cent of Canadians want their government to lead such

Perhaps India will jolt the NWS leaders out of their Cold War
mindset and to move rapidly to a nuclear-weapons-free world -
which is now widely considered feasible. Certainly, the global
nuclear abolition movement has not had such an opportunity to get
its message across since the last French tests, with the nuclear
nightmare back at the top of the international agenda.

India should exploit its fine nuclear disarmament track record.
As early as 1954 it called for a nuclear test ban and in 1956 for
an advisory opinion from the ICJ on testing. In 1978 it advocated
total prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons on the grounds
that their use "would be a violation of the [United Nations]
Charter and a crime against humanity".

Every year since 1982, it has tabled a UN General Assembly
resolution calling for a convention on the prohibition of the use
of nuclear weapons. Following this lead, a model NWC was drafted
by a group of experts on behalf of the Abolition 2000 global anti-
nuclear network; and Costa Rica tabled it as a UN document (A/C
1/52/7, 17 November 1997).

In 1994, India submitted strong arguments to the ICJ asking it to
confirm the "generally accepted view among nations that the use
of nuclear weapons is illegal". India also argued.. "The
existence of nuclear weapons poses a threat to the very survival
of mankind. While the end of the Cold War has ushered in some
positive developments, the shadow of a nuclear holocaust
continues to loom over us. It is, therefore, imperative that
nuclear weapons be eliminated. A first step in this direction
would be to outlaw the use of such weapons" (UN Document
A/49/181, June 1994). In a subsequent submission, India added
that neither self-defence nor reprisals justified the use of
nuclear weapons.

The ICJ confirmed in its 1996 advisory opinion that "a threat or
use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules
of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in
particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law". The 14
judges also agreed unanimously that "there exists an obligation
to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations
leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict
and effective international control".

The NWSs in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have, in
particular, flouted the ICJ's decision by maintaining nuclear
forces on hair-trigger alert, refusing to rule out first use even
against non-nuclear states which threaten their 'vital interests'
anywhere in the world, and declaring that nuclear weapons are
essential to their security for the foreseeable future. Yet a
growing body of opinion, including former operators of nuclear
weapons, like myself, has realized that they undermine security -
both of those who possess them and those they are meant to deter.

Indeed, nuclear weapons are a security problem, not a solution.
This is because they provoke the very threat they are deployed
against: namely, the spread of nuclear weapons to megalomaniac
leaders or terrorists - who are least likely to be deterred.

Unlike the NPT, the ICJ's decision cannot be dismissed as
discriminatory. Therefore, rather than blindly following the
irresponsible example of the NWSs, India could regain its
leadership in nuclear disarmament by announcing as soon as
possible that if the other NWSs agree to begin multilateral
negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, it will join
those negotiations and sign the CTBT.

India will have a strong hand to play because, unless it signs,
the CTBT is doomed. Conversely, unless the NWSs agree before the
2000 NPT Review Conference to begin such negotiations, that
conference could well witness the collapse of the NPT.

(Green is a retired Royal Navy commander)

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