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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

South Asian Nuclear Diplomacy

On November 29, in an interview with C. Raja Mohan, Strategic Affairs Editor of The Hindu newspaper, India's External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, spoke at length on the Indian Government's nuclear policy, part of which is extracted below:


"Our stand on the CTBT has been clear. In 1996, we decided that we could not accept the CTBT because it was not consistent with India's national security interest. Over decades, successive governments took necessary steps to safeguard India's nuclear option. In 1996, it was clear to all that subscription to the CTBT at that time would have limited India's nuclear potential at an unacceptably low level. After conducting the nuclear tests of May 1998, to validate and update our technology, we have ensured the credibility of our nuclear deterrent into the foreseeable future; our scientists are now confident of conducting sub-critical tests, also other non-explosive R&D activity necessary for the purpose. That is why we declared a voluntary moratorium. This, in essence, meets the basic obligations of the CTBT. We also announced a willingness to convert this undertaking into a de jure obligation… The process of adherence to an international treaty is a step-by-step process. While India's decisions will be made by the Indian government, there is no denying that this negative vote by the US Senate does have a bearing on the future of this treaty. I would, therefore, consider it natural for India to also disaggregate its decision."


"We have, after the tests last year, announced our readiness to engage in multilateral negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, for a non-discriminatory and verifiable treaty to ban future production of fissile materials for nuclear weapon purposes. This decision was taken after due consideration, which included an assessment of time frames for negotiations and entry into force of an FMCT. At this stage, India cannot accept a voluntary moratorium on production of fissile materials. …"

Export Controls

"India has remained committed to non-proliferation and maintains a highly effective system of export controls on sensitive and dual use technologies and equipment. We have conveyed our willingness to strengthen this further where necessary. …"

Nuclear Doctrine

"… The National Security Advisory Board is a group of non-official strategic experts and analysts. It was tasked by the National Security Council to prepare a number of papers including one on a possible 'Indian Nuclear Doctrine'. This they prepared and submitted to the National Security Advisor, also releasing it publicly for larger debate. That debate is now under way. It is thus not a policy document of the Government of India. …

The key elements of India's nuclear policy were spelt out by Prime Minister in Parliament last December. To recapitulate briefly:

a) India shall maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent and shall undertake necessary measures to ensure the credibility of it.

b) India has declared a moratorium on undertaking any further underground nuclear test explosions but R&D activity including computer simulation and sub-critical tests will be conducted as necessary.

c) Development work on an extended range Agni missile is underway and a successful flight test was carried out earlier this year. Additional flight-testing will be undertaken in a manner that is non-provocative, transparent, and consistent with all established international norms and practices.

d) India has declared a no-first-use doctrine. This has implicit the principle that India shall not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.

e) In order that our minimum deterrent be credible, we shall adopt and maintain a deployment posture that ensures survivability of assets. Such a posture, obviously, provides for greater safety and security.

f) India will not engage in any arms race. We shall not, therefore, pursue an open-ended programme.

g) A civilian command and control system, with necessary safeguards, shall cater for all possible contingencies.

h) India's commitment to global nuclear disarmament remains undiluted. We will continue to work with other like-minded countries and take initiatives for moving towards a nuclear-weapon-free-world. We will also seek to negotiate CBMs [Confidence-Building Measures], both in the conventional and nuclear fields, with the aim of reducing lack of trust in the region."

The full text of the interview is on the Acronym Institute website in the special feature on the South Asia nuclear crisis.

On November 28, India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, gave his upbeat assessment of discussions with the Clinton Administration: "Our dialogue since the Summer of last year has been the most serious and substantive engagement between India and the US since independence… As a result, our security concerns are now better understood." On the search for consensus on signing the CTBT, Vajpayee observed: "We have been working for [this]… [However,] the US Senate's rejection of the Treaty does change the situation in the sense that it is going to influence public opinion in India as in other countries."

On December 6, speaking at George Washington University, Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering provided an overview of US efforts to defuse South Asian nuclear and military tensions. Referring positively to Jaswant Singh's November 29 remarks, Pickering argued:

"Strategically, India and Pakistan's nuclear testing is injurious to the United States not because either country poses any immediate and direct threat…but because the tests up-end the international non-proliferation regime… [Their] nuclear programs destabilize the region and could trigger an arms race that none can afford, politically, economically or socially. Finally, the nuclear program raises the chances of a mistake of the use of such weapons - either in conflict…over Kashmir or by accident or miscalculation. US officials have been very frank in explaining to both Governments how very important - and incredibly expensive - nuclear safety and surety are. … We have set four non-proliferation benchmarks for putting bilateral relations back on track: signing and ratifying the [CTBT]; putting in place a moratorium on further production of fissile material, pending conclusion of an international Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty; improving export controls on sensitive technologies; and strategic restraint - that is, reducing the risk that a nuclear capability will lead to a destabilized strategic environment in South Asia.

… The [Indian] elections brought to an end a long hiatus in our forward movement with India, and seemed to have galvanized the Indian Government to consider non-proliferation issues in greater earnest. In a November 29 interview, Indian Foreign Minister Singh effectively launched his campaign to secure a national consensus on signature of the [CTBT]… A key incentive seems to be the recognition that India's broader economic and international interests cannot be advanced until India resolves its differences on these issues with the international community."

The official summation of the US-India nuclear dialogue in 1999 came in a November 17 Joint Press Statement:

"The Indo-US bilateral talks were held in London on November 16 and 17… The two delegations had last met in New Delhi in January 1999. … They discussed issued related to disarmament and non-proliferation and focused, in particular, on the [four issues set out by Under Secretary Pickering]… The two sides also agreed that the purpose of the talks is to lay the foundation for a broad-based, forward-looking relationship… To that end, the two sides agreed to intensify their contacts at all levels in the months ahead. The Indo-US Dialogue led by Mr. Jaswant Singh and Mr. Strobe Talbott will resume in January, 2000."

Notes: on December 17, the US announced the removal of 51 and out 212 Indian entities subject to export restrictions imposed after the May 1998 nuclear tests. No restrictions were lifted against Pakistani entities. According to a statement issued by the New Delhi office of the United States Information Service (USIS): "The action is based on a consensus decision…to more tightly focus the sanctions on those Indian entities most directly involved in proliferation activities." The same day, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs observed: "The Government…has always maintained that unilateral restrictive measures against India are unjustified and counterproductive. When the Entities List was announced by the US Government, we had expressed serious reservations and indicated that it was overbroad in its reach and coverage. We had welcomed the US Congress advice that the Entity List should be reviewed. The dropping of 51 Indian Entities is, in that context, a step in the right direction. It is our expectation that it will lead to the complete abolition of this restrictive list."

On December 8, nuclear weapons scientist Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian Cabinet, expressed his support for the development of laser-based anti-missile systems capable of neutralising the effect of a nuclear or chemical attack to "zero or insignificant" levels. Dr Kalam was addressing a conference on 'Laser Materials and Devices' in New Delhi, organised by the Laser Science and Technology Center (LASTEC), a branch of the Indian Government's Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

Reports: Text - US, India joint statement on conclusion of bilateral talks, United States Information Service, November 17; India PM in serious nuclear talks with US - report, Reuters, November 28; India not to engage in an N-arms race - Jaswant, The Hindu, November 29; Kalam for development of laser systems to neutralise nukes, UNI, December 8; Text - Pickering discusses US policy on Pakistan, India, Iraq, United States Information Service, December 9.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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