Current Debates about Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament: An Indian Perspective

Current Debates about Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament: An Indian Perspective from East-West Center on Vimeo.


(Washington D.C.) November 4– The Indian perception of the global non-proliferation regime is that it perpetuates a system of nuclear ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ limiting the ability of ‘have-not’ countries to protect themselves from outside aggression. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Mr. Bharat Karnad, research professor in national security studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, discussed India’s perceptions of nuclear proliferation and the future of the global Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


Though India and the United States have been able to work together on key international and transnational issues, they continue to differ largely on their perceptions of nuclear proliferation and global nuclear control. The recent nuclear cooperation deal between these two countries does not necessarily bridge this gap in perception. While the United States continues to be a supporter of the NPT as a mechanism to limit nuclear proliferation, Mr. Karnad explained that India’s position on the NPT has been consistently that the treaty is unfair to non-nuclear states and that India will never become signatory to an unequal agreement that will limit its ability to defend itself.


India has long believed that the acquisition of nuclear weapon technology was an essential part of its goal to become a great power. India’s policymakers argued as far back as the 1950s that as long as countries with nuclear weapons capability did not disarm completely, it would be necessary for India to develop its own capability to deter outside attacks. Mr. Karnad explained that while Indians know that the possession of nuclear weapons cannot deter all threats to their country, they believe that the possession of nuclear weapons will protect them from nuclear attack. Therefore, India has not signed the NPT, and continues to pursue its nuclear goals independent of global restrictions. Mr. Karnad noted that even though the current Prime Minister is against nuclear testing, Indian public opinion is quite firmly against signing any treaty that limits the country’s nuclear ambitions, and it is only a matter of time before India convenes another nuclear test.


Mr. Karnad argued that the NPT regime is in serious disrepair and that it is only a matter of time before it breaks down. He noted that while the status-quo is supported by the five countries that are permitted to have nuclear weapons under the treaty, the countries that are excluded from possessing nuclear weapons are increasingly angry at an order that they feel is designed to perpetuate the supremacy of a few nations. Dr. Karnad explained that there are several countries today that posses or are well on their way to possessing nuclear weapons capability despite the restrictions dictated by the NPT. It is only a matter of time, he argued, before these countries become nuclear themselves.


Mr. Karnad explained that if the NPT is no longer relevant, it is time to consider a new nuclear non-proliferation mechanism. Though Mr. Karnad was uncertain what kind of system should replace the NPT, he explained that the new system must not simply be a continuation of the old. Simply adding new countries to the number of those permitted to have nuclear weapons capability while continuing to deny other countries the right to acquire such technology will perpetuate the same problems inherent in the current NPT. The new order must deal with the reality that many countries regard nuclear weapons as something that will ensure their stability, and that they do not like being powerless in the face of other countries that have such power. Though disarmament activities should be encouraged to continue, Mr. Karnad argued that few countries will feel comfortable without nuclear weapons as long as any other country possesses even one.


Bharat Karnad is a research professor in national security studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, and is presently a visiting fellow in the newly founded program on "India and the World" hosted jointly by the Center for International Security Studies at Princeton University and the Center for Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of India's Nuclear Policy [Praeger, 2008] and Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy now in its second edition [Macmillan India, 2005, 2002]. Mr. Karnad was member of the National Security Advisory Board, National Security Council, Government of India, member of the Nuclear Doctrine Drafting Group, and formerly adviser on defense expenditure to the Finance Commission in India (a constitutional body). He conducts an annual "Strategic Nuclear Orientation Course" for senior military officers under the aegis of the Integrated Defense Staff, Ministry of Defense, and is visiting faculty at the Higher Command Courses at the Army War College, College of Naval Warfare, the College of Air Warfare, and College of Defense Management, and guest lecturer at the Defense Services Staff College, and other high level military forums.