After the five nuclear weapon tests of May 11 and 13, the BJP-led government has declared India a nuclear weapons power. This decision in no way increases India’s security and is not in the interest of its people. By qualitatively escalating the arms race in the subcontinent, it makes a war with our neighbours likelier and the possibility of mutual annihilation through a nuclear exchange very real. The tests and the consequent rhetoric by senior government leaders introduce a new spiral of suspicions and tensions with our neighbours which will increase, not decrease, nuclear insecurities all around.
These tests were a complete departure from a settled national consensus. There was a national consensus in favour of elimination of all nuclear weapons; there was a national consensus that in the absence of any tangible movement towards global disarmament, India must keep its nuclear option open. This consensus has now been breached in the pursuit of narrow political ends and in the name of a fake national consensus supporting nuclear weapons that is now belied in Parliament and on the streets. These decisions by the Government to move towards nuclear weapons are therefore reprehensible and deserve to be unequivocally condemned. The Indian Government’s dangerous move towards nuclear weaponsiation has now brought forth a similar Pakistani response which also needs to be condemned.
The tests and the dynamic that they have initiated will also adversely affect the prospect for global disarmament which had improved with increasing public opinion against nuclear weapons. India, which always called for nuclear disarmament and did not wish to be a party to a discriminatory global nuclear regime, is now seen to be only demanding to join the Nuclear Weapons Club. According to the current strategic thinking of the BJP, “nuclear apartheid” is acceptable as long as we are among the discriminators: the Select Six as opposed to the Select Five! We strongly condemn the hypocritical behaviour associated with the attainment of nuclear weapon status by the Indian government. We believe that nuclear weapons are not safe in the hands of any nation. We also deplore sanctions imposed by nuclear weapons-states which show no commitment to genuine nuclerar disarmament. But this does not exonerate the BJP in any way.
The BJP-led coalition has also reversed India’s long-standing policy of denying legitimacy to nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are uniquely evil and have no legitimate role to play as strategic armaments or as deterrents. They are weapons of mass destruction. The sheer scale of their impact, even if only a “few” such weapons are ever used, is simply unconscionable.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are horrific examples of the destructive potential of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot distinguish between combatants and civilians. They impose suffering of the most horrible kind on their victims, including on the yet-unborn through trans-generational effects. Civil and medical defence against them is impossible. They are uniquely evil in their capacity to exterminate all life on this planet.
The International Court of Justice has unequivocally condemned nuclear weapons. Calling them “the ultimate evil,” its President pronounced the decision of the Court on July 8, 1996, declaring the threat and use of nuclear weapons “generally contrary to rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.” In its historic decision, the Court unanimously called on all states to “bring to a conclusion” negotiations leading to “disarmament in all its aspects.”
Our Principles and Objectives1. We are deeply and firmly committed to universal nuclear disarmament.
We reject the argument that we must live forever with such weapons or that the nuclear genie cannot be put back into the bottle. We, as ethical and rational human beings can make this choice: the responsibility is ours. There is a special obligation on the nuclear weapons-states and nuclear-capable states to rapidly move towards universal nuclear disarmament.
2. Nuclear weapons, possessed no matter by which country or government, do not increase, but reduce, national security.
The Club of nuclear weapons-states has always been a collection of hypocrites who claim that their possession of these weapons is the best insurance for global peace, while their acquisition by others would be a threat! India has now put in its application for joining this Club, albeit as a junior member.
The Cold War era has conclusively shown that national nuclear posturing aggravates existing rivalries and hostilities and creates new ones. It is dangerous to use external threats as diversionary tactics, as the present government seems to be doing through nuclear weaponisation.
A nuclear weapons regime is by its very nature secretive and elitist, and thus profoundly anti-democratic. It further promotes and deepens the ugly militarisation of everyday life and thinking that is already taking place in India. The ideology of nuclearism which is currently being touted as nuclear nationalism is inseparable from the promotion of an ideology of masculinist aggressiveness. Today, this can be identified as the hallmark of communal nationalism. This has nothing in common with India’s pluralist tradition.
National nuclear arming creates a false sense of pride and imposes continuing and rising economic, social and political costs. The social and economic costs of nuclearisation, both through missed opportunities and direct weapons manufacture and deployment, can be crippling. Nuclear weapons are incompatible with rational development goals. They represent a wasteful diversion from the true and fundamental security needs of ordinary people. In India the high costs of development of a nuclear arsenal, of its maintenance, storage, constant upgradation and expansion, will impair our ability to redress our basic ills such as sharp inequalities, casteism, communalism and sexism.
3. India must declare that it will never use nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
The government’s initial position that it will only use such weapons for “defence”, not for aggression, allows their first use. The vague claim for “defence purposes” can justify any act, and does not distinguish between nuclear and non-nuclear conflicts. The government’s subsequent contradictory offer of conditional no-first-use is inadequate. The use of nuclear weapons is wholly immoral and unacceptable and indefensible under all circumstances. India must also seek no use pledge from all nuclear weapon states.
4. India and Pakistan must put an end to all nuclear testing.
There is no justification for any further testing by either India or Pakistan. The Pakistani retaliatory tests must not be used to rationalise more Indian tests, let alone open deployment of nuclear weapons.
5. No production and no deployment of nuclear weapons, either by India or Pakistan. Above all, no arming of planes, missiles and other delivery vehicles with nuclear weapons, and no deployment of such delivery vehicles.
Unlike in 1974, the 1998 tests are connected to a programme of weaponisation of bombs of different sizes and yields. They suggest that India is even thinking of producing battlefield nuclear weapons like nuclear-tipped artillery shells, etc. This raises the chances of their being used, leading to dangerous nuclearisation of conventional military exchanges, possibly triggering a full-scale nuclear exchange.
There must be complete transparency in the nuclear-related regime. In order to decide about its own security, the public must always know fully what is done by the powerful who talk in the name of the people but are determined to keep information and power to themselves alone.
If India and Pakistan do not deploy nuclear weapons, we may still escape a nuclear arms race. Maintaining the firebreak between tests and open deployment or operationalisation of India’s nuclear capability has become crucial. If this firebreak is established—and holds—we can still prevent a futile descent into headlong nuclear hostility, tension and rivalry and therefore into a spiral of ever-growing insecurity.
India can still salvage some credibility as a serious campaigner for global nuclear disarmament if it refrains from open deployment.
6. It is imperative that India returns sincerely, seriously and energetically to the nuclear disarmament agenda. Our real security lies in a world free of nuclear weapons.