Nuclear Weapons Management -- Global Concerns

A Special Role for India

Admiral L Ramdas

15 Nov 2004


Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the termination of World War II ushered in the race for acquiring nuclear weapons. The United States was soon followed by, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China. During the cold war period India had taken a principled stand to force these countries to work towards total nuclear disarmament. Some of these were; firstly the contribution of India in the successful conclusion of the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Second, the six powers initiative taken during Indira Gandhi’s tenure and thirdly the comprehensive proposals made by Shri Rajiv Gandhi at the United Nations in June 1989. Despite our peaceful nuclear experiment of 1974, India had taken a very deliberate policy decision to continue working towards attaining global nuclear disarmament.

The arrival of the BJP led NDA coalition government at the center in March 1998, ushered in a major shift in Indian Government’s nuclear weapons policy. The nuclear tests at Pokhran on 11 May 1998 reciprocated by Pakistan at Chagai Hills on May 28,1998, introduced a new dynamic to regional and South Asian security. When viewed in the context of the continuing strained relations between India and Pakistan these developments in South Asia were seen as the latest and most dangerous ‘nuclear flash point’ by the International community.

Without going into the virtues or otherwise of possessing the Bomb; now having acquired the capability to harm millions in the neighbourhood including ourselves, we need to take a hard look at the challenge this poses and to evolve a safety regime which will at least reduce if not totally eradicate the horrors of yet another nuclear war, or nuclear disaster or accident.

The Aim of this Paper

This short paper is an attempt to face the realities as they exist today and to see how best to manage the existing regional and global situation. It will also examine briefly a potential role for India in enabling a workable, non- discriminatory safety regime which will be acceptable to all the main players in this game.

The Existing Situation

In addition to the five Nuclear Weapon States, India and Pakistan; both Israel and North Korea are also believed to possess these weapons. Inspite of repeated efforts by almost all the non nuclear weapon states to persuade the Nuclear Weapon States to commence nuclear disarmament in accordance with Art 6 of the NPT, they have failed. Nor is there any likelihood of this happening in the foreseeable future. One thing though is very clear that all these weapon capable states have acquired these weapons primarily to protect themselves from the threat perceived from one or more of those who belong to this league.

This has naturally led almost all the non nuclear weapon states who are signatories to the Non Proliferation Treaty to lose all faith in the Nuclear Weapon States, and also with India and Pakistan, although these two are non signatories of the NPT.

The situation is further complicated by each Nuclear Weapon capable country having its own brand of nuclear doctrine, which in turn can give rise to serious misunderstandings and lead to dangerous situations. This ambiguity needs to be removed.

A Role for India

It is clear that to improve the situation we need to evolve a consensus amongst primarily the nuclear weapon capable states for they are the only ones who can either disturb world safety and security or shape its well being. Since this only involves seven or eight countries the task becomes slightly easier to manage.

It is therefore recommended that India consider doing the following :

  1. Convene a meeting of all nuclear weapon capable states in New Delhi at the earliest convenience without any fixed agenda other than to agree to discuss all aspects of the nuclear question. The first round could be a meeting of officials and technocrats for a brainstorming session and possibly to identify an agenda for subsequent meetings to be held at political levels.
  2. Address issues concerning nuclear weapons doctrines, and explore the possibilities of evolving some common workable doctrine to avoid ambiguity or misunderstanding.
  3. Evolve a new workable nuclear management regime that will address issues concerning nuclear disasters, nuclear accidents and other such unforeseen events so as to mobilise global resources for meeting such contingencies.

This approach might lead to some understanding for a ‘nuclear cease fire’, as also to implementing other safety measures like de-alerting. Taken to its logical conclusion this could be a fore-runner of next steps for the down sizing of weapons arsenals ultimately leading to zero levels. In case one or more of the members of this league are reluctant to come on board for the first round of discussions we should move on with those who are willing to join and make headway.


Not only will such a move by India be welcomed by the international community, but it will also help shore up the morale of the non nuclear capable nations. It is my considered view that an initiative of this nature emanating from India at this stage would be difficult for any one of these weapon capable countries to turn down especially if it is convened without any special agenda, and conceptualised as a brainstorming session.

Many initiatives have been taken over the past six decades to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to achieve nuclear disarmament, but nothing substantial has come out of it. We need a strategy which is new and different in this fast changing global environment if we are to succeed.

The ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament can only be realised if we can put in place a new global nuclear management regime which is fair, non discriminatory and workable. The time has come for India to show the way to make this happen.