ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

If You Want Non-proliferation, Prepare for Disarmament

The problem of nuclear weapons proliferation cannot be addressed without a commitment to the process of disarmament by the major nuclear weapons states. Unless disarmament is undertaken through an universal nuclear weapons convention, the world would continue to be in danger of nuclear weapon usage.


If You Want Non-proliferation, for 2 and 3 per cent of China’s and India’s electricity at present, it will jump by a
Prepare for Disarmament factor of five and eight respectively by 2022. While the spike in their demand
is a function of booming economic
growth and population, in Japan and
Ramesh Thakur South Korea interest in nuclear power

The problem of nuclear weapons proliferation cannot be addressed without a commitment to the process of disarmament by the major nuclear weapons states. Unless disarmament is undertaken through an universal nuclear weapons convention, the world would continue to be in danger of nuclear weapon usage.

Ramesh Thakur ( is distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

n January this year, the well known doomsday clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was set at 11.55 – the closest to doomsday since the end of the cold war. The rising anxieties about nuclear weapons are rooted in two major and parallel developments in recent years: the so-called renaissance of nuclear power and a resurgence of oldfashioned national security threats that supposedly had ebbed with the end of the cold war.

After the well publicised accidents at Three Mile Island (US 1979) and Chernobyl (Ukraine but at the time of the former Soviet Union 1986), public and political opposition to nuclear power was so strong that many existing reactor plants were shut down, plans for new ones were cancelled, and virtually no new reactor was built over the last decade. With the spiralling price of oil, caused by a spike in demand from booming major economies like China and India and disruptions to supply because of conflicts in west Asia, the economics of even risk-discounted nuclear power has changed. With the accelerating threat of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the balance of public anxiety between energy sourced in nuclear power and coal and fossil fuel has changed dramatically. Combined with technological developments, the politics of constructing and operating nuclear power reactors has also changed along with the financial and environmental equations.

The net result is plans for building several new reactors in Asia, Australia, west Asia and even in Europe to add to the 435 reactors in 30 countries that are providing 15 per cent of the world’s total electricity at present. According to the latest forecast of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this particular renaissance is being led by Asia, with 18 of the 31 planned new reactors to be located there.1 While nuclear power accounts arises from lack of indigenous oil and gas resources and the desire for energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Other Asian countries planning or considering nuclear power reactors are Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cause for Concern

This throws up three fresh clusters of concern:

  • (1) How do we ensure that the plants are operated with complete safety, so that the chances of accidents are minimised and mechanisms and procedures are put in place so that accidents are discovered immediately and firewalls prevent wider damage?
  • (2) How do we secure the plants against theft, leakage and attacks of weaponssensitive material, skills and knowledge? After all, the now notorious Abdul Qadeer Khan simply stole designs and material from places in the west he was working in, then returned to Pakistan and established a very effective global nuclear arms bazaar.2 Protestations of innocence by the Pakistan government are simply not credible. They were either actively complicit, connived in and facilitated, or at the very least knew about and tolerated the existence and activities of the network.
  • (3) How do we build firewalls between civilian and weapons-related use of nuclear power?
  • These concerns relate not just to the countries in which the reactors are located, but also to the international trade in

    Needed a research assistant with skill in anthropological fieldwork and statistical method to work on a project on integral education in Orissa.

    Send your cv to Dr A K Giri at

    november 24, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly


    nuclear material, skills and equipment. Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA directorgeneral and as such the person with the highest international authority on the subject, observed three years ago that “nuclear components designed in one country could be manufactured in another, shipped through a third, and assembled in a fourth for use in a fifth”.3

    Fourfold Challenge

    The challenge on the national security front is fourfold. First, the five “NPT-licit” nuclear powers (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) have simply disregarded their NPT Article 6 obligations to disarm. With US plans to install a new missile shield in eastern Europe, Russia has warned of a new Cuban-type missile crisis. Britain has decided to upgrade its Trident strategic nuclear force. The new nuclear doctrines indicate that retention and expanded use of these weapons are being contemplated for several decades yet. To would-be proliferators the lesson is clear: nuclear weapons are indispensable in today’s world and becoming more useful for dealing with tomorrow’s threats.

    Second, three states lie outside the NPT and have gone down the weapons path: India, Israel and Pakistan. The stop-start India-US nuclear deal spread alarm and despondency among the arms control community for its breach of the NPT regime even as it made some Indians uncomfortable for drawing India into the American strategic embrace and others for constricting India’s future nuclear options.

    Third, the NPT is an intergovernmental agreement and therefore does not cover non-state groups, including terrorists, who might be pursuing nuclear weapons. It is not at all clear how the international normative architecture can be extended to cover them on legislative, operational and compliance dimensions.

    And fourth, some NPT members may be trying to cheat on their non-proliferation obligations and pursuing the weapons option through stealth.4 Iran and North Korea in particular have been at the centre of concerns regarding non-compliance with the NPT over the past year. For far too many of us, the drumbeats of warnings

    Economic & Political Weekly november 24, 2007

    and threats being sounded in Washington on Iran – US president George W Bush has even spoken of third world war! – bring back memories of 2002-03. This is a story we have heard before. We did not like the ending the first time round and are unlikely to like it any better the next time round. In the same vein, there is the familiar discrepancy between the assessments of the IAEA and of some western countries regarding the gravity and urgency of the threat.

    Widening Circle

    Because of the robust international norm against nuclear weapons and the legal obligations of the NPT that has been signed by all countries other than India, Israel and Pakistan, countries planning to cross the line from civilian to weapons programmes do so clandestinely. Few believe Iran’s professions of peaceful intent in their uranium enrichment drive. Yet the consequences of using military force to try to stop the drive may be worse than learning to live with the new reality. Israel, even though it is not an NPT signatory, will not openly admit to its nuclear weapons stockpiles. India and Pakistan have been accepted, more or less, as de facto nuclear weapons powers.

    This disquieting trend of a widening circle of “NPT-licit” and “extra-NPT” nuclear weapons powers in turn has a selfgenerating effect in drawing other countries into the game of nuclear brinks manship. We would be foolish to believe that the renaissance of nuclear power is explained fully and solely by the interest in nuclear energy for civilian uses.

    Lack of Governance Mechanisms

    Finally, adding to the four sets of concerns is the sorry state of the global governance mechanisms for non-proliferation and disarmament: the UN’s Conference on Disarmament has not even been able to agree on an agenda for a decade, and the UN reform summit two years ago failed to agree on a single sentence on the hot subject. Reliance on the UN Security Council as the forum of choice for enforcing compliance is deeply problematic, since the five permanent members are the five “NPT-licit” nuclear powers, the council is severely unrepresentative and unaccountable, and the permanent members have been amongst the most arms-exporting and war-prone countries since 1945. A body that is itself seen as increasingly illegitimate by most members of the international community cannot enforce global norms in the name of that very same community. The imbalance of reporting, verification and compliance mechanisms

    UNCTAD India Post-doctoral International Trade Fellowship UNCTAD India Doctoral International Trade Fellowship

    With the objective of promoting trade-related research, Department of Economics, Mizoram University, invites applications for UNCTAD India Doctoral International Trade Fellowship and UNCTAD India Post-doctoral International Trade Fellowship from the candidates for undertaking research in Mizoram University.

    UNCTAD India Post-doctoral International Trade Fellowship will provide one year financial support amounting to Rs. 20,000 per month to two individuals engaged in postdoctoral study for producing at least two research papers on international trade issues, publishable in refereed journals and presenting them in seminars organised by Mizoram University. The amount of fellowship may be enhanced depending on the qualifications of selected candidates.

    UNCTAD India Doctoral International Trade Fellowship will provide one year financial support amounting to Rs. 12, 000 per month to two individuals engaged in doctoral study on international trade issues. The research results would be required to be presented in seminars organised by Mizoram University.

    Interested researcher are requested to send their application, inclusive of bio-data and detailed research proposal to Prof. Lianzela, Project Director, Department of Economics, Mizoram University, AIZAWL, TANHIL – 796009 by 12 December 2007. For details of requirements of the proposal and eligibility criteria, please visit Mizoram University website:

    These fellowships have been instituted by the project “Strategies and Preparedness for Trade and Globalization in India” (a joint trade related capacity building project of UNCTAD, DFID, and Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India ) under the Initiative for Enhancing Trade-Related Research Capacity of Universities and Research Institutions.

    Centre for Development Studies

    Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, INDIA 695 011

    Tel +91–471–244 8881–4 Fax +91–471–244 8942 http:///

    UNCTAD India Post-Doctoral International Trade Fellowship UNCTAD India Doctoral International Trade Fellowship

    Four fellowships are available at CDS for post-doctoral and doctoral research, under the UNCTAD/DFID/Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Govt. of India project on “Strategies and Preparedness for Trade and Globalization in India” for enhancing trade-related research capacity of universities and research institutions.

  • UNCTAD India Post-doctoral Fellowships will provide one-year financial support for two scholars @ Rs.20,000 per month to work on issues related to trade and development including WTO/globalisation issues. The post-doctoral study should produce at least two research papers on international trade and related issues, publishable in refereed journals and present them at Centre for Development Studies.
  • UNCTAD India Doctoral Fellowship will provide one year financial support @ Rs. 12,000 per month to two scholars, registered with any Indian University and at the final stage of their PhD studies on international trade and related issues. The Fellowship is intended to help the scholars complete their thesis. The research results would be required to be presented in seminars organised by the Centre for Development Studies.
  • Interested scholars may apply with bio-data and detailed research proposal to Prof. K.J. Joseph, Coordinator, SPTGI Project, Centre for Development Studies, Prasantnagar, Ulloor, Thiruvananthapuram, 695011 within one month of this advertisement. E-mail submissions may be made to

    Please visit for terms and conditions of the fellowship scheme.

    November 15, 2007 Director

    Call for Papers

    The Indian Society for Ecological Economics (INSEE)

    Workshop on

    Compensation and Rewards for Ecosystem Services

    4-5 February 2008, in IIFM, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

    The Indian Society for Ecological Economics (INSEE) will be organizing a two-day workshop, during 4-5, February 2008 in the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The workshop will focus on Compensation and Rewards for Ecosystem Services. It will be an attempt to deliberate on relevant efforts and prepare a policy paper for the benefit of decision-makers.

    Unpublished papers, preferably from young researchers, are invited on the following areas: a) Provisioning services (food, fibre, genetic resources, bio-chemicals), b) Regulating services (air and water quality, population and pest regulation and climate regulation), c) Cultural services (spiritual, aesthetic and recreational values), d) Payment for ecosystem services, e) Market mechanism for environment services, f) Rewards for environment services.

    Papers should highlight issues and problems in India and other countries. Abstracts (in 1,000 words) should be sent by 10th December 2007. The shortlisted authors should submit full paper (around 8,000 words) by 20th January 2008. The selected papers may be considered for a publication in a book from a reputed publisher.

    The workshop will be jointly organized by the Indian Institute for Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal and the Centre for Ecological Economics and Natural Resources of the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore. For more details see web sites:,, Please send your abstracts and full papers through email to Prof. Madhu Verma ( A limited amount of travel grants are available to support some participants, whose papers are accepted.

    Prof. K. V. Raju Secretary, INSEE

    november 24, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly


    between non-proliferation and disarmament in the NPT regime has also over timeserved to erode seriously the legitimacy of this centrepiece of the global arms control effort.


    What then might be the solution? To begin with, some practical and concrete measures are long overdue: bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, negotiating a verifiable fissile materials treaty, retrenching from launch-on-warning postures, standing down nuclear forces, etc. That is, reviving, implementing and building on existing agreements for reducing the role, readiness and numbers of nuclear weapons in defence doctrines and preparations.

    But these amount to tinkering, not a bold and comprehensive vision of the final destination. What we need are rules-based regimes that are based on the principles of reciprocity of obligations, participatory decision-making, and independent verification procedures and compliance mechanisms.

    In a major foreign policy speech at DePaul University in Chicago on October 2, 2007, Democratic presidential hopeful senator Barack Obama declared: “America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons”. In this he followed in the footsteps of an eminent panel of former US secretaries of defence and state – George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger – and senator Sam Nunn, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who published an opinion article that electrified disarmament activists by calling on Washington to take the lead in the abolition of nuclear weapons.5 They did not dispute that nuclear weapons confer many national security benefits. Rather, they argued that these were subordinate to the threats posed to US security by the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons. As startling as their conversion – on the road to Tehran rather than Damascus – was the newspaper in which it was published, the very bastion of US conservatism.

    The symbiotic link between nonproliferation and disarmament is integral to the NPT. Most countries gave up the

    Economic & Political Weekly november 24, 2007

    weapons option in return for a promise by the five NPT-licit nuclear weapons powers (N5) to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons. It was expected that nuclear disarmament could take some time. Accordingly, unlike the non-proliferation obligations, the Article 6 disarmament obligation was not brought under international monitoring and enforcement.

    Double Standards

    The NPT can fairly be judged to have been the most brilliant half-successful arms control agreement in history. The number of countries that sign it embraced virtually the entire family of nations. Yet at the same time, the nuclear arsenals of the N5 (of which France and China signed the NPT only much later) expanded enormously. With almost four decades having elapsed since 1968, the N5 must be deemed to be in violation of their solemn obligation to disarm, reinforced by the advisory opinion of the World Court in 1996 that the clause requires them to engage in and bring to a conclusion negotiations for nuclear abolition.

    Despite this history and background, a surprising number of arms control experts focus solely on the non-proliferation side to demand denial of technology and material to all who refuse to sign and abide by the NPT, and punishment of any who cross the threshold. The term “non-proliferation ayatollahs” is applied pejoratively to them.

    Such double-standards silence is of course comforting and self-serving for the N5. I remain puzzled at how those who worship the most devoutly at the altar of nuclear weapons are the fiercest in denouncing as heretics all others clamouring to join their sect. The latest episode in this long-running and tired serial is the US (and now France) threatening Iran with war to stop it from acquiring – not using, merely acquiring – nuclear weapons. From where does the president of nuclear-armed France derive the moral authority to declare that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable?

    The most powerful stimulus to nuclear proliferation by others is the continuing possession of nuclear weapons by some. Others will not be persuaded of the futility of nuclear weapons while a select few demonstrate their utility by hanging on to them and developing new doctrines of use and deployment. After all, Iraq was attacked because it did not have nuclear weapons while North Korea, which had nuclear weapons but not oil, was spared.


    The 5th International Conference of Critical Geography on ‘Imperialism and Resultant Disorder: Imperatives for Social Justice’, is going to be organised by the International Critical Geography Group on 3-7 December, 2007 in Mumbai. Hosted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the Conference intends to provide a forum for intellectuals and activists for generating political and critical discussions on contemporary issues of development and social justice, offer a critique of vertical transmissions of knowledge as a general order and look for a line of action to bridge the gap between theory and praxis at various levels. About 350 delegates from across the world are expected to participate in the conference including a large contingent of scholars and activists from Asia and Latin America. For further details, please visit ( or ( For registration as observers, please contact Programme Officer, 5th ICCG at

    Convener: Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Professor of Development Studies, School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, V.N.Purav Marg, Deonar, Mumbai.


    Nuclear weapons could not proliferate if they did not exist. Because they do, they will. The policy implication of this logic is that the best guarantee of nuclear non-proliferation is nuclear disarmament. Chemical and biological weapons have been outlawed by an international convention each that is universal and non-discriminatory: exactly the same clauses apply to all signatories. The focus therefore should be on a nuclear weapons convention that would be binding and universal in banning the possession, acquisition, testing and use of nuclear weapons.

    The signing of such a convention would solve the problem of non-proliferation as well as disarmament. The focus on nonproliferation to the neglect of disarmament ensures that we get neither. If we want non-proliferation, we must prepare for disarmament. Too many, including the government of Japan as the only country to have suffered an atomic attack, have paid lip service to this slogan but not pursued a serious programme of action to make it a reality. The elegant theorems, cogent logic and fluent reasoning of many authori tative international commissions6 have made no discernible dent on the old, new and aspiring nuclear powers. A coalition between nucleararmed and non-nuclear countries, led perhaps by India and Japan, might break the stalemate and dispel the looming nuclear clouds.

    Time Is Running Out

    The recurring refrain of nuclear abolitionists being unrealistic gets to be intensely irritating after some time. More than a decade ago, in a commissioned paper for the Canberra Commission, I had argued:

    We are at an interesting cross-roads in the international strategic situation….

    The gravest nuclear danger now is not war between Russia and the United States, but the spread of nuclear weapons technology and materials to others beyond the five NWS [nuclear weapons states]. But the danger of horizontal proliferation cannot be contained indefinitely by maintaining the status quo of five NWS. For the threshold NWS to move towards non-nuclear weapons status, and for the latter group to remain so, the existing NWS must take concrete steps towards a time-tabled elimination of their nuclear

    stockpiles…. [W]e have already achieved about the maximum possible in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. But this is a dynamic equilibrium, not a static equation. Without concrete disarmament on the part of the NWS, the world will slip back into real dangers of horizontal proliferation. So the choice is between progress and reversal, not between progress and the status quo.7

    This was followed in the same year by the prophetic warning: “Faced with US-led UN coercion, an isolated, sullen and resentful India is likely to respond with an open nuclear programme, including a two-three year series of nuclear tests”.8

    Most recently, of course, many of us warned against the folly of the Iraq war.9 And still, they, the subscribers to realpolitik who got it so disastrously wrong time and again, accuse us, with the demonstrably better track record, of not understanding how the real world of international politics operates.

    Time is running out for the hypocrisy and accumulated anomalies of global nuclear apartheid. Either we will achieve nuclear abolition or we will have to live with nuclear proliferation followed by nuclear war. Better the soft glow of satisfaction from the noble goal realised off nuclear weapons being banned, than the harsh glare of the morning after of these weapons used.


    1 ‘Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2030’, IAEA, Vienna (Reference Data Series No 1, 2007).

    2 See Christopher Clary, ‘Dr Khan’s Nuclear WalMart’, Disarmament Diplomacy 76 (March/April 2004), pp 31-35.

    3 Mohamed ElBaradei, ‘Preserving the Non-Proliferation Treaty’, Disarmament Forum 4/2004, p 5.

    4 For the list of countries of concern in 2006, see Ramesh Thakur, ‘North Korea Test as Spur to Nuclear Disarmament’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 41, No 42 (October 21, 2006), pp 4403-06.

    5 ‘A World Free of Nuclear Weapons’, Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007.

    6 See, in particular and in chronological order, report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra, 1996); ‘Facing Nuclear Dangers: An Action Plan for the Twenty-first Century’, report of the Tokyo Forum (Tokyo 1999); and ‘Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Arms’, report of the Blix Commission (Stockholm 2006).

    7 Ramesh Thakur, ‘The Desirability of a Nuclear Weapon Free World’, in Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Background Papers (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra, August 1996), p 85.

    8 Ramesh Thakur, ‘Nuclear India Needs Coaxing, Not Coercion’, The Australian, September 6, 1996.

    9 For the collection of my own writings, see Ramesh Thakur: War in Our Time: Reflections on Iraq, Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (United Nations University Press, Tokyo, 2007).

    CD-ROM 2005

    The digital version of Economic and Political Weekly is now available for 2005 on a single disk.

    This electronic edition contains the complete content of all the issues published in 2005. The CD-ROM 2005 comes equipped with a powerful search as well as utilities to make your browsing experience productive. The contents are indexed and organised as in the print edition, with articles laid out in individual sections in each issue. Users can browse through the sections or use the sophisticated search facility to locate articles and statistics of interest.

    Price for CD-ROM 2005 (in India) Individuals – Rs 220 (Rs 200 plus postage and handling charges of Rs 20) Institutions – Rs 420 (Rs 400 plus postage and handling charges of Rs 20)

    International – US$ 40 (including airmail postage)

    Also available 2003 and 2004 on two separate CDs, individual CD price as above

    Any queries please email:

    To order the CD-ROMs (please specify the year) send a bank draft payable at Mumbai in favour of Economic and Political Weekly. The CDs can also be purchased on-line using a credit card through a secure payment gateway at

    Circulation Manager,

    Economic and Political Weekly

    Hitkari House, 284 Shahid Bhagatsingh Road, Mumbai 400 001, India

    november 24, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

    Dear Reader,

    To continue reading, become a subscriber.

    Explore our attractive subscription offers.

    Click here

    Back to Top