Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Partnership in Pious Hypocrisy

Partnership in Pious Hypocrisy

by: J. Sri Raman

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We have been hearing so much about a US-India "strategic partnership." This, of course, led to the drive for a pact on nuclear cooperation with the mooting of a "deal" between countries billed as the world's "greatest and largest democracies." The deal, in turn, has developed into a partnership in nuclear hypocrisy.

On June 9 and 10, New Delhi provided the venue for a patently government-sponsored session, pompously titled "Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons." This represented the next stage in official India's new disarmament offensive in the company of the "nuclear club," and especially its leaders in Washington sitting atop the world's largest arsenal of atomic weapons.

India started off with stern warnings against proliferation, asking other developing countries to desist from doing what it had done a decade ago by conducting nuclear-weapon tests and declaring itself a nuclear-weapon state. In October 2006, it accused North Korea of violating its "international commitments" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and "jeopardizing peace, stability and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region" by testing a nuclear weapon.

New Delhi has also spoken nearly the same language as its newfound partner about Iran and its nuclear program. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has repeatedly not only talked of its aversion to the idea of "another nuclear power in the neighborhood," but also warned Teheran against violations of its "obligations" and "commitments" under the NPT.

Opponents of the deal in the US and the West have objected to India receiving benefits of the NPT, which it has all along refused to sign. What we have been witnessing is the even more ironical spectacle of India upbraiding NPT signatories for not abiding by provisions of a treaty, to which it has refused to be a party.

The conference has carried New Delhi's post-deal nuclear double-talk further. Along with Washington and others of the "club," of which it is now a probationary member, New Delhi is ready to dole out wisdom on nuclear disarmament to the world at large, without capping its own strategic program and even while continuing its nuclear-capable missile tests.

Speaking at the conference, India's Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari said that the global discourse on the theme had yielded the conclusions that the "use of nuclear weapons is a crime against humanity" and that the "proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat against international peace and security." He added: "Between the two ends of this spectrum falls the question of production, possession and threat to use of nuclear weapons. It is an irony of realpolitik that these have so far not been perceived to constitute a threat to international peace and security."

The vice president did not deem it necessary to dwell on the irony of an official representative of India making such observations. It was left for the prime minister to illustrate the absurdity not long after the conference.

On June 11, Singh gave his government's take on the US-India deal to a group of Indian Foreign Service probationers. Through the deal, he said, "we got the US to appreciate that India is a nuclear-weapon state, that India has the right to develop nuclear power to protect its strategic interests, and that it is a decision that must be made by the people of India, not subject to any international supervision or any international interference."

Singh testified, "Despite India not being a signatory to the NPT and was unwilling to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), there was no pressure from the US to sign any such international arrangements as a precursor to nuclear cooperation for civil energy." The deal, therefore. "protects our national interest (and) our capacity to use the nuclear power to protect our strategic interests.''

Singh also seized the opportunity to rebuff calls for regional nuclear disarmament or creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, from the peace movements in India and Pakistan. He asserted that such a regional disarmament was "never going to be workable" until the major nuclear powers were "also engaged in it simultaneously."

The prime minister thus ruled out, without saying it in so many words, any nuclear disarmament talks with Pakistan as part of the "peace process" between the two countries in the foreseeable future. A mutually acceptable plan for even curbing the currently reckless nuclear arms and missile race has been meticulously kept out of the process so far. A dialogue, however, is supposedly on for "risk reduction," though chances of any real success in this are negligible, considering the close contiguity of the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Ansari recalled at the conference an initiative by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, with other speakers recommending its implementation. This carried the nuclear hypocrisy to a new height. Forgotten long ago, in fact, was the famous Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament, presented by Rajiv Gandhi at the United Nations in 1988, a full decade before India's advent as a nuclear-weapon state. The phased plan would have committed India to nuclear disarmament by 2010.

Nothing can highlight the hypocrisy better, perhaps, than excerpts from the former prime minister's speech at the UN while he presented the plan. These answer the claim that India's nuclear-weapon program aims at nothing more than "deterrence" and also answer the argument that nuclear arsenals have actually bought peace to South Asia.

Said Rajiv Gandhi, by whose name India's present rulers swear with synthetic passion on such occasions: "It is a dangerous delusion to believe that nuclear weapons have brought us peace. It is true that in the past four decades, parts of the world have experienced an absence of war. But a mere absence of war is not a durable peace. The balance of nuclear terror rests on the retention and augmentation of nuclear armories."

As for reassuring talk of "risk reduction" and so on, he said: "There can be no ironclad guarantee against the use of weapons of mass destruction. They have been used in the past. They could be used in the future. And, in this nuclear age, the insane logic of mutually assured destruction will ensure that nothing survives, that none lives to tell the tale, that there is no one left to understand what went wrong and why. Peace which rests on the search for a parity of power is a precarious peace."

Turning to the "deterrence" theory, Gandhi added: "If we can understand what went wrong with such attempts in the past, we may yet be able to escape the catastrophe presaged by doctrines of nuclear deterrence.... The doctrine is based on the assumption that international relations are frozen on a permanently hostile basis. Deterrence needs an enemy, even if one has to be invented. Nuclear deterrence is the ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism: holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few."

No, the conference has not revived India's dimly remembered role as a crusader for nuclear disarmament. It has only taken New Delhi's "strategic partnership" with Washington another shameful step forward.

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