India out to protect interests of nuclear vendors 

After protecting interests of nuclear vendors, Modi Govt which abstained in the UN General Assembly that adopted the treaty against nuclear weapons, now boycotts Nobel peace prize ceremony

Picture courtesy: Twitter
Picture courtesy: Twitter

kumar sundaram

This Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. On behalf of the Campaign, Hiroshima-survivor, Setsuko Thurlow will receive the coveted prize, for ICAN’s relentless campaign over the past few years which made the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a reality this September, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted it.

India, along with other nuclear weapons states, has chosen to boycott the Nobel Prize ceremony. While the western nuclear weapons powers have openly stayed away, ambassadors of India and Pakistan ‘will be travelling’ at the time of the ceremony, according to the Nobel Institute.

The nuclear ban treaty will commit its signatories “never under any circumstances to ‘develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

‘There are two things that make this new treaty distinct. Firstly, the initiative seeks to outlaw all atomic weapons, thus, going beyond the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which created categories of nuclear ‘haves’ and have-nots. Once ratified and signed by a majority in the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the proposed Nuclear Ban Treaty will make all nuclear weapons illegal.

Although a legal ban is not the same as physical dismantling of existing stockpiles, it will be an important step in stigmatising and discouraging atomic weapons. The treaty aims at filling the ‘legal gap’ in the international system concerning nuclear weapons. And secondly, this new initiative does not depend on bringing the Nuclear Weapons States to the table and convincing them to disarm. Institutionalising a legal prohibition requires a majority within the UNGA, and, encouragingly, an overwhelming majority of countries in the world have been supporting nuclear disarmament at various forums, including the NPT Review Conferences.

India’s conspicuous absence is a complete departure from the country’s principled diplomacy, since its independence, of championing nuclear disarmament globally. India provided moral and diplomatic leadership to the cause at the dawn, even at the height of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War. In 1988, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, presented a disarmament action plan to the UN General Assembly – the most comprehensive, time-bound and concrete proposal for nuclear abolition since the advent of the nuclear age. The proponents of skewed ‘realism’ who seek to pursue diplomacy through calculation of power, fail to acknowledge that India’s diplomatic strength in the world, much larger than what a country like India could command after coming out of the yoke of colonialism, stemmed from its moral authority in the world.

It was in recognition of this diplomatic stature, built meticulously through decades of diplomacy, that the Vajpayee government adopted a peaceful nuclear posture, consisting of no-first-use declaration and the doctrine of minimum credible deterrence. The Indian government at the time at least maintained that it would promote a comprehensive and universal nuclear disarmament along with other nuclear weapons states, even as it possessed its own weapons.

Under the Manmohan Singh regime, the government promoted several disarmament initiatives and proposals, including informally supporting a new version of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan for Disarmament. This new proposal advocated a pro-active stance on nuclear abolition, whereby India would adopt a posture to claim that it would be the only country in possession of nuclear arms to use its diplomatic weight to urge other nuclear powers to disarm in a credible and legally-binding manner and promote security in a world free of nuclear weapons.

The U-turn under Modi

It was this posture that earned the Indian nuclear diplomacy, credibility, and enabled the government to use its image of a ‘responsible nuclear state’ to convince the member-states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to not only end the embargo against India, but also not club it with any of the nuclear pariah states like Pakistan and North Korea.

However, after coming to power, Narendra Modi has severely weakened India’s nuclear posture which so far, had enjoyed consensus across the political spectrum. His party’s election manifesto raised concerns internationally, as it indicated the ruling party’s intent to revise the doctrines of ‘no-first-use’ and ‘minimum credible deterrence’.

Frivolous statements made by senior BJP leaders, particularly the utterings of the former Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar and the former party president, Nitin Gadkari, have trivialised the nuclear weapons discourse at a time when the world is more concerned about them than ever before.

This year, the famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the closest-ever to midnight. More importantly, for the first time since 1998 the doomsday clock statement mentioned the potential danger of the irresponsible and unprofessional handling of India-Pakistan tensions escalating into a full-blown nuclear war. If anything, India is now increasingly coming across as a nuclear adventurist on the global stage, even as the task of exercising nuclear restraint and taking gradual but concrete steps for weapons abolition has assumed greater importance than ever.

When the Nobel Peace Prize for ICAN was announced in September this year, the Modi government found itself in a corner as it had to grudgingly praise the international Coalition for its disarmament advocacy. India, under Modi, stayed away from the negotiations of the Nuclear Ban Treaty, even as it had participated in the ICAN-facilitated Conference on Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons in Nayarit in February 2014 in Mexico under the previous Government.

This author had participated as an ICAN South Asia campaigner and was witness to India’s participation in the Conference, setting it apart from other nuclear weapons powers which were perceived as defending these inherently immoral weapons. From Rajiv Gandhi labelling nuclear arms as the “ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism” at the UN, India has trudged a long and dangerous path where it has begun to shed even the minimum moral consistency of being regarded as a reluctant nuclear state that would still lead from the front, towards global disarmament.

Interests of nuclear vendors

While the BJP had vociferously opposed the India-US Nuclear Deal in the Parliament, Modi has taken a complete U-turn – furthering agreements to procure nuclear technology, has been the promotion pitch of all his foreign tours since he assumed power. In fact, Narendra Modi has gone out of the way to accommodate the interests of nuclear vendors by diluting the nuclear liability law that the Indian Parliament passed in 2010 to protect Indian citizens in case of nuclear accidents.

When in opposition, the BJP strongly opposed any liability waiver to foreign suppliers. Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had said at the time: “Clearly, the life of an Indian is only worth a dime compared to the life of an American.” His colleague Sushma Swaraj had then called for an India-specific liability law, while likening the Indo-US nuclear deal to Jehangir who allowed the British East India Company to do business in India.

Swaraj is now the External Affairs Minister in the Modi Government, which has brazenly undermined suppliers liability provisions of the Act under her nose during the visit of President Obama in 2016. Modi’s nuclear diplomacy therefore, actually makes India pay bigger costs even as it squanders whatever gains the country’s foreign policy establishment claims to have made.

While Modi government might think that joining other nuclear powers in boycotting the historic Nobel event would propel it to the super power club, it is actually stigmatising India’s nuclear posture internationally. BJP’s delusional politics of nuclear-jingoist rhetoric hides its collosal failures which would cost dearly to India.

The author is the Editor of, and has been associated with the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

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Published: 09 Dec 2017, 7:57 AM