NPT is bunk

Even without factoring in India, the NPT is bunk

The biggest challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is not whether or not it accomodates India as a legimate nuclear power. It is whether or not the terms of the treaty can ever be effectively imposed on those who have already signed it. Flagrant violations of the terms of the treaty, both by the nuclear haves and the nuclear wannabes have left it brain dead and on virtually life-support.

With much of its original intent dissolved, the NPT today is used to hang on superstitiously to the objective of preventing new countries from developing nuclear-weapons. That objective itself laudable and important — but shorn of the commitments that the nuclear-haves failed to live up to, and the world’s inability to punish stallers and transgressors, the NPT’s ability to deliver is highly questionable.

Signatories of the NPT are required neither to provide nor to receive assistance to build nuclear weapons. But almost all the current legitimate nuclear powers have violated this condition. Iran and Libya have been ‘outed’. North Korea pulled out. Saudi Arabia and 30 other states have no safeguard agreements with the IAEA despite what the treaty binds them to. When there is little penalty, save temporary expressions of outrage, there is little incentive to ensure good behaviour.

And then there is that emotive issue of getting the nuclear powers to commit to the utopian goal of complete disarmament (“what does not exist cannot be proliferated”). While proponents of this idealistic view of the world may not succeed in putting the genie back into the bottle anytime soon, they certainly will make it even harder for the NPT to be more effective in checking proliferation among its own members. What this means is that punitive measures, ranging from forced closure of civilian plants (procured under the aegis of the NPT) to military operations, that can buttress the implementation of the treaty, cannot be put in place. The NPT in its current form is bunk.

Enter India (and Pakistan and Israel). Even if the members of the NPT were to accept these countries as legitimate nuclear powers, its inherent problems will not go away. For India to enter the treaty simply for the sake of ‘glory’ is absurd. For it to do so with an eye on the gains of legitimacy (ie assistance with its civilian nuclear power projects) comes with the attendant requirement of submitting its facilities to international supervision.

The point is, India can achieve all the palpable gains of being a member without actually having to sign up. Behaving as a responsible nuclear power, with adequate safeguards to prevent proliferation is in India’s own interests. International cooperation in the area of civilian nuclear R&D can be had by strategic bilateral relationships — like the one India has with Russia, and like the one that is developing with the United States. India has a strong technological base in the nuclear area, and only the resolutely dogmatic can ignore the mutual benefits of bilateral cooperation. Non-proliferation ayatollahs exist, but like their number, their political share-price is on a secular decline.

India would do well to stay out of the NPT for now and allow its existing members to squirm around the consequences of their own broken promises.

5 thoughts on “NPT is bunk”

  1. Nitin,

    For India, the most important nuclear issue is access to natural uranium for our existing/new plants. The way I see it is NSG is refusing access under the guidelines of US (basically we gotta go nuke-nude inorder to pickup the crumbs). Whereas, we have individual countries like France, Canada, Russia willing to supply us with reactors. How to break this impassé?

  2. Laks,

    Yes, that’s the main issue.

    The main opposition to access to uranium/yellowcake comes from the United States. Indeed, India can move towards a solution of this logjam by engaging the United States bilaterally. A breakthrough is possible. For example, during Condi Rice’s last visit to India, she signaled that the US is open to collaboration in the area of civilian nuclear power. While that inducement was in the context of India’s attempts to procure fossil-fuel from Iran, it opens up a window of opportunity where none previously existed.

  3. Emm. But can your approach wait? Bcoz, the U.S. has the liberty to be patient to wear us down while Bush announces construction of new plants. But for us, it looks like we cannot not support more than 10 GW of nuke power. So, it puts us in a more desperate position, hence less bargaining power.

    I was thinking less goodboy measures like:
    – constructing low-cost coal power stations and jack up greenhouse gases (annoy the p!$$ out of Euros, Japs and Canadians)
    – actively promote those Western eco-NGOs against existing/new nuclear installations in THEIR countries, etc.

    Remember how U.S. is funding reactors for China despite proliferation by PRC firms such as Sinopec.

  4. Laks,

    Even without resorting to those more contentious moves, there is scope to sensitise the US to India’s energy requirements: Iran is a case in point. The US cannot hope to block India’s quest for energy and yet keep it away from Iran (fossils) or Russia (nuclear).

    As for those contentious measures, just making noise about it will help. There’s no need to actually do it. 😉

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