In this essay, I examine the dilemma faced by sovereign states when it comes to choosing between their unofficial right to nuclear deterrence and coming to terms with the efforts of the global community to manage the proliferation of nuclear weapons. as part of a regulatory governance regime. Contemporary and historical examples are taken into account for this brief analysis.
In a week’s time, Iran’s new administration, led by President Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August this year, will begin its first-ever negotiations with world powers in Vienna on the relaunch of the nuclear deal reached in 2015, but he’s been stuck in limbo since 2018 with the US withdrawal that year. Negotiations will resume after a five-month hiatus on November 29.
Further away, on the Korean Peninsula, tensions have intensified in recent times with the testing of ballistic missiles of various capacities by the two Korean states, one being a fully-fledged nuclear-weapon state and the other falling within of the American nuclear umbrella. In the Indo-Pacific, Australia is set to acquire nuclear-powered submarines in a year and a half, following an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom (AUKUS) in mid-September this year.
And, I’m writing this from a country that is sandwiched between two nuclear weapon states and one – India, home to over a billion people. South Asia is home to two nuclear-weapon states – India and Pakistan – with an alarming quarter of the world’s population in a densely populated geography. The region also borders a continent-sized nuclear state – China, which is home to more than a billion people.
Relations between India and China have become confrontational in recent years, especially against the backdrop of a 19-month border standoff in eastern Ladakh which is still alive. A recent Pentagon report warned that China was expanding its nuclear arsenal and capabilities faster than expected, among other things. Perhaps no region of the planet is as volatile and vulnerable at the end of the nuclear game as South Asia.
India has still not accepted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) and the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) treaties. It has its real security reasons for being so, as do the other eight nuclear weapon states, some of which exist in a highly hostile and deeply contested neighborhood, particularly in South and Northeast Asia. Unfortunately, the influential states in these regions carry the historical baggage of enmity towards one another.
The choices of sovereign states, to be or not to be
According to the latest data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia and the United States together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. The extension of the new strategic arms reduction treaty of 2010 (New START) by the military superpowers for five years in February of this year brings a lot of hope.
However, the real danger could come from the remaining 10% of nuclear weapons and the way they are managed by the other seven nuclear states, especially when in the hands of leaders with unpredictable or reckless behavior, as in the North Korean case.
At the same time, several examples can be chosen from history where nuclear diplomacy has triumphed in all respects. The former Soviet republic of Ukraine dismantled its nuclear arsenal in 1994, which was considered the third in the world at the time, in exchange for security assurances from the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Likewise, South Africa voluntarily ended its nuclear program in 1991 and joined the NPT. Mongolia, a landlocked country between two nuclear-weapon giants, Russia and China, declared itself denuclearized in 1992.
Treaties and the realities of nuclear governance
Striking the right balance between the informal right of nuclear deterrence of individual sovereign states and nuclear governance regimes at regional and global levels is highly imperative today, using diplomatic negotiations as a tool.
It is true that nuclear deterrence capacity should not be limited to a handful of states, and at the same time, there is also an unprecedented demand to regulate the militarization of nuclear energy and its horizontal and vertical proliferation in the world.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW) entered into force in January of this year, in accordance with the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the TPNW overlooks a much more complex scenario.
Unlike the NPT which entered into force in 1970, the TPNW is equally rejected by all nuclear states and almost all American or Russian allies falling under their respective nuclear umbrellas, including Japan, the world’s only victim of an attack. nuclear. Indeed, agreeing to a complete ban would make their possession of nuclear weapons illegal in the eyes of international law, even if it is for purposes of deterrence.
The UN is still not seen as a world-class government that can strictly enforce its authority over individual sovereign states, and the latter still reserve the unassailable right to decide how to perceive or attach legality to the law. TPNW based on their unique security circumstances. .
In every practical sense, the TPNW reflects wishful thinking for a nuclear-weapon-free world, but it is indeed the ultimate goal of global nuclear governance. But why is this still a distant dream? To understand this, we’ll need to get a glimpse of what the NPT entails, including its flaws.
Looking through the NPT
Today, the NPT remains largely successful, with 191 states supporting it, including five nuclear states. As it turns out, the treaty is the only legally binding multilateral agreement in the world that seeks to achieve the goal of complete nuclear disarmament, both horizontally and vertically. The NPT is relatively closer to reality than the TPNW, but not too close.
The idea of a total nuclear ban, in itself, seems far-fetched, given the worldwide dissemination of knowledge about the myriad uses of nuclear energy today. However, its use for military purposes is “preventable” and “regulatable”, rather than “banned”, even though complete disarmament is the absolute necessity of a peaceful and stable world.
The safeguards system, as envisaged in the NPT and whose implementation has been entrusted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is proving to be an effective mechanism to prevent the misappropriation of technology. nuclear or nuclear potential materials towards the manufacture of weapons, the most recent example being the ongoing negotiations with Iran.
It has been 51 years since the NPT entered into force. However, it is not free from flaws even today, especially given the persistent claim by non-P5 nuclear weapon states that the NPT is inherently discriminatory and divides the world into “haves.” ”And“ destitute ”. India is one of only five countries that have not signed the NPT or signed it but have withdrawn from it.
India opposed international treaties aimed at non-proliferation because they were selectively applicable to non-nuclear powers, thus legitimizing the monopoly of the five nuclear P5 states. This is clear from the stipulation of January 1, 1967 as the deadline for determining the status of a nuclear weapon state. This is a serious flaw in the NPT which must be rectified.
The need for efforts at the regional level alongside
Confidence-building measures (CBMs) between regional rivals would go a long way in minimizing their mutual trust deficit, and this can be done with the support of regional groupings such as the East Asia Summit or SAARC (South Association). Asian Regional Cooperation) and organizations such as the United Nations, IAEA or ICAN (International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons).
Of all the nuclear regions today, North America and Western Europe have become a trusted security community and remain largely at peace, unlike Eurasia or Western Asia, where people live under the shadow of a nuclear-edged sword of Damocles that hangs over their daily lives. Lives. As Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (ZENs), Southeast Asia and Central Asia can serve as models for the rest of Asia and the world, as can the South Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
True sense of security is only achievable by building regional political consensus for peaceful coexistence, rather than through reckless accumulation of deterrent capabilities by individual states that might only give a parochial sense of security, such as this is seen in the periodic eruption-ups that occur in the border areas between India on the one hand, and China and Pakistan on the other, although all three are nuclear-weapon states .
The realistic way forward
If a state is to be practically prevented from going nuclear, the multilateral system must categorically allay all apprehensions surrounding its security and survival in a supposedly hostile region, and must close the gaps in access to nuclear technology. for cheap power generation and other purposes by channeling the necessary expertise.
Concrete action should therefore come from States, supported by a strong political and diplomatic will to reconcile divergent interests. Any allegations against the global nuclear governance regime that it is discriminatory in any way must be dealt with proactively and realistically by including all relevant stakeholders at the negotiating table.
If the aforementioned measures are carried out appropriately, future nuclear states can effectively be persuaded against nuclear weaponry. In addition, current nuclear states can be guided towards gradual, step-by-step disarmament using existing diplomatic and legal mechanisms. However, this could not be possible without involving the major powers and relevant international organizations at every stage. Thus, it is not impossible to find a realistic solution to this endless nuclear dilemma.