Nuclear weapons have been associated with the Cold War. But their spread and development today is firmly embedded in the evolving Indo-Pacific strategic space.
Updated: Aug 07, 2020 17:39 IST
Seventy-five years after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world looks set to enter a new and more dangerous atomic age. The nuclear non-proliferation regime that exists today is a product of the Cold War — and those circumstances exist only in skeletal form today. India, a secondary victim of the earlier non-proliferation regime, should ensure that this time it has a seat at the high table when the rules of any new nuclear order are being shaped.
There are a number of reasons why the present non-proliferation order is struggling. The most important is that the original order was constructed around Washington and Moscow. These two capitals still control some 90% of the world’s nuclear armaments. But Russia’s nuclear future is limited by its small economic base. China’s arsenal, unfettered by any nuclear arms control agreement, grew 21% between 2012 and 2019 and its nuclear weapons budget is now the second-largest in the world. More worryingly, most estimates say Pakistan has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear warhead count. India’s is also growing, though New Delhi’s investments have been more directed at survivability and deployment than sheer numbers. Throw in North Korea’s continuing nuclear progress, Israel’s covert atomic arsenal, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Japan’s potential and it becomes evident the future of nuclear weapons lies in Asia. But Asia has no arms control treaties, poorly articulated doctrines, no nuclear hotlines or monitoring agreements — and two of the nuclear arsenals are managed by rogue states.
The Donald Trump administration, in its own disjointed way, recognises that the United States (US) is held back in the Indo-Pacific by commitments it made to the Soviet Union. It sensibly scrapped the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. It has a case for arguing that a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty agreement should cover not only the US and Russia but also China, but lacks the diplomatic coherence to ever accomplish this. Any new US government will continue the re-evaluation of the present nuclear proliferation regime. India should be prepared to play a constructive role in the new evolutionary process. Resuscitating the fissile materials cutoff treaty should be on the table for everyone. The comprehensive test ban treaty should not be seen as taboo, if the US and China ratify the treaty. Nuclear weapons have been associated with the Cold War. But their spread and development today is firmly embedded in the evolving Indo-Pacific strategic space.
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