Journalist | Writer | Analyst
If the Conference on Disarmament really manages to get its act together as Reaching Critical Will and Jeffrey Lewis of armscontrolwonk and the Belfer Center reckon it might, the Indian promissory note on supporting the U.S. on the Fissile Material Cutoff treaty is likely to be encashed sooner than New Delhi had assumed.
For the record, Indian officials disagree with RCW’s characterisation of the Indian position as showing “resistance to the proposal by indicating intentions to make changes that would disrupt the current delicate balance”. Given its differences with the U.S. on verification, India is not exactly jumping with joy at the prospect of the CD moving forward.n But at the same time, New Delhi is unlikely to block any emerging consensus. For that, look to Egypt or China.
A foretaste of Beijing’s attitude came on Tuesday when its ambassador asked the CD president Sarala Fernando whether the agenda for the work of the “coordinator” on issues relating to the prevention of an arms race in outer space would include the negotiation of a treaty, something that is a red rag for the U.S. despite — or perhaps because of — the recent Chinese ASAT test.
28 March 2007
Fissile treaty is India’s next challenge
New front in struggle to conclude its nuclear pact with the U.S.
NEW DELHI: With a proposal to kick-start work on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons rapidly gathering traction, India is bracing itself for the earlier-than-expected opening of a new front in the struggle to conclude its nuclear agreement with the United States.
On March 23, the Sri Lankan president of the U.N.’s Conference on Disarmament (CD) circulated a draft proposal to end the stalemate that has plagued the Geneva-based multilateral forum for more than a decade.
The proposal involves moving simultaneously on four arms-control fronts, including negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) and “substantive discussions” on issues relating to the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS).
The new proposal has yet to be approved by all but diplomats and disarmament watchers are already describing it as the CD’s “best chance in 10 years” to finally get the international arms control agenda moving again. The U.S., Russia and the European Union have agreed to it. India, too, is on board provided the rules of procedure and “fundamental parameters” in respect of the FMCT are clarified.
China, which earlier wanted the CD’s work on PAROS to lead to a treaty placing controls on the weaponisation of space, has sought clarification on a number of points.
While senior officials say India will not stand in the way of any proposal that will allow the CD to start functioning again, the prospect of substantive FMCT negotiations poses a diplomatic challenge: how to square India’s July 2005 commitment to work with Washington “for the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty [FMCT]” with the fact that both India and the U.S. have very different notions of what such a treaty should look like.
Last December, when the U.S. Congress passed the Hyde Act enabling nuclear commerce with India, it added two seemingly minor riders — that India must be working “actively” for the “early” conclusion of such a treaty. Though these additions irritated Indian officials, they let it pass since the CD had been in limbo since 1996, the year it finished drafting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and there was little prospect of a breakthrough.
In 2006, however, the U.S. upped the ante by presenting a draft FMCT to the CD along with an ultimatum threatening Washington’s withdrawal from the forum in the event that negotiations did not open soon.
New Delhi’s stand on the FMCT differs from the U.S. in one crucial respect: verification. Indeed, in his response to the new CD proposal on Friday, Indian ambassador Jayant Prasad reiterated India’s “consistent position… of the importance we attach to the negotiation of a universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable treaty.” There should, therefore, be “sufficient understanding on fundamental parameters before formal negotiations are launched,” he added.
The draft proposal before the CD speaks of negotiations “without any preconditions, on a non-discriminatory and multilateral” FMCT. Since there is no reference to a “verifiable” FMCT, India says the words “without any preconditions” should be constructed to not rule anything in or out. In other words, once negotiations start, countries favouring verification would have the right to push for its inclusion.
“But we want the CD President to clarify these issues so that India’s negotiating position is not compromised,” a senior official told The Hindu .
In 2004, the Bush administration reversed America’s earlier position on including effective verification measures. But Indian officials say India will insist on an FMCT being “internationally and effectively verifiable” besides being prospective rather than retrospective so that existing stocks of fissile material are not affected by accession to such a treaty.
The CD was in limbo all these years because the U.S. wanted the focus to be kept only on fissile material and opposed the creation of four subsidiary bodies separately tasked with negotiating an FMCT, a PAROS treaty, nuclear disarmament and security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states. Creative attempts were made over the years to reformulate this four-point agenda but Washington rejected these.
The fudge that has been worked out this time round is to farm out the four agenda items to “coordinators” who will preside over “substantive discussions” on the other three arms control issues “without prejudice to future work and negotiations.” This formulation, diplomats say, is open enough to admit the possibility of, say, considering a treaty banning the weaponisation of space. But India still wants the rules of procedure clarified.
While welcoming the prospect of the CD getting back to work, Indian analysts said the FMCT negotiations would not be easy.
“India should assess the issue based on its national interest,” said K. Subrahmanyam, former convener of the National Security Council Advisory Board. “First of all, someone in authority has to be able to take a stand on whether the existing stocks of fissile material are adequate for strategic purposes,” he said. If the stocks are adequate, there should be no problem in going towards an FMCT. “If a fissile cut-off treaty is added on to other arms control measures, this would help stabilise the international system.”
“Running a risk”
Mr. Subrahmanyam acknowledged that by insisting on verifiability, India ran the risk of working counter to the U.S. in the FMCT negotiations. “But given the wider neighbourhood we are in — Pakistan, North Korea, Iran — I would insist that an FMCT be verifiable.” Arundhati Ghose, a former Indian ambassador to the CD, said that since an FMCT was first mooted in 1993 and India subsequently sponsored a resolution calling for such a treaty, “one must presume we have produced enough fissile material for a credible minimum deterrent.”
But on verification, Ms. Ghose said the demand for verifiability was essentially a tactic to postpone the FMCT and that lack of verification would not hurt India’s interests.