On July 7, 122 member-states of the United Nations joined hands to pass a proposal for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. India not only refused to participate in the discussions, it also shied away from the final vote that saw over two-thirds of the global membership of the UN join hands to demand an unequivocal prohibition on nuclear weapons.
Insult has been added to injury by the official spokesman of the ministry of external affairs making the absurd claim on July 18 that “this treaty in no way constitutes or contributes to the development of customary international law.” What rubbish!
It is precisely the development of customary international law in precisely this direction that we have consistently sought since Jawaharlal Nehru’s earliest addresses to the UN, culminating in Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free and Nonviolent World Order’ in 1988. It’s the most detailed plan for nuclear disarmament that any head of state or government has ever presented to the world community.
It is sadder still that our spokesman boasted: “None of the other states possessing nuclear weapons participated in the negotiations.” Thus, have we surrendered our precious right as an independent country with an inalienable right to our own view to become camp-followers of those very countries whose hegemony we never used to accept, but, under Modi, have now started craving?
More ironic even is that most of the preambular paragraphs of the document, which constitute the rationale for prohibiting nuclear weapons, read like a paraphrase of the very arguments we used to make when we championed the cause. There are two statements by Rajiv Gandhi at the UN that bear repetition, especially as the spokesman’s statement hypocritically reprises the heart of Gandhi’s proposal as the present establishment’s stand on universal multilateral nuclear disarmament.
The first Rajiv quote deals with the nuclear deterrence doctrine: “Deterrence needs an enemy, even if one has to be invented. Nuclear deterrence is the ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism.” The second said: “The champions of nuclear deterrence argue that nuclear weapons have been invented and, therefore, cannot be eliminated. We do not agree. We have an international convention eliminating biological weapons... [and] are working on similarly eliminating chemical weapons [since eliminated]. There is no reason in principle why nuclear weapons, too, cannot be so eliminated.” His peroration reads: “All it requires is the affirmation of certain basic moral values and the assertion of the required political will, underpinned by treaties and institutions which ensure against nuclear delinquency.” That is what the July 7 treaty actually does. We ought to be celebrating this. Alas, Modi’s India is bemoaning it.
The fact that we (and Pakistan) have overtly acquired nuclear weapons has only pushed the Doomsday Clock further forward. With nuclear weapons, we are more, not less, vulnerable to nuclear catastrophe than we then were. So, our stake in universal, time-bound, non-discriminatory, verifiable disarmament remains more vital than ever to our survival as Indians and as part of humankind.
Instead, the Modi dispensation has repudiated the seven-decade-old legacy of India being in the forefront of the nuclear disarmament movement. It has distanced India from the overwhelming majority of the UN and from the Non-Aligned Movement, once described by Indira Gandhi as the world’s “biggest peace movement”. As she graphically put it at the NAM Summit in New Delhi in 1983: “The hood of the cobra is spread. Humankind watches in frozen fear, hoping against hope that it will not strike. Never before has the earth faced so much death and danger.”
The hood of the cobra is today spread even wider than it was three decades ago. Tragically, Modi does not have the antennae to alert him to the danger.