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India’s Nuclear Security Policy

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 05, 2012

    On March 26-27, 2012, Seoul is hosting the 2nd Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). The first summit was held in Washington on April 13, 2010. India is participating in the Seoul summit, just as it did in the first summit. In fact, India was one of 47 participant countries at the April 2010 NSS. It had actively participated in all the preparatory Sherpa meetings for the 2010 NSS. In these Sherpa meetings, the participant countries decided the communiqué and the work plan of the 2010 NSS.

    On January 16-17, 2012, India is also holding the 3rd Sherpa meeting for the Seoul NSS. This is the first time that India will be holding a Sherpa meeting as part of the NSS. India did not hold any Sherpa meetings in the run-up to the 2010 NSS. Does the holding of the Sherpa meeting demonstrate that India has started playing a proactive role in the NSS process? India has been an active participant in the summit process, but is proceeding it cautiously. Organizing the Sherpa meeting should not mean a major departure from India’s nuclear security policy, which has been marked by cautious activism.

    For years, neither the Indian strategic community nor the Indian government paid serious attention to the problem of nuclear terrorism. Like many other countries, India believed that nuclear terrorism is a remote reality. At the end of the Cold War, the Western world was concerned about Soviet nuclear materials falling into wrong hands, especially of terrorists. Later, the growing threat posed by terrorist networks such as the Taliban and al Qaeda led to a global campaign to deny such networks materials which may be used for the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The 9 11 attacks made a section of the international community highly apprehensive of WMD terrorism, especially its nuclear version. Even though India was long a victim of terrorism sponsored from the outside, only the post 9 11 Western campaign influenced the Indian decision making apparatus to review its quiescent and sceptical policy vis-à-vis nuclear security.

    Interestingly, the Indian government joined almost all the international initiatives without hardly any debate in the country. Joining these initiatives may have been discussed or debated within the government among different department and agencies. A large section of the Indian strategic community became aware of India’s joining these initiatives during the 2010 NSS, when the foreign policy establishment briefed the media and the Prime Minister made a statement in Washington.

    For nuclear security, the international community has concluded two treaties so far. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was concluded in 1979, opened for signature in 1980 and entered into force in 1987. This is the only legally binding treaty for the physical protection of civil nuclear energy facilities. India became a party to the treaty in 2002. The Convention was amended to plug the loopholes existing in it, and in July 2005 the Amendment was adopted by the state parties. India ratified the Amendment of the Convention in 2007. However, the Amendment is yet to enter into force because it has not been ratified by two-thirds of its member states.

    The second treaty is the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which was mandated by a 1996 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution and adopted by the UNGA in 2005. India signed and ratified this convention in 2006. The Convention entered into force in 2007. This convention intends to facilitate cooperation among member countries to avoid a situation leading to nuclear terrorism.

    The Indian government has also expressed support for the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, and supplementary Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources. The Code is reflected in the manuals India has prepared for conducting its nuclear affairs. India is now playing an active and cooperative role in the UN Security Council (SC) Resolution 1540 Committee, although initially, along with other NAM countries, it had expressed reservations about the international law making role of the UNSC. India has also positively approached other legal instruments like Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities, (INFCIRC/225) even before the 2010 NSS. In all the documents India signed for Safeguards, different versions of INFCIRC/225 found place in the agreement.

    Though India has supported and adopted the international legal framework for nuclear security, it has adopted a somewhat unique approach towards the institutional framework. Its approach towards the international institutional framework really reflects its policy of cautious activism. Like other NAM countries India supports the centrality of the IAEA. The 2010 Summit documents assign an important role to the IAEA. However, an important role for the IAEA could become possible because of the intense pressure a group of countries, including India, had put during negotiations of the documents that were released during the Washington summit. India also opposed the subsequent move to undermine the IAEA.

    As a participant in the 2010 NSS, India supports the summit process and its associated philosophy of voluntarism. It shared the thinking of a group of countries that the Sherpa process should not scuttle the summit process of action and initiative. Along with a group of countries, India opposed the setting up of a monitoring system. India also appears sceptical of multilateralising the Cooperative Threat Reduction or Global Threat Reduction Programme. Despite participating in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, India feels that the chairpersonship of the initiative should be democratized and not duopolised by Russia and the US.

    If India really wants democratization of the nuclear security institutions and architecture, it may have to take up responsibilities for nuclear security. One leading expert has called upon India to contribute financially to Nuclear Security efforts. Others want India to join the G-8 and contribute to nuclear security and other global issues. And some others want India to play a more constructive role in G-20 and the NAM. A NAM country and a rising economy like India that has a growing relationship with the Western countries can play a balancing game in some difficult situations.

    The strategic community in India is also increasingly becoming aware of global nuclear security challenges emanating from Pakistan. For years, oddly, the Indian strategic community was reluctant to openly admit that Pakistani nuclear assets may become a source of nuclear terrorism. This was because of the apprehension caused by the misinformation campaign of the US non-proliferation community and its clubbing of India with Pakistan and targeting both. Now, however, India and Pakistan have been completely de-linked and the international community has realized the gravity of situation in Pakistan. India should join the international community which is trying to concentrate on Pakistan to promote global nuclear security. It may also hold parleys to include North Korea and Iran in the summit process.

    During the Washington NSS, India announced the setting up of a global centre of excellence—Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership. Afterwards, India signed an MoU with the US and Japan and received support from France. The UK also appeared to be interested in working with India. India should take the opportunity and showcase this global centre. It should be activated quickly since other such centres are already operational and attracting participation. Already a section of the international media and community has started showing skepticism about this Indian venture.

    The government needs to inform the Indian people or at least the strategic community about developments in international bodies and organizations. For this purpose, it should work with research institutes or Non-Governmental Organisations. In fact, the lack of awareness or knowledge about the subject may be seen in some writings, especially those associated with the military establishment. In these writings, we do not find any distinction between nuclear security and nuclear safety. After the Fukushima incident, the world is seriously talking about synergizing nuclear security and safety. This synergy is subtle and about an advanced combination of parameters and mechanisms for both the issues. However, in the writings of these analysts, nuclear security is often confused, and is casually replaced with, nuclear safety.

    While India may continue its cautious activism, gradually it should begin to play a more active role. India has done a commendable job by erecting a legal framework; it may have to sharpen its institutional efficacy. Apart from activating its centre of excellence, it should also develop a nodal body for nuclear security. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has been doing highly credible work, though for greater credibility and confidence the creation of an independent body has been sought. The AERB may take up the fragmented nuclear security activities in the future and may become a single body for nuclear security.