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NYT editorial on India’s nuclear policy: A case of inaccurate portrayal and propaganda

A. Vinod Kumar was Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 07, 2014

    That even the most respected sections of the international media can sometimes indulge in skulduggery, especially on complex topics like nuclear policy, is proven by the New York Times editorial of July 5, 2014 titled “India’s role in the nuclear race”, which is rife with inaccurate depictions and propaganda.

    In its assessment of India’s prospective membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the NYT editorial castigates India for not proving the “willingness to take a leading role in halting the spread of the world’s most lethal weapons.” At the core of the editorial seems to be the lingering frustrations among sections in the American strategic community and the nuclear industry, perceivably flowing from the ‘unfulfilled’ expectations on the Indo-US nuclear deal. First, there is consternation among some non-proliferation lobbyists on the possibility of India becoming the only state that is not a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to become a member of the NSG. The second reason could be the despair in the US nuclear industry in failing to benefit from a burgeoning nuclear energy market, as presumably promised by the nuclear deal. Third might the perception in the American security community of an Indian ‘ungratefulness’ and its inability to draw India into the US strategic matrix despite rewarding it with a nuclear deal to bring it back to the non-proliferation mainstream, and facilitate its rise as a ‘major power’. Fourth could be the uncertainties about the policies of the new Indian government led by a leader, who was uninhibitedly hounded by the American media for over a decade.

    The editorial reasons itself by arguing that India has not proved its willingness to take a leading role in halting the spread of nuclear weapons, but without substantiating this claim or suitably explaining why it feels that India is unwilling to play this role. The editorial writer seems to forget that the nuclear deal had fructified only because the initial conditions stated in the 18th July 2005 Joint Statement were largely fulfilled in order to enable the NSG waiver and a new safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Many of the other enlisted obligations in the joint statement have been effectively pursued in subsequent years, including the recent ratification of the Additional Protocol. Though the fundamental bargain of the joint statement was of India playing a ‘leading role in global non-proliferation efforts’ in return for its access to global nuclear commerce, the editorial overlooks the fact that this was a political commitment which has not been sufficiently defined in the joint statement, or by either parties. In fact, many critics of the nuclear deal had then warned that the lack of a clear articulation of this role could give space for varied interpretations, including the strange formulations made by this editorial. That this warning had come true was proven by the pressure that India faced to vote against Iran in the months after the deal took shape.

    The NYT editorial suggests that India will prove this ‘leading role’ by “opening negotiations with Pakistan and China to end the dangerous regional nuclear arms race” – an interpretation which was not even scantly referred anywhere in the joint statement or at any point during the nuclear deal debate between 2005 and 2008. The editorial also suggests that India needs to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and stop producing fissile materials, while failing to underline the fact that the CTBT is stymied by US inaction and that Pakistan is the spoiler in the efforts to stop fissile materials production through the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). By talking about nuclear weapons containment in Southern Asia, NYT continues to perpetuate the classical Western prejudice on nuclear weapons in this region by projecting it as a ‘nuclear flashpoint’ and theatre of a regional arms race, despite the fact that the three nuclear-armed states are evolving towards a stable deterrence equation. The editorial ignores the fact that nuclear weapons emerged and permeated in this region as a result of the flawed bargain that the nuclear powers enshrined through the NPT in the 1960s.

    Interestingly, the editorial, in its third paragraph, unwittingly justifies the discriminatory character of the NPT in allowing only the five ‘recognised’ nuclear weapon states to maintain their arsenals, and understating how this imbalance has sustained a world of nuclear ‘haves and have-nots’ caused by the continual possession of nuclear weapons by a ‘privileged few’. This widely-respected newspaper could have, in fact, served a great moralistic cause had it questioned the policies of its own President, who deceived the world with radical promises of disarmament in his ‘historic’ Prague speech of 2009, and then went on to derail the significant disarmament momentum that emerged at the 2010 NPT Review Conference (RevCon). NYT could do a certain yeoman service by examining the actions of the US delegation in the Main Committee of this RevCon, where it forced a revision of the many recommendations to initiate a disarmament pathway by 2014. An introspection of the US role will be helpful in assessing not just the non-proliferation policies under President Obama, especially the hype about nuclear security, but also in exploring the promises he will have for the upcoming 2015 RevCon.

    The editorial does a moralistic disservice to its readers by failing to see virtue in the historic India’s nuclear liability law as a remarkable contribution towards creating best practices in the nuclear energy industry. Instead, NYT behaved like a corporate propagandist by treating the Indian law as a hindrance to the nuclear deal and flagging the frustrations of the American industry in failing to ‘benefit from nuclear technology contracts’ owing to the supplier liabilities enshrined in this law. The editorial fails to note that many nuclear supplier nations including Japan, Russia and France have begun to accept the spirit of ‘public interest’ enshrined in India’s liability law, which in fact promises to restore the credibility of the global nuclear industry, badly hit by the Fukushima incident.

    The editorial also intrinsically marks the return of the ‘pro-Pakistan’ lobby in the US non-proliferation community, and the American media, which was culpable in encouraging the many indulgences of the Pakistani military and nuclear establishment for many decades and facilitating favourable non-proliferation policies for Pakistan to effectively pursue a clandestine nuclear programme with technological aid from Western companies. That NYT is blowing their bugle again is clear from the absence of any references to the A.Q. Khan-led nuclear black market even while making unsubstantiated claims of India diverting civilian nuclear resources from Canada and US to propel its nuclear weapons programme. The editorial writers could do well by brushing up their history lessons before making inaccurate descriptions about the 1974 PNE, while also examining how the US and other nuclear powers undermined UNGA Resolution 2028 while drafting the NPT, so as to monopolise all nuclear technologies including PNEs.

    The empathy for Pakistan is clear from the editorial’s emphasis on Pakistan’s anxiety over India’s uranium enrichment plant while also unwittingly highlighting how Pakistan has more nuclear weapons in its kitty that India. The editorial, thus, not just smacks of double standards and propaganda, but inherently seems to indicate the initiation of a new campaign to derail India’s entry into the NSG and also probably promote the cause of a prospective nuclear deal for Pakistan, and its eventual entry into the NSG.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India