India’s Nuclear Weapons Policy in the Context of International Law
The recent threat by Russia to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine has reignited concerns about the global readiness to prevent the use of such destructive weaponry. The potential use of nuclear weapons not only poses a severe threat to the targeted nation, in this case, Ukraine but also endangers global peace and security.
Understanding Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear weapons are the most devastating and lethal instruments of war ever created. Their destructive power is so immense that their use can lead to the annihilation of entire populations and cities. These weapons generate an enormous amount of energy in the form of blasts and radiation.
When detonated, they create a fireball, and within seconds, this fireball reaches its maximum size. Even a single nuclear bomb, if deployed over a city, has the potential to result in the deaths of millions of people.
The consequences of nuclear attacks are catastrophic, with both immediate and long-term effects. Immediate effects include death, severe burns, internal injuries, and lung damage. The long-term repercussions encompass cancer and genetic damage, leaving a legacy of suffering for generations to come. Given these devastating outcomes, the use of nuclear weapons has been extremely rare in history.
The only instances of nuclear weapons being used in warfare occurred when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II in 1945. These devastating attacks led to international efforts to regulate and control the use of nuclear weapons.
However, it’s important to note that nuclear technology also has peaceful applications, such as in medical science, energy generation, and providing clean energy. This dual-use nature of nuclear technology underscores the importance of international regulation.
The Role of International Law
International law plays a pivotal role in regulating the behavior and conduct of nation-states, especially when it comes to global issues that transcend national borders.
In today’s interconnected world, problems such as terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking, environmental threats, and intellectual property rights are no longer confined to individual countries. International law serves as a framework to address these challenges while promoting international peace, security, and cooperation among nation-states.
To address these issues effectively, nations recognized the need for an overarching international authority. This led to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, the world’s largest international organization, with a primary objective of maintaining international peace.
International law operates through various mechanisms, including the formation of treaties. Treaties, whether multilateral or bilateral, are agreements in which nation-states commit to adhere to specific rules and principles. These treaties serve as binding instruments that guide the behavior of states.
International Treaty for Regulating Nuclear Weapons
In the aftermath of World War II, the world witnessed the destructive power of nuclear weapons, prompting a collective effort to prevent their unregulated proliferation and use. This effort resulted in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), also known as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The NPT was negotiated in 1968 and came into force in 1970. This treaty categorizes states into two groups: nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear states. Nuclear-armed states are those that possessed nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices before January 1, 1967.
These states include China, France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Non-nuclear states, on the other hand, are committed to not developing or producing nuclear weapons and are prohibited from receiving nuclear weapon technology from nuclear-armed states.
In return, non-nuclear states are entitled to access nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, such as energy generation and medical applications. The NPT acknowledges the right of non-nuclear states to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful objectives.
Crucially, the treaty imposes restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear-armed states are prohibited from using these weapons against non-nuclear states, except in response to a nuclear attack. Moreover, the NPT envisions complete disarmament, with the ultimate goal of reducing the global nuclear weapons stockpile to zero. Currently, approximately 191 nations are parties to the NPT.
It’s noteworthy that India, along with Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, possesses nuclear weapons but has chosen not to sign the NPT.
India’s Stance on the Non-Proliferation Treaty
India declared itself a nuclear-armed state in 1998. However, India opted not to sign the NPT, citing several reasons for its decision. India views the NPT as fundamentally discriminatory, as it grants special privileges to nuclear-armed states while imposing restrictions on non-nuclear states. India perceives this as an inherent bias against non-nuclear states, limiting their access to nuclear technology.
Furthermore, India has expressed security concerns as a rationale for not signing the NPT. The 1962 Sino-Indian War, during which India lost territory to China, served as a catalyst for India’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The subsequent war with Pakistan in 1965, with China supporting Pakistan, heightened India’s security anxieties. In this volatile regional context, India deemed it necessary to develop its nuclear capabilities as a deterrent against potential threats.
In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test, Pokhran-I, signaling its entry into the group of nuclear-armed states. This decision was partly driven by the realization that both Pakistan and China possessed nuclear weapons, and India could not afford to remain without a nuclear deterrent.
In 1998, India conducted its second nuclear test, Pokhran II, demonstrating its capacity to utilize nuclear weapons for military purposes. This action garnered international condemnation, but India’s stance remained unchanged.
India’s Current Nuclear Policy
Presently, India’s nuclear policy is centered around creating a credible deterrent to dissuade other nations from considering the use of nuclear weapons against India. India asserts that it would employ its nuclear arsenal only in a defensive capacity and not as an aggressor.
In essence, India’s nuclear doctrine is built on a “no first use” (NFU) policy, which means that India commits not to initiate a nuclear strike. Instead, its nuclear weapons are reserved for responding to a nuclear attack. This approach reflects India’s focus on maintaining regional and global stability while ensuring its national security.
While India, with its historical commitment to peace exemplified by figures like Buddha, values the promotion of global harmony, it recognizes the need to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent against potential threats. The recent geopolitical tensions, such as Russia’s threat to Ukraine, underscore the vulnerability of non-nuclear-armed states and highlight the importance of India’s decision not to sign the NPT.
India’s stance on the NPT is grounded in considerations of fairness, security, and its commitment to maintaining regional stability. As global discussions on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation continue, India’s position serves as a reminder of the complex dynamics surrounding nuclear weapons and the critical importance of striking a balance between promoting peace and safeguarding national security.
In an ever-changing world where the specter of nuclear conflict still looms, India’s nuclear policy remains a significant factor in shaping the broader discourse on disarmament, security, and international law.