Baba’s Explainer – Fragile State of Nuclear Disarmament

  • IASbaba
  • June 21, 2022
  • 0
Governance, International Relations, Security Issues
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  • GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.
  • GS-3: Security

Context: Recently, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its yearbook a few days back highlighting some worrying trends of the past year in international security.

  • The expected rise of the global nuclear arsenal was the chief cause of concern among SIPRI experts.
  • The comprehensive report claims that while absolute numbers of nuclear arsenal have reduced, they are expected to grow over the next decade.

What have been the trends in military spending?
  • Military spending Flattened: During 2012-2021, military spending as a percentage of GDP has largely been stable. If anything, the average worldwide trend has been slightly downward.
  • US & Russia continue to dominate: Russia leads the charge in absolute numbers of nuclear inventory (5977 against the U.S.’s 5428). However, it is the U.S. that has the largest number of deployed warheads (1744 against Russia’s 1588).
    • China has 350 nuclear weapons in its inventory
    • France has 290
    • UK has 225
    • India has 160
    • Pakistan has 165.
    • Israel is estimated to have 90 and North Korea 20.
  • Distorted Focus on China: The global discourse has created a sense of fear around China’s military modernisation and their upward trend in nuclear weapons development while the thousands of nuclear weapons held by the U.S. don’t seem to attract a similar level of attention.
  • Military modernisation by nuclear countries is seen to be a global trend that may result in aggravating security concerns for other countries.
    • All nuclear weapon owning states have, over the years, stated and worked upon their intention to modernise multiple facets of their armed forces—ranging from the development of newer and more efficient nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, fighter jets, manned and unmanned aerial vehicles to the growing spread of the use of missile defence systems
    • Such modernisation
  • India Top arm Importer: The SIPRI yearbook has highlighted India as being the top weapons importer during the 2017-2021 period.
    • Other countries to feature in the top five arms importers list include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, and Australia. According to SIPRI, these five nation states account for 38% of total global arms import.
What are the key developments/concerns flagged by the yearbook?
  • The yearbook mentions the following as worrying indicators of an unstable system:
    • low level border clashes between India and Pakistan,
    • Civil war in Afghanistan
    • Armed conflict in Myanmar
  • It also highlighted three cause of concern trends:
    • Chinese-American rivalry
    • Involvement of state and non-state actors in multiple conflicts
    • Challenge that climatic and weather hazards pose. It is important to note here that the threat posed by climate change seems to feature in the report only nominally.
  • Nuclear concerns over Ukraine tensions:
    • The marginal downsizing observed in the nuclear arsenal has come mostly from the U.S. and Russia dismantling retired warheads.
    • But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised some serious concerns because of the continuous rhetoric from the Russia over possible use of nuclear weapons.
  • China’s growing Nuclear Arsenal: China’s recent activities surrounding construction of 300 new nuclear missile silos have also been cause of worry. China has stated that they have made “impressive progress” vis-à-vis their nuclear arsenal and the primary purpose of said arsenal continues to be self-defence.
  • India-Pakistan rivalry continues: In the subcontinent, India and Pakistan seem to be making gains over their nuclear arsenal (in absolute numbers) while also looking at the development and procurement of newer and more efficient forms of delivery systems
  • Controversy over Iran’s military expenditure:
    • The report has stated that Iran increased its enrichment of Uranium-235 to 60% in 2021. It also reported that Iran’s military budget grew to $24.6 billion, growing for the first time in four years.
    • However, some analysts believe that SIPRI has, over the years, overstated Iran’s military expenditure. This is based on there not being a single Iranian exchange rate, resulting in a hyperinflated estimation of expenditure by SIPRI analysts.
What is the general attitude among countries about existing nuclear and arms related treaties?
  • There is a collective belief on dangers of nuclear weapons & need for multilateral agreements.
  • Earlier in 2022, the leaders of the P5 countries (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) issued a joint statement affirming the belief that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
  • The joint statement also highlighted their collective belief that bilateral and multilateral arms control agreements and commitments were indeed important.
  • Even though there is upward trend in absolute numbers of arms and nuclear arsenals, the nation states are making sure to remain well within the ambit of what the treaties and agreements ask for.
  • The year 2021 also saw the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 2017 coming into effect. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regimes (MTCR) held their annual meetings despite decision making being limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the various nuclear disarmament regimes?

The international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime comprises principles, norms, rules and practices regulating nuclear weapons. Historically, the regime is built on the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

  1. Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT)
  • The NPT entered into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995,
  • The following goals are often described as the NPT’s ‘three pillars’
    • To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons
    • To promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy
    • To move towards nuclear disarmament
  • The non-proliferation commitments of non-nuclear weapon states are verified through International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • The treaty institutionalised the non-proliferation norm by de-legitimising ‘proliferation’ (production and transfer) of nuclear weapons, fissile materials and related technology by the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS)
  • However, the recognised five nuclear-weapon states (NWS) namely the US, Russia, the UK, France and China, can continue to possess nuclear weapons.
  • The treaty has attained a near-universal status with just four hold-outs — India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea and it is widely acknowledged that having a treaty to halt the spread of nuclear weapons was better than having none at all.
    • India has opposed the international treaties aimed at non-proliferation since they were selectively applicable to the non-nuclear powers and legitimised the monopoly of the five nuclear weapons powers.
    • As a result, India always considered the NPT as discriminatory and has refused to sign it.
  • While regarded as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime, the NPT has been undermined by the lack of implementation of its disarmament pillar.

2. Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)

  • CTBT was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996.
  • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty bans all nuclear explosion tests on Earth.
    • A comprehensive test ban has been defined as a “zero yield” test ban that would prohibit supercritical hydro-nuclear tests but not sub-critical hydrodynamic nuclear tests.
    • Hydronuclear tests study nuclear materials under the conditions of explosive shock compression. Their yield ranges from negligible all the way up to a substantial fraction of full weapon.
    • Subcritical (or cold) tests are types of tests involving nuclear materials and possibly high-explosives that purposely result in no yield.
  • It was opened for signature in 1996 and since then 182 countries have signed the Treaty, most recently Ghana has ratified the treaty in 2011.
  • The Treaty will enter into force after all 44 States listed in Annex 2 to the Treaty will ratify it. These States had nuclear facilities at the time the Treaty was negotiated and adopted.
    • 36 of these States have ratified the Treaty. Eight States still need to do so
    • North Korea, India, and Pakistan have not even signed the treaty
    • China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and USA have signed but not ratified the CTBT
    • The CTBT has therefore not entered into force and lacks legal authority.
  • Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) promotes the Treaty so that it can enter into force.
    • The organization was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Vienna.
    • It establishes a verification regime to monitor adherence to the Treaty. The verification system is built around a network of over 325 seismic, radionuclide, infrasound and hydroacoustic (underwater) monitoring stations.
  1. New START Treaty
  • The New START Treaty is a treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.
  • It entered into force on 5th February, 2011.
  • It is a successor to the START framework of 1991 (at the end of the Cold War) that limited both sides to 1,600 strategic delivery vehicles and 6,000 warheads.
  • It continues the bipartisan process of verifiably reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals by limiting both sides to 700 strategic launchers and 1,550 operational warheads.
  • The treaty’s original duration was 10 years (until February 5, 2021), with the option for the Parties to agree to extend it for up to an additional five years.
  • USA and Russian have agreed on a five-year extension of New START to keep it in force through February 4, 2026.
  1. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
  • INF Treaty is another treaty that was signed during the Cold War.
  • It was a nuclear arms-control accord reached by the USA and the Soviet Union in 1987 in which the two nations agreed to eliminate their stocks of intermediate-range and shorter-range (or “medium-range”) land-based missiles (which could carry nuclear warheads).
  • The United States withdrew from the Treaty on 2nd August 2019.
  1. Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty
  • FMCT is a proposed international agreement that prohibits the production of two main components of nuclear weapons: highly-enriched Uranium and Plutonium.
  • The consultations under the treaty laid down the most appropriate arrangement to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
  • Those nations that joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-weapon states are already prohibited from producing or acquiring fissile material for weapons.
  • An FMCT would provide new restrictions for the
    • five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS—United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China), and
    • four nations that are not NPT members (Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea).
  • PFM estimates the global stockpile of separated plutonium at 520 ± 10 tons, of which, less than half was produced for use in weapons.
  • About 88% of plutonium is held by states with nuclear weapons that are NPT signatories, and most of the remaining 12% is held by Japan, which has over 47 tons of plutonium.
  • Though the five NWS no longer produce weapons-grade plutonium, production continues in India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan.
  • Discussions on this subject have taken place at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD). The CD operates by consensus and is often stagnant, impeding progress on an FMCT.
    • In order for negotiations to begin on an FMCT, Pakistan will have to remove its opposition vote, and a consensus to move forward with negotiations must be reached.
    • Pakistan has been primarily concerned that an FMCT would lock them into a disadvantageous position relative to India’s superior nuclear stockpile.
  1. Conference on Disarmament
  • The Conference on Disarmament (CD), was recognized by the Tenth Special Session on Disarmament of the United Nations General Assembly (1978) as a single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.
    • It succeeded other Geneva-based negotiating fora, which include the Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament (1960), the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament (1962-68), and the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (1969-78).
  • The Conference is comprised of 65 member States, including the five NPT nuclear-weapon States and 60 other States of key military significance.
  • The CD and its predecessors have negotiated such major multilateral arms limitation and disarmament agreements such as the NPT, CTBT, Biological & Chemical Weaons Convention etc.
  • Currently, the CD primarily focuses its attention on the following issues:  
    • Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament.
    • Prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters.
    • Prevention of an arms race in outer space.
    • Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
    • New types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons; radiological weapons.
    • Comprehensive programme of disarmament.
    • Transparency in armaments.
  1. Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT)
  • Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and United States President George W. Bush jointly announced the creation of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) during the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia on 15 July 2006.
  • The GICNT is an international partnership intended to improve international capacity for prevention, detection and response to nuclear terrorism, particularly the acquisition, transportation or utilization of nuclear and radiological materials.
  1. Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)
  • The MTCR is an informal, non-treaty association of governments sharing common interests in the nonproliferation of missiles, unmanned air vehicles, and related technologies.
  • Formal discussions on controlling missile proliferation began in 1983 among France, Germany, Italy, UK & USA. They were later joined by Canada and Japan, and in 1985, an interim agreement to control the proliferation of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles, including dual-use missile items, was reached.
    • A nuclear-capable missile was defined as one capable of delivering at least 500 kilograms (kg) to a range of 300 kilometers (km) or more.
  • The seven states formally announced the Missile Technology and Control Regime (MTCR) on in 1987.
  • Since then, membership has expanded to the present 35 States.
    • India became member in 2018.
    • In addition to formal members, there are three “unilateral adherents” to the regime recognized as such by regime members: Estonia, Kazakhstan, and Latvia.
    • Israel, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovakia have also adhered to the regime on a less formal basis.
    • China has agreed to apply the MTCR guidelines. Its application for membership remains under review.
  1. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
  • The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is also known as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.
  • It is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.
  • It was adopted by UN in July 2017 and came into force in January 2021.
    • As of March 2021, 54 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty
  • For those nations that are party to it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities.
  • For nuclear armed states joining the treaty, it provides for a time-bound framework for negotiations leading to the verified and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons programme.
  • Need for TPNW: The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 contains only partial prohibitions, and nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties prohibit nuclear weapons only within certain geographical regions.
  • Nuclear-armed states and their allies, however, have opposed the new treaty, arguing that it could undermine the NPT by creating parallel norms and weakening the alleged international stability created by nuclear deterrence.
  • India had rejected the treaty for two main reasons.
    • Not negotiated in the right forum: India believes that the appropriate forum for negotiating complex dimensions of nuclear elimination is the Conference on Disarmament, a UN body comprising 65 nations, that follows consensus-based decision making. India considers it critical to take all stakeholders along on this subject.
    • Lack of attention to important areas: India’s second criticism has been on lack of attention to issues of verification and compliance. The treaty exhorts NWPs to join by removing nuclear weapons “from operational status immediately and to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan…”
What is India’s stand on Nuclear disarmament?
  • India being a declared nuclear power remains committed to the policy of No First Use (NFU) against nuclear weapon states and non-use against non-nuclear-weapon states.
  • India is a key partner in global efforts towards disarmament and strengthening the non-proliferation order.
  • India believes that nuclear disarmament can be achieved through a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral framework after meaningful dialogues among all States possessing nuclear weapons, for building trust and confidence.
  • The Conference on Disarmament (CD) remains the “world’s single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum” and India supports holding of negotiations on a Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention at the CD.
  • India also remains committed to negotiations regarding a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in the CD.

Mains Practice Question – Nuclear disarmament is required for international peace & security but realising it is next to impossible. Elaborate.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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