PRAGUE speech, on April 05 2009, was the first off the rails articulation by President Obama after assumption of presidency: “First, the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons… we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy… we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians…my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)… the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials… we will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty…”
Peace loving people all over the World were pleasantly surprised. They thought the promised Messiah has become, realists scorned it off, asserting that he would become a ‘normal American President’, rather soon. His Prague comments had add refreshing music to ears: “And as nuclear power as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act…I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. … Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy.”
It appeared as if Obama was reading from the long forgotten “old testament”—the NPT. Russians went along and signed START III, counties from all over the world flocked to join the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process. Countdown of Obama’s White House days has begun, so he is making a last ditch effort to leave behind a legacy. And as there is none, he is trying to manufacture one on nuclear turf, by pushing through a UNSC resolution in support of CTBT; which the US is yet to ratify. His whole gambit of Global Zero had been a double speak. Practically, he helped nuclear proliferation in many ways.He allocated over a trillion dollar for a phased upgrade of American nuclear weapon programme; scuttled Fissile Material Treaty by not accepting to account-for existing stocks: under the garb of Nuclear Security Summit process, he advocated that NSS members transfer their surplus fissile materials to the US for safe keeping—some stooges complied; persistently kept appeasing India to strengthen Indo-US Agreement 123—an icon of horizontal proliferation etc. It added to Indian arrogance leading to its walking away from arms control and arms reduction talks with Pakistan.
Obama wants to ensure Indian entry to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) through backdoor—country specific waiver— before he leaves White House, special plenary of NSG is likely to meet in Geneva before Obama leaves presidency. On the eve of earlier plenary Obama had made personal effort to gate crash India into NSG; Secretary of State John Kerry had written a letter to member states to let India in by setting aside the laid down criteria. However it did not work. America is also desperate in getting India into other strategic trade regimes, Indian has already parachuted into Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), despite the fact that its strategic export control regimes are not in compliance with MTCR and other regimes.
India submitted its application for membership of the NSG on May 12. Pakistan did the same on May 19. China and at least seven other countries blocked the consensus. China took the principled stand that entry to NSG should be through a criteria applicable to all non-NPT members. So for signing the NPT is one of the mandatory step for any country desirous of joining the NSG.
Countries that opposed India’s NSG membership application during Seoul plenary included China, Russia, Brazil, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland, Mexico and Turkey. To India’s shock, some of the countries that had initially pledged support for its candidature did not do so at the meeting. What surprised many in New Delhi is Mexico and Switzerland’s stand since both countries had promised support during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit a few weeks ago. Brazil was also a surprise since India counted it in its solid support. Turkey took the bold stance by suggesting that applications by Pakistan and India should be clubbed together, which is the way forward.
Indians were quick to engage China at all levels. The latest negotiations took place on September 13; it failed to make any breakthrough on the issue. China made it clear that it would oppose India’s entry into the NSG, unless the cartel opened its door to Pakistan too. China conveyed that it would remain firm on its stand that the NSG should adopt a “two-step approach” to address the issue of admitting new members. They pointed out that China would like the NSG to first “explore” — through “an open and transparent” process — and reach an agreement on a “non-discriminatory formula” to deal with the issue of granting membership to the countries which had not signed the NPT. Once the formula is adopted by the NSG, the cartel should move to the second stage to take up the “country-specific membership issues”, press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese government stated. China has conveyed to India that the issue of the non-NPT states’ participation in the NSG raised “new questions for the group under the new circumstances”. Crux of the question was “how to address the gap between the existing policies and practices of the non-NPT states and the existing international non-proliferation rules and norms”.
Obamas’ predecessor George W Bush, went overboard to sign Indo-US nuclear Agreement 123. In doing so he earned the dubious distinction of setting a global precedence by allowing India to keep eight of its nuclear reactors outside the safe guards of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—no other country enjoys this luxury. India chose to keep those eight reactors outside safeguards which were suitable for stealing fissile material—heavy water old technology reactors with slow burn time, allowing ore partake. Fissile material from these reactors is sufficient to produce atleast 100 nuclear weapons, of Kilo-ton category, per year. Moreover, the US also went along with Indian refusal to accept any safeguards on its ambitious Fast Breeders Programme, nuclear research facilities, and reactors which it may build indigenously—not a distant goal.
Obama would most likely go down in the history as a dubious leader, who took cover behind the noble cause of global nuclear non-proliferation to perpetuate American nuclear supremacy, and in a crazy quest to contain China, he added to his predecessor’s effort of propping up a nuclear devil—India. Obama’s successor will have a tough task of getting over the nuclear mistrust that Obama has thrust on America. However, it is doable, first step is to unknot Indo-US nuclear nexus.
— The writer is consultant to IPRI on policy and strategic response.