American nuclear policy revisited

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Dr Rajkumar Singh

FROM the beginning Washington’s commitment to nuclear non- proliferation has been half-hearted and partial. It favours only horizontal non-proliferation, without offering any commitment even to a gradual vertical non-proliferation. In this way, the nuclear policy of the US sharply clashes with that of India, whose commitment to nuclear non-proliferation is total, and which advocates vertical as well as horizontal non-proliferation. India feels that a non-proliferation agreement which ignores the present proliferation and, preoccupies itself with the future proliferation is naturally unrealistic, ineffective and, therefore, unacceptable. India’s option is a protest against the attempt of a few nuclear powers to decide the fate of all other nations technologically and militarily.
Themes of US policy: In South Asia, one of the cardinal principles of the US foreign policy during the past few decades has been to deter the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan and it has made non-proliferation a central issue in bilateral relations with them. Since 1974, when India exploded its first nuclear device, successive US administrations have pushed for restraint by both countries, utilising a range of policy tools including diplomatic pressure, the withholding of cooperation, embargoes on the export of nuclear technology and the leverage of US assistance and arms sales. In fact, the US has sought to oppose proliferation in South Asia through all available means at its disposal. Its goal has been to inhibit the development or acquisition of such system as well as to prevent their use or threatened use.
The US fear of a nuclear exchange in South Asia is, in fact, outcome of nuclear theology of the Western strategists which clearly state that nuclear weapons in the hands of non-nuclear and developing nations has greater possibility of their use. Joseph Nye of Harvard University once put it “Paradoxically under any circumstances the introduction of a single bomb in some non-nuclear state may be more likely to lead to nuclear use than the addition of a thousand more warheads to the US and Soviet stockpiles”. However, Noel Gayler, a retired US Admiral, who was involved in the testing of nuclear arms, called on the United States to assume the non-first use pledge and said, “The more you know about them, the less you like them, and the more you are convinced that they have no sensible military use. They always boomerang on the user”. From1960, atomic wars were sporadic in the history of man. The developing science and technology have paved way for the growth of the atomic power.
US Policy of Interference in South Asia: The answers to the question why does the US take interest in Indo-Pak non-proliferation, are many? India-Pakistan proliferation dynamics directly impinge on the US-Middle East concerns and interests which have normally been deemed vital due to their connection with access to Persian Gulf oil. Consequently, the proliferation of nuclear weapons in South Asia would have profound implications for US national security interest. Stephen P Cohen, a renowned American expert on South Asia, held the view that the US non-proliferation interests fall into or touch upon three different areas. Firstly, there are purely nuclear related concerns that include slowing down or controlling regional military nuclear programmes by stemming or stopping the flow of nuclear material and technology to India and Pakistan, ensuring that they do not aid other states with their nuclear military programmes, seeing to it that the South Asian example of creeping proliferation is not emulated or admired elsewhere. Secondly, to contain Russian and Chinese influence in South Asia. Finally, there are a number of regional American interests at stake. American policy since 1947, favoured the emergence of a stable and cooperative South Asia Regional System based upon Indian and Pakistani cooperation so that all regional states might better solve their pressing economic and development problems.
American discriminatory policy: However, the US non-proliferation policy in the subcontinent has been discriminatory. It has not only adopted a permissive approach towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme but has favoured the emergence of a nuclear Pakistan and denied that Pakistan’s nuclear programme has gone ahead under the overall patronage of the United States. Even many Americans agree that the US government did not take the desired steps to halt Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme in time, in spite of adequate information in that regard. On the other hand, the legislative measures that would have been taken were postponed several times through narrow interpretations of the legal provisions. Unlike Pakistan, India’s nuclear programme has little US influence. It has never remained the US military ally or strategic partner or has it ever entered into security agreement with America. Partially in response to India’s nuclear detonation, the Congress passed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978.
Invoking this act, Carter Administration had to suspend altogether the supply of nuclear fuel for Tarapur Atomic Power Station after the expiry of three years grace period in 1981. By doing so Washington attempted to use its leverage with respect to those fuel supply to compel Delhi to accept full scope safeguards. India has also been pressed to participate in multilateral conference on non-proliferation and regional security in South Asia which would have the main agenda of pressurising India and Pakistan to cap their nuclear programme. A recent US report on Progress Towards Regional Non-Proliferation in South Asia said, ‘The US seeks to combat nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missile proliferation in South Asia and to prelude either a nuclear or missile arms race. Our objective is first to cap then reduce and finally eliminate the possession of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.
— The writer is Professor and Head, P G Department of Political Science, Bihar, India.