Preserving the taboo: on nuclear arms control
Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces
Mains level: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving
India and/or affecting India's interests Effect of policies and politics of
developed and developing countries on India's interests
U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the U.S. is
quitting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a bilateral
agreement with Russia signed in 1987.
The decision was not unexpected since the U.S. has
long maintained that Russia has been violating the treaty and Mr. Trump has
been critical of arms control agreements because, according to him, other
countries cheat putting the U.S. at a disadvantage.
Mr. Trump’s decision has generated dismay and concern
that this will trigger a new nuclear arms race in Europe and elsewhere.
The INF Treaty reflected the political reality of the
Cold War of a bi-polar world with two nuclear superpowers no longer
consistent with today’s multi-polar nuclear world.
The greater challenge today is to understand that
existing nuclear arms control instruments can only be preserved if these
evolve to take new realities into account.
Under the INF Treaty, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed
to eliminate within three years all ground-launched-missiles of 500-5,500 km
range and not to develop, produce or deploy these in future.
The U.S. destroyed 846 Pershing IIs and Ground
Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs); and the U.S.S.R., 1,846 missiles (SS-4s,
SS-5s and SS-20s), along with its support facilities.
Politics of negotiations
The INF Treaty was widely welcomed, especially in
Europe because these missiles were deployed in Europe and the treaty was
signed on December 8, 1987 in Washington by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and
Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
Reagan had earlier declared, “A nuclear cannot be won
and must never be fought,” marking a ratcheting down of Cold War tensions
that had been rising.
In early 1980s, the U.S.S.R. had accumulated nearly
40,000 nuclear weapons, exceeding the U.S. arsenal.
In Europe, Russia replaced single warhead SS-4s and
SS-5s with more accurate 3-warhead SS-20 missiles, heightening concerns.
To reassure its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
(NATO) allies about its nuclear umbrella, the U.S. began deploying Pershing
IIs and GLCMs in the U.K., Belgium, Italy and West Germany, setting off a
new arms race.
What INF treaty is originally talks about?
The INF talks originally considered equal ceilings on
both sides but then moved to equal ceilings and non-deployment in Europe to
address the sensitivities of allies.
The U.S.S.R. wanted British and French missiles of
similar ranges to be covered but the U.S. rejected the idea as also the
inclusion of older 72 Pershing I missiles already deployed in Germany.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made an announcement
that Germany would unilaterally dismantle the Pershing 1s while the U.S.S.R.
came up with a double global zero covering both shorter-range and
The U.S. agreed, Europe breathed a sigh of relief and
the INF was hailed as a great disarmament treaty even though no nuclear
warheads were dismantled and similar range air-launched and sea-launched
missiles were not constrained.
The INF Treaty did not restrict other countries but
this hardly mattered as it was the age of bi-polarity and the U.S.-U.S.S.R.
nuclear equation was the only one that counted.
Changing political backdrop
Since 2008, the U.S. has voiced suspicions that with
the Novator 9M729 missile tests, Russia was in breach; in 2014, U.S.
President Barack Obama formally accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty.
However, he refrained from withdrawal on account of
On the other hand, Russia alleges that the U.S.
launchers for its missile defence interceptors deployed in Poland and
Romania are dual capable and can be quickly reconfigured to launch Tomahawk
missiles, constituting a violation.
China has always had a number of Chinese missiles in
the 500-5,500 km range but its modernisation plans, which include the
commissioning of the DF-26, today raise the U.S.’s concerns.
Preserving the nuclear taboo
The key difference with today’s return of major power
rivalry is that it is no longer a bi-polar world, and nuclear arms control
is no longer governed by a single binary equation.
There are multiple nuclear equations — U.S.-Russia,
U.S.-China, U.S.-North Korea, India-Pakistan, India-China, but none is
Therefore, neither nuclear stability nor strategic
stability in today’s world can be ensured by the U.S. and Russia alone and
this requires us to think afresh.
The INF Treaty is not the first casualty of
unravelling nuclear arms control.
In December 2001, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from
the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the U.S.S.R. which limited
deployment of ABM systems thereby ensuring mutual vulnerability, a key
ingredient of deterrence stability in the bipolar era.
The next casualty is likely to be the New START
agreement between the U.S. and Russia, which will lapse in 2021, unless
renewed for a five-year period.
This limits both countries to 700 deployed
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic
missile (SLBMs) and heavy bombers and 1,550 warheads each.
However, Mr. Trump has described it as “one of several
bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration”.
The lapse of the New START would mark the first time
since 1968 that the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals would be unconstrained
by any agreement.
The political disconnect is also evident in the Treaty
on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
It has become a victim of its success. It can neither
accommodate the four countries outside it (India, Israel, North Korea and
Pakistan) as all four possess nuclear weapons, nor can it register any
progress on nuclear disarmament.
It succeeded in delegitimising nuclear proliferation
but not nuclear weapons.
This is why NPT Review Conferences have become
The most important achievement of nuclear arms control
is that the taboo against use of nuclear weapons has held since 1945.
Preserving the taboo is critical but this needs
realisation that existing nuclear arms control has to be brought into line
with today’s political realities.
Q.1) With reference to the civil nuclear agreement between India and Japan,
consider the following statements:
1. It allows Japan to supply India with nuclear fuel and equipment for nuclear
2. The agreement cannot be terminated by either of the countries unilaterally.
3. India is the first non-member of the nonproliferation treaty (NPT) to have
signed civil nuclear agreement with Japan.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 3 only
(b) 1 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Q.1) Existing nuclear arms control agreements need to be brought in line with
today’s political realities. Critically examine the statement.