INDIA, CANADA AND THE BOMB: Honesty and Courage in Advancing Nuclear Disarmament

By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative
An Address to McMaster Centre for Peace Studies and India-Canada Society for Hamilton and Region
May 4, 2001, McMaster University

When India conducted five nuclear tests in May 1998, Canada expressed its outrage by censuring India. Canada's High Commissioner to New Delhi was recalled, CIDA consultations canceled, military exports to India banned.

Less than three years later, on March 20, 2001, Canada announced its re-engagement with India to pursue "the broadest possible political and economic relationship with India." Bilateral ministerial visits were encouraged, full CIDA programming in India resumed, including industrial cooperation, and culture and sports links opened up.

Why the change of heart? Did India suddenly renounce nuclear weapons? Did it sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

Quite the contrary. India has continued to produce and develop sophisticated nuclear weapons -- it has about 60 -- and has stock-piled enough weapons-grade plutonium for many more. Moreover, its heavy-water nuclear power plants are not under IAEA full-scope safeguards. Russia and Western Europe have become primary conduits of missile-related technology transfers to India.

How is it possible that what was condemned three years ago is now accepted?

The Government of Canada maintains that Canada is still deeply concerned about "the dangerous trend toward nuclear proliferation in South Asia." Canada still wants India to renounce its nuclear weapons program, sign and ratify the CTBT, and join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state. But despite these demands, it's back to business-as-usual.

Trade is, of course, never far from the surface of the reasoning process. Canada learned that sanctions against such a roaring economy, with extremely attractive foreign investment laws, are practically useless. Besides, the potential markets in a country of one billion people, destined to overtake China as the most populous nation on earth, are alluring.

But it is not trade which is at the root of the nuclear relationship between India and Canada. It is the ambiguity of both countries in professing to aspire to a world free of nuclear weapons while shoring up with their respective policies the maintenance of nuclear weapons. Both India and Canada claim the high moral ground and operate with the daily exercise of pragmatics. No wonder they can, despite momentary irritations, get along.

This "business-as-usual" in the nuclear weapons agenda, however, is bringing the world closer to a nuclear war. India and Canada are by no means alone in failing to meet their responsibilities; neither are they exempt from the court of world opinion. They both need to shun their sanctimonious attitude and face up to their obligations to the world community.

Let us look at the record of both countries.

Lost in the international ire directed at India over its 1998 nuclear tests is that country's long record in working for nuclear disarmament, dating back to Prime Minister Nehru. Following India's original detonation in 1974, successive governments advanced plans to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

In the early 1980s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the first to join the Six-Nation Initiative aimed at getting the Soviets and the Americans back to the bargaining table at the height of the Cold War. In 1988, her son, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi brought to the U.N. a three-phased plan for world elimination of nuclear weapons. The plan urged the creation of an integrated multilateral verification system to ensure no new nuclear weapons are produced anywhere in the world.

Gandhi's plan for elimination was carried forward by the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Initiative, which called for threshold nuclear-weapons States not to cross the threshold in return for a global process to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

"Such a process would not only help achieve the twin objectives of the elimination and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in a fair, reasonable and balanced manner, it would also facilitate the world's return to the true spirit of the United Nations Charter. Indeed, the arrangements for comprehensive global security envisaged in the Charter would be indispensable to ensuring that once a nuclear-weapon-free and non-violent world order is established, there is no slipping back into national nuclear-weapons arsenals."

In 1995, India testified before the International Court of Justice that the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance "is illegal or unlawful under international law."

Then, in 1996 India joined a group of 28 nations which tabled in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament a Program of Action for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020.

For the past several years, India has voted for a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for multilateral negotiations "leading to the early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination."

The Indian record in working for nuclear disarmament is clear. But India's efforts have been rebuffed by the Western nuclear powers, who keep voting down all resolutions calling for a time-bound program for elimination. India has been scorned because it has consistently refused to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India maintains that the NPT is discriminatory because it allows the nuclear weapons countries to retain their arsenals and ignore the requirement to negotiate elimination.

India has constantly argued at the U.N. and at the Conference on Disarmament that the present non-proliferation regime is discriminatory. By their actions in refusing to enter negotiations for elimination, the nuclear weapon states (NWS) are unfortunately giving credence to India's assertion. India is, in fact, calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons, but its voice is not being heard. Rather, accusations are made that India is not sincere because of its opposition to the NPT and CTBT. This sterile debate lead to the 1998 testing.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee defended India's nuclear tests on national security grounds. "We live in a world where India is surrounded by nuclear weaponry," he said. "India is now a nuclear weapons state."

The building of domestic public opinion in support of India as a nuclear power had long been developing. It was not a sudden crisis or even the prolonged dispute with Pakistan that led to the nuclear breakout. Rather, it was the penetration into the Indian psyche that as long as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council went on possessing nuclear weapons, India could never be a first-rate power without them. It was not changing threat perceptions that spurred India but changing elite self-perceptions. India's decision to go nuclear was status-driven.

Pakistan, of course, followed India's lead. Now the continuation of the unrelenting hot-and-cold war between India and Pakistan is exacerbated by the presence in both arsenals of nuclear weapons, the first time this has happened in two neighbour-antagonists. This region, says Achin Vanaik, a leading Indian advocate for nuclear disarmament "is where a nuclear conflagration whether by accident, miscalculation or design is most likely to take place."

The risks notwithstanding, India now has its "status." Led by the U.S., the Western nations are now rushing to step up business with India. The West pretends at one moment that nothing has happened and still calls upon India to join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state; the next moment, it acknowledges that India has become one of the "big boys" and cannot be disregarded.

India, meanwhile, has its cake and is eating it, too. It has its nuclear weapons and continues to moralize against the nuclear-weapons states. India's Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, sent a message to the NPT 2000 Review (which India refused to attend, even as an observer), dismissing the calls for India to roll back its nuclear program as "mere diversions."

After more than three decades, he said, the NWS remain to be persuaded to begin any kind of collective, meaningful negotiations aimed at global nuclear disarmament. Instead they have "arrogated as a permanent special right to possess nuclear weapons for their exclusive security."

Though refusing to join the NPT because of the Treaty's discriminatory aspects, he insisted that India is conducting itself under NPT rules and, with respect to Article VI, "is the only nuclear weapon state that remains committed to commencing negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention." Moreover, India has announced a no-first-use policy and has given unqualified negative security assurances.

"We remain committed to nuclear non-proliferation. India holds that genuine and lasting non-proliferation can only be achieved through agreements that are based upon equality and non-discrimination, for only these can contribute to global peace and stability."

Turning to Canada, we cannot ignore the telling, if indirect, criticism made by Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee who said sanctions against India by nations "enjoying the shade provided by someone else's nuclear umbrella" were hypocritical.

It is the NATO nuclear umbrella, held up by the United States, that prevents Canada from taking a definitive stand in support of the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Canada states proudly that it does not possess nuclear weapons, works to prevent their proliferation, and wants to see their political significance devalued. Having said that, Canada continues to live under the nuclear umbrella of NATO, stays quiet when the U.S. reaffirms nuclear weapons at the heart of its military doctrine, and refuses to state that nuclear weapons have no moral or legal justification and should be completely stripped of political legitimacy.

Canada wants Russia and the U.S. to take their nuclear weapons off alert status to increase the margin of safety against unauthorized or accidental use, but refuses to denounce the First-Use policies of the NWS. Canada says it will work with the New Agenda in pursuing disarmament objectives, but refuses to support negotiations on a nuclear weapons disarmament convention. Canada calls for the total elimination of nuclear weapons through the NPT, but stops short of protesting the violation of Article VI of the NPT by the NWS. Canada condemns India and Pakistan for joining the nuclear weapons club, but is mute on its NATO partners' continued possession and reliance on nuclear weapons.

The government readily admits it has to "balance" its nuclear disarmament goals and loyalty to NATO. At the heart of Canada's policy statement is this passage:

"The Government agrees that Canada intensify its efforts to advance the global disarmament and non-proliferation regimeÉ . The United Nations continues to be the key vehicle for pursuing Canada's global security objectivesÉ . As an active member of NATO and a net contributor to overall Alliance Security, as a friend and neighbour of the United States and its partner in NORADÉCanada balances its Alliance obligations with its disarmament and non-proliferation goals."

There are glaring inconsistencies in these policies. This is not because Canada really cannot make up its mind. There is no doubt that latter day Canadian governments, left alone, would fully espouse the complete elimination of nuclear weapons now. But they are not left alone. The pressure from the U.S., abetted by the U.K. and France, to support Western retention of nuclear weapons is intense.

All through the Cold War, the U.S. Administration reminded Canada that the U.S. could not tolerate a neutral state on its long northern border; on security matters, Canada would have to follow the U.S. lead. During the Cold War, Canada recognized U.S. leadership. That is why former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau agreed to test nuclear Cruise Missile delivery systems in Canadian airspace even though he wanted to resist.

In the post-Cold War years, the U.S. has maintained its dominance over Canada's security policies. The entangled nature of Canada's alliance with the U.S. is so complex that a strong body of opinion in Ottawa holds that it is not in Canada's economic interests to tangle with the U.S. The U.S. is too big, too strong; we are too small, too vulnerable. More than eighty percent of Canada's trade is with the U.S., some $1 billion a day. This cannot be jeopardized.

Despite pressure from the U.S. to be quiet, Canada did take a significant step forward in urging NATO to review its nuclear weapons policies. A lengthy process started which culminated in a 130-paragraph NATO Report, "Options for Confidence and Security Building Measures, Verification, Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament" in December 2000. This document reaffirmed the central tenet of NATO's Strategic Concept -- nuclear weapons are "essential." Moreover, NATO said -- with a look toward India -- that it is the "proliferant states" not NATO whose nuclear programs are diminishing security and stability.

NATO reiterated the language of the NPT 2000 Review -- in which all states made "an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals" and backed the commitment up with a 13-Step program. Yet, in the same document, NATO said that nuclear weapons are "essential," and that "there is a clear rationale for a continued, though much reduced, presence of sub-strategic forces in Europe." The contradiction between what NATO countries say in the NPT context and do in the NATO context is astounding. NATO is clearly incoherent with the NPT.

Since NATO will certainly not move without the U.S., and the new U.S. Administration is currently conducting a Nuclear Posture Review, it is virtually certain that NATO will do nothing until it sees the results of the Nuclear Posture Review. Meanwhile, the determination of the Bush Administration to proceed with a National Missile Defence (NMD), to the great concern of NATO allies and the outright opposition of Russia and China, has catapulted NMD to the forefront of the nuclear weapons scene. The political focus has shifted from new disarmament steps to containing irreparable damage to the nuclear disarmament regime by NMD. In this climate, it is important that the core issue of nuclear disarmament be the central response to missile defence system proposals. But the Bush Administration has so far shown that, while the number of strategic weapons deployed may be reduced, nuclear deterrence will remain at the core of its military policy. In this climate, the NPT obligations are given short shrift. What is Canada to do?

The glaring inconsistencies in the NPT-NATO dichotomy should lead Canada to characterize its obligation, not as finding a "balance" between NATO and disarmament, but as the obligation to continue to vigorously pursue and implement its nuclear disarmament commitments within the context of NATO. Measured against the opposition by the U.S., which even protested Canada's decision to ask the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to hold a nuclear review, Canada has demonstrated determination and even bravery. By setting an example for other Non-Nuclear NATO States to follow, Canada is demonstrating some diplomatic dexterity. It is bravery and dexterity that will be even more important in the future if we are to act in ways that are commensurate with the gravity of the problem of world security.

Of course, Canada does not have the power on its own to force the U.S. or any other NWS to give up nuclear weapons. But Canada is obviously not alone and it does have international law and the NPT on its side. International law now requires a ban on nuclear weapons, and countries like Canada must be careful that loyalty to a nuclear alliance and a commitment to "balance" do not become tacit acceptance of the status quo.

The status quo -- the continued possession of nuclear weapons by the five permanent members of the Security Council while proscribing their acquisition by any other nation -- will not hold. Indeed, that status quo is already no longer the status quo given the spread of nuclear weapons to India, Pakistan, and Israel. The world must implement a total ban on nuclear weapons or witness their proliferation into several other countries.

Despite their imperfections, India and Canada both have an important role to play in nuclear disarmament. But are they up to it?

Will India check its nuclear development and work constructively with Pakistan to institute a nuclear freeze (no further weaponization, no deployment, no further production of weapons-grade fissile materials, with proper accountability and transparency) in South Asia?

Will Canada press NATO to at least get rid of its tactical nuclear weapons in seven European countries, and tell the U.S. frankly that it is undermining international law by the continued development and maintenance of nuclear weapons?

Constructive actions like these would enable both India and Canada to move forward together in meeting their responsibilities, and also to move the world community closer to the actual start of comprehensive negotiations to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Both countries should work to buttress the work of the New Agenda countries.

Honesty and courage are called for.

Do India and Canada possess these desperately needed characteristics?