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A platform for peace

Print edition : Nov 25, 2000 T+T-

The new idiom of security that has come into existence after Pokhran-II compels a coalescence of forces around the ideas of nuclear disarmament and peace.

A THREE-DAY convention in New Delhi held between November 11 and 13 laid the groundwork for the formation of a Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, bringing together on one platform the diverse range of protest groups that emerged following the I ndian nuclear tests of May 1998. Though the new body will focus its endeavours primarily within India, a degree of coordination with peace movements in the neighbourhood and elsewhere is indicated by the participation of no fewer than 50 delegates from P akistan, 15 from other parts of South Asia and 20 from the global anti-nuclear movement.

The nuclear domain is one where diverse shades of opinion can often coexist. India witnessed that phenomenon in 1996, when ardent champions of disarmament, nuclear strategists and national security hawks made common cause in rejecting the Comprehensive T est Ban Treaty (CTBT) as a decidedly dubious pact, which would contribute little to the goal of a nuclear-free world.

That tenuous coexistence of opposites fell apart after the Pokhran nuclear tests of May 1998 and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government's decision to deploy what it euphemistically titled a "minimum credible deterrent". The new realities compelled a c oalescence of forces around the ideas of nuclear disarmament and peace. After some years when peripheral differences tended to enjoy undue prominence, the new idiom of national security succeeded once again in focussing minds on the fundamentals.

The charter adopted at the convention provides the essential elements of the Coalition's programme for the years ahead. Nuclear weapons, the Coalition believes, should be resolutely opposed whether it is in India, South Asia or globally. Apart from drain ing scarce resources, nuclear weapons were inherently genocidal and only promoted a generalised sense of insecurity. India's attempt to blast its way into the nuclear club in 1998 was a betrayal of its own ethical positions in the past. The damage could be partly undone only by an unequivocal commitment to reverse the preparations under way to assemble and induct nuclear weapons into the Indian arsenal.

A number of other agreements are structured around this basic compact. For instance, the Convention witnessed a range of opinions on the utility and legitimacy of the nuclear energy programme worldwide. But the final consensus was to avoid any specific f indings on the links between nuclear energy and weapons. There was little dissent, though, over the assertion that civilian nuclear programmes in India needed to institutionalise a greater degree of transparency and accountability through all stages of t he fuel cycle - from uranium mining to spent fuel management and waste disposal.

The ethics and practical utility of various nuclear restraint measures came in for minute scrutiny. Here again, a range of views was witnessed. A section within the Convention argued that initiatives such as the CTBT had an inherent value as part of a gl obal disarmament movement. The optimal strategy for the peace movement would be to take each measure as part of a connected whole, as steps towards an ultimate goal of a nuclear-free world.

Another viewpoint emphasised that the Nuclear Weapon States (NWSs) were responsible for fostering a climate of impunity in which there were no rewards for the principled renunciation of weapons of mass destruction. Rather, the prevalent climate seemed to provide overt incentives for clandestine weapons proliferation. To retrieve their fast diminishing credibility, the NWSs needed, at the minimum, to provide iron-clad "negative security assurances" to the non-nuclear states.

In the current context, the greatest hazard facing the nuclear disarmament campaign is the imminent U.S. decision on the deployment of a National Missile Defence. Recognising this, the Convention adopted a resolution "condemning" the NMD proposal and urg ing the Indian government to shed its equivocation on this issue.

The Convention also adopted an action plan that places emphasis on the formation of linkages among various movements that have so far been proceeding in a rather uncoordinated fashion. It includes the formation of a "clearing house" of ideas, literature and campaign material on disarmament and the illegitimacy of nuclear deterrence as a strategic doctrine.

A 40-member coordination committee was set up by the convention to formulate the next steps in the Coalition's practical agenda. The apex body includes figures such as Admiral L. Ramdas, former Chief of the Naval Staff, and Achin Vanaik, writer and peace activist. Distinguished scientists and researchers from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, and the National Institute of Immunology, Delhi, are also involved with the committee.