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India and the Draft US FMCT Text

Dr. Rajesh Kumar Mishra was Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • June 15, 2006

    On May 18, 2006 the United States presented a draft Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) proposal as well as a draft mandate to establish an Ad Hoc Committee at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) plenary. A week-long thematic debate closed at the 65-member CD Plenary on May 22, 2006, during which member states made statements projecting their respective positions on an FMCT in general. It has been reported that if the US is willing to engage in discussions on three key issues of disarmament (prevention of an arms race in outer space, negative security assurances and nuclear disarmament), then perhaps other members may be willing to start negotiations on an FMCT. If this is indeed the case, it is an ambitious agenda to make the US compromise upon its determination to pursue its missile defence deployment plan and new nuclear security strategies. Another issue of criticism that has been directed at the US is its failure to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty.

    The draft FMCT text as proposed by the US also fails to appropriately address many vital issues, especially the establishment of a multilateral verification mechanism to ensure compliance. The US is of a loosely stated view that "the primary responsibility of verification would rest with parties using their own national means and methods." In the absence of agreed verification mechanisms, the treaty would remain open to interpretation on issues like confidence building, information sharing or potential dispute resolutions in future.

    The US draft envisages that future questions about the proper implementation of the FMCT be taken up by the UN Security Council. In that sense the proposed US draft essentially seems to be P-5 centric and would therefore remain potentially vulnerable to stalemates, as has been the record of Security Council functioning in the last sixty years. Moreover, the exclusive focus on the P-5 is likely to lead to selective treatment being meted out to other states under the influence of competing national interests.

    While the US draft proposes that the treaty shall enter into force as and when all five permanent members of the UN Security Council deposit their instruments of ratification, the pertinent question that remains is whether the others would agree to negotiate on the US draft in the first place. This is especially so given the known differences of opinion among them on other disarmament matters.

    As of now, there is no agreement among the member states of the CD on the scope of FMCT negotiations. In that sense, India still has time to manoeuvre and finesse its position on the issue. But its bottom line should be that any future FMCT should prescribe the same obligations and mechanism for all states in an appropriately verifiable manner. And it has to be mindful of any India-centric measure that may be introduced during the course of the negotiations among the P-5.

    While tabling the draft, the US representative at the CD stated that "the production of fissile material for non-explosive purposes, such as naval propulsion, would not be prohibited [and] existing stocks of fissile material also would be unaffected." He also suggested that pending the conclusion of a treaty, "all states should declare publicly and observe a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons."

    The United States, Russia, France and Britain, after conducting hundreds of explosive device tests and stockpiling tonnes of weapon grade fissile material, have announced that they have stopped further production of the same. Though reports of China having similarly stopped production of fissile material cannot be confirmed, its representative at the CD clearly stated on May 17 that his country is of the view that "future FMCT negotiations should not involve the issue of stockpile." At the same time, it is likely that China may not be averse to a moratorium in an attempt to bring India on board and thus end the latter's ability to accumulate more fissile material.

    If the momentum towards such a moratorium were to gain widespread support, India would find itself in a tricky situation, given that its stockpile is currently estimated to be only about one-tenth of China's. It is therefore imperative that New Delhi takes adequate measures to ensure that its requirements for credible minimum deterrence are not compromised.