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Opening Remarks by Ambassador Sujan R Chinoy on “Nuclear Disarmament in the Era of Weakening Arms Control” | 22 January 2021

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  • Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy
    January 22, 2021
    Opening Remarks by Ambassador Sujan R Chinoy,
    Director General, MP-IDSA and Convener, Indian Pugwash Society (IPS)
    at Indian Pugwash Society Webinar
    “Nuclear Disarmament in the Era of Weakening Arms Control”

    Good morning. I wish to extend a warm welcome to all our distinguished guests and participants.

    The webinar is being organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) in collaboration with the Indian Pugwash Society (IPS), which is also based on our campus and of which I am the Convener.

    Today’s webinar is on the theme ‘Nuclear Disarmament in the Era of Weakening Arms Control’. This is a very pertinent topic. This webinar will inevitably draw in the politics of the COVID-19 pandemic which have proved divisive. Our speakers might even cover the end of the Trump era, the onset of the Biden Presidency, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and the fall-out, if any, on nuclear disarmament and arms control. It appears that the Chinese see scope to work together with the Biden administration on matters such as the pandemic, climate change, trade, and nuclear issues concerning the Korean Peninsula and Iran.

    Obviously, the world is changing rapidly. The kaleidoscopic changes before us will impact on our ability to look ahead, through the prevailing haze of uncertainty. Yet, the older debates on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament continue to provide a reference point and guide our future assessment of issues and challenges relevant to global peace, security and stability in the 21st century.

    Today, 75 years after the development of the first atomic bomb, a nuclear weapons-free world remains a pipe-dream. While the global stockpile of nuclear weapons has indeed seen a substantial reduction, this has been offset by the qualitative improvement of technology which has made these weapons more potent and lethal than ever before. Technology has also made these weapons more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, thereby upping the nuclear ante.

    The huge surge in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet-of-Things (IoT) capabilities around the world, not just among the major nuclear powers, raises the disturbing spectre of intrusion by state and non-state actors into critical networks and the command and control systems of nuclear weapons and missiles. From a lay perspective, one can only imagine the havoc that can be created if such systems were hacked surreptitiously to change configurations of targets, flight paths etc. What kind of Armageddon would that lead to?

    Some strategists say that it is nuclear weapons that can be credited for keeping the peace between great powers and preventing another world war. Others aver that the threat of a nuclear confrontation can never be ruled out as long as nuclear weapons exist. We are today in the midst of a new nuclear arms race marked by the increasing modernisation of the nuclear arsenals of the US, Russia and China.

    International arms control and disarmament mechanisms have seen some erosion. This includes the Open Skies Treaty (OST) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, considered a bedrock of global nuclear strategic stability. There has been little progress on other disarmament initiatives.

    China’s role in nuclear arms control, or the lack of it, is another issue of concern. China has refused to join the negotiations between the US and Russia over extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), expiring in February 2021. Without China’s participation, which is a key condition imposed by the US in extending the Treaty, this long-standing agreement between two of the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers could collapse. This could lead to an unmitigated nuclear arms race.

    China has not been keen on tri-lateral arms control arrangements. Its reticence rests on its argument that the US and Russia still possess close to 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, and China, with its limited numbers, should not be bound by restrictions that could apply equally to the US and Russia. China also maintains that the US and Russia bear primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament.

    Today, China’s rapid military modernisation, including development of advanced early warning capabilities, has led to speculation of a major change in its nuclear posture of No First Use (NFU). Speculation is rife that NFU could be replaced by ‘launch on warning’ posture in the future.

    China is reported to be equipping its ICBMs with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle, i.e., the MIRV-equipped DF-5. In effect, China is seeking to follow the example of the US, Russia, Britain and France, all of whom sought to overcome the limitations of numbers by opting for MIRV technology, and also to make its nuclear delivery systems impervious, to the extent possible, to missile defence.

    Overall, China’s lack of transparency regarding its military strategy also extends to the nuclear domain.

    Meanwhile, Iran’s installation of new advanced centrifuges have complicated the future outlook of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). One can only hope that this watershed agreement will be resurrected in one form or another. Of course, as a signatory, Iran is bound by the NPT framework.

    India remains outside both the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The unequal nature of these treaties has led India to take a principled position, and this has not changed.

    India has an unblemished record in non-proliferation, apart from its strong advocacy of general and complete disarmament. India remains committed to the goal of a nuclear weapons free world, through globally, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament.

    Apart from the nuclear deal with the US, India has harmonised its export control lists and became a member of regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) still remains the Holy Grail, within grasp, but for China’s opposition.

    In a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need of the hour is to focus all our attention and resources on economic recovery.

    I am sure our distinguished panellists comprising Amb Sheel Kant Sharma, Professor Ramesh Thakur, Professor Swaran Singh and Dr. Rajiv Nayan have more to say on the subject.

    I would now request Amb Sheel Kant Sharma to give his presentation on “Relevance of Nuclear Disarmament: Moral Imperatives v/s Security Imperatives”.

    Thank you.