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2010 NPT RevCon and India as a NWS
The 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Revcon has set the record straight when it comes to the legitimization of India’s Nuclear Weapons Program. By calling and explicitly naming (for the first time in its history) the Non-NPT states to join the NPT as Non-nuclear Weapon States (NNWS), the RevCon once again made evident that the normative underpinnings of the NPT are hard to be undermined. The final declaration has reaffirmed that majority of the states do not accept India as a Nuclear Weapon Power, as was the expectation after the Indo-US nuclear deal. It made it absolutely clear that the de jure status for India’s nuclear weapon status is just a chimera.
It is certainly true that in the period after the Indo-US nuclear deal, India has become more vehement about its rightful place in the international nuclear order. Unlike the label of nuclear apartheid with which it branded the NPT in 1967, today, India perceives the NPT as an effective mechanism against nuclear proliferation. Having been incorporated into the global non-proliferation regime through the back door, thanks to the nuclear deal, India seemed poised to make a formal entry into the NPT. In the ensuing euphoria, political aspirations and scholarly thinking converged together, with a number of scholars joining the bandwagon and arguing for India’s formal inclusion into the NPT.
However, the argument for India joining the NPT as a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) was a non-starter from the beginning. This is due to three fundamental reasons. First is the myth of India’s nuclear exceptionalism, created and propagated in the course of the nuclear deal, which enveloped all official thinking on India’s position on the international nuclear order. The myth created an illusion that India’s nuclear exceptionalism is in fact real and therefore, anything can be demanded of it, even a NWS status in the NPT. Second, such arguments were also informed by a false notion that international law is only a function of power and by adequate application of power; treaties can be amended or recreated. Third, the idea of formal incorporation also suffered from severe strategic myopia.
The Indian case for incorporation as a NWS in the NPT was built upon the idea that its non-proliferation record is impeccable and for such a remarkable contribution, India must be rewarded. Such a reward also came in the form of the Indo-US nuclear deal. However, over time, the exception, which the deal symbolized, has got ossified in the Indian psyche without any appreciation of its contingent and constructed nature. The argument of following the spirit of the NPT, which is most often presented in defence of Indian exceptionalism, is itself selective since fundamentally NPT is a mechanism for general and complete disarmament, not non-proliferation alone. However, this dimension of the spirit of NPT is deliberately excluded from India’s nuclear exceptionalism, lest it will destroy the very foundations for such an interpretation. Therefore, India’s exceptionalism is not an unassailable truth but a convergence of interests of great powers which define the nuclear order, especially the United States. Though the exceptionalism argument was used to facilitate the deal, it does not mean that countries such as the US, Russia and France will accept the same rationale for a formal incorporation of India into the NPT as a NWS. India’s acceptance as a NWS could rock the very boat which the NPT symbolizes and none of the NWS would agree to be a party to such a catastrophe. If the G-8 declaration at L’Aquila and the wordings of the Security Council Resolution 1887 are of any import, India’s changing aspirations vis-à-vis the NPT is nothing but running in a blind alley.
Two other facets of this exceptionalism are important. First, it is not only the virtues of being among the good of the international citizenry that this exceptionalism is informed from. It is also a concrete manifestation of the growing clout of Indian exchequer on the international economic landscape. In other words, the material capabilities and ideational desires seem to converge together, creating a unique political conjecture in international politics from an Indian standpoint. The Indo-US nuclear deal was an instantiation of the same conjecture, the arguments for its incorporation into the NPT also emanates from the same. Second and an even more fundamental aspect of this exceptionalism is that it has as much to do with Pakistan as it has an intrinsic Indian element. A counterfactual will help to understand why? Without the nuclear Wal-Mart, which A. Q Khan ran with the help of the Pakistani state, there could never been made a comparison between India’s respect for the NPT guidelines and Pakistan’s blatant violation of the same. India’s image as a follower of the spirit of the NPT is as much a function of Pakistan being the bad boy in the proliferation game. Did not the arguments supporting the Indo-US nuclear deal buy their rationalization from the creation of the proliferation friendly ‘other’ in Pakistan? In other words, the categories of ‘good proliferators’ and ‘bad proliferators’ are not cast in stone, they are relative. What the myth has been able to do is to create a picture that India’s nuclear exceptionalism is indeed real, glossing over the fact that the exception itself is a product of the vagaries of international politics - a product of the alignment of specific interest of those who matter in the game. Appreciating this nature of international politics can also make us understand why a nuclear deal is possible for Pakistan and why India should not feel surprised at such an outcome.
Coming to the second broad argument, it is important to understand that the idea of India joining the NPT as a NWS is a result of a skewed understanding of international treaty law. The presence of an amendment clause in an international treaty does not necessarily mean that a treaty can be amended. Amending the NPT will be equivalent to negotiating a brand new treaty. The political environment in which NPT was negotiated in 1960’s is drastically opposite to that of the contemporary diplomatic milieu. Great power cohesion is missing and the influence of NWS in the NPT is at its lowest ebb. Any thought of pushing an amendment in the treaty under article VIII would mean a complete unraveling of the treaty itself, a fear also expressed by the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. The real problem is not regarding the change in the definition of article IX to extend the cut-off date to either 1975 or 1998 and therefore, the emergence of the Pakistan dilemma. Rather, it is the very nature of international law and the difficulties associated with bringing change in the treaty where there lacks a political consensus. Efforts in this regard are therefore futile and a direct evidence of the myth of nuclear exceptionalism that Indian political thinking suffers from.
Third, but most crucial is the point that India at this stage should not join the NPT even as a NWS. There appears to be serious lacunae even at the level of strategic analysis. It makes perfect rational sense for India to be out of the treaty, enjoy the exploits of the Indo-US nuclear deal, criticize Pakistan for its role in nuclear smuggling and still pretend to be a good international citizen following the spirit of the NPT, without undertaking any formal obligations. It is important to understand that membership of the NPT even as a NWS will not entail any additional material incentives over and above those gained under the Indo-US nuclear deal. Thanks to the deal, India has already been accepted as a de facto NWS. Even at a very symbolic level, the stamp of NWS is not going to drastically alter the image of India internationally. Moreover, the malignant nature of the category of NWS is not hidden from any serious observer of the NPT. The NWS status, over the years, has become a site of discrimination, dominance and hypocrisy. Therefore, incorporation into the NPT as a NWS will not improve India’s soft as well as hard power, hence its aspirations of being a great power. However, by being outside the NPT and by virtue of the myth of being a responsible de facto NWS, India can in fact situate itself as an interlocutor for a dialogue between the NWS and the NNWS of the NPT, since such ‘position in the middle’ allows it to share concerns of both the sides. Incorporation will also bring India formally into the ambit of the NPT. Such formal association will definitely decrease the bargaining potential of the Indian state, in case the momentum for disarmament gets further intensified. One such bargain could be a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Once incorporated, disarmament will become a necessary obligation rather than an opportunity to bargain.
The act of invoking India’s nuclear exceptionalism is detrimental to the very existence of the NPT. The categories of NWS and NNWS, which the NPT came to bear, were not only borne out of the power differentials between those who had nuclear weapons and who did not as of 1 January 1967. Rather, it was equally, if not more, an outcome of a trusting relationship between these two categories of states, where NNWS accepted a temporary nuclear vulnerability vis-à-vis the NWS, for a nuclear weapons free world. This was precisely what the Irish Resolution of 1961, the primary stimuli for the NPT, brought to the negotiating table in the eighteen member disarmament commission. However, the invocations of India’s nuclear exceptionalism seek to render into oblivion this facet of the NPT. By demanding a NWS status, a result of the myth of exceptionalism, India seems to ossify these categories and celebrate these divisions, shredding into pieces the normative underpinnings of the NPT.
The constant urgings of India’s exceptionalism do no good but to create unpalatable upheavals for all those who are struggling hard to maintain the thin threads of legitimacy holding the NPT together. It is of no surprise that India offers to the dissatisfied lot among the NPT members, a complete “nuclear-breakout package” which was very much evident in the North Korean request to the US for treating them like India. The case of India’s exceptionalism then becomes a recipe for debunking the NPT, very well put to use by states seeking to break out of the system, in exposing the breach of trust called the NPT by the NWS. India may have been the exceptional child of the NPT, but ironically, the very realization of this fact and its application may jeopardize its ‘exception.’
Author is Research Officer in the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi
1 Draft Final Document, 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. available at
( accessed on 20th June 2010).
2 C Raja Mohan, ‘ India’s Nuclear Exceptionalism’ in Nuclear Proliferation and International Security, eds Morten Bremer and Sverre Ladgard Maerli. (Routledge: Newyork, 2007),152-171.
3 A. Vinod Kumar, “Reforming the NPT to include India”, Bulletin Of Atomic Scientists, May 1 2010, Available at
( accessed June 20 2010).
4 David P. Fidler and Sumit Ganguly, “India Wants to Join the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a Nuclear Weapon State”, Yale Global Online, January 27 2010, available at
.( accessed on 20 June 2010)
Rajiv Nayan, “ NPT and India: Accommodating the Exception”, Strategic Analysis 34, no.2 (2010): 309-321.
5 The White House, “Addressing the Nuclear Threat: Fulfilling the Promise of Prague at the L’Aquila Summit”, July 8 2009, available at
( accessed July19 2010).
6 United Nations Security Council resolution 1887, available at
( accessed July 2 2010)7 NPT- The Full Text, available at
( accessed on 14 June 2010).
“A more secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”, Report of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. available at
( accessed on 14 June 2010).
8 ibid 3
9 This point was originally made by Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan in a seminar “ The Challenge of Nuclear Security” organized by the Indian Association of International Studies, School of International Studies, JNU and IDSA at India International Center on May 13 2010.
10 Nicholas Wheeler, “ Beyond Walt’s Nuclear world: More Trust may be Better”, International Relations 23, no.3,(2009), 428-445.
11 UN General Assembly Resolution 1665(XVI), Prevention of the Wider Dissemination of Nuclear Weapons, 1961, available at
( accessed July 13 2010).
12 Andrew Scobell and Michael R Chambers, “North Korea’s Nuclearization and the fallout from the Subcontinent”, in Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia : crisis behavior and the bomb, eds. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur, (Routledge : Newyork,2009), 198.
The original source quoted in the book is “ DPRK Sounded out US about keeping Existing Nukes” Chosan Ilbo WWW-text, March 28, 2007, available at
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