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Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the U.S. is quitting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a bilateral agreement with Russia signed in 1987. The decision was not unexpected since the U.S. has long maintained that Russia has been violating the treaty and Mr. Trump has been critical of arms control agreements because, according to him, other countries cheat putting the U.S. at a disadvantage.

Mr. Trump’s decision has generated dismay and concern that this will trigger a new nuclear arms race in Europe and elsewhere. What it ignores is that the INF Treaty reflected the political reality of the Cold War — of a bi-polar world with two nuclear superpowers — no longer consistent with today’s multi-polar nuclear world.

The greater challenge today is to understand that existing nuclear arms control instruments can only be preserved if these evolve to take new realities into account.

Under the INF Treaty, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed to eliminate all ground-launched-missiles of 500-5,500 km range and not to develop, produce or deploy these in future. The U.S. destroyed 846 Pershing IIs and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs); and the U.S.S.R., 1,846 missiles (SS-4s, SS-5s and SS-20s), along with its support facilities.


What are Nuclear Weapons?

A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or from a combination of fission and fusion reactions. Fission weapons are commonly referred to as atomic bombs. Fusion weapons are referred to as thermonuclear bombs or, more commonly, hydrogen bombs.

Nuclear weapons produce enormous explosive energy. Their significance may best be appreciated by the coining of the words kiloton (1,000 tons) and megaton (1,000,000 tons) to describe their blast energy in equivalent weights of the conventional chemical explosive TNT.

For example, the atomic bomb dropped on HiroshimaJapan, in 1945, containing only about 64 kg (140 pounds) of highly enriched uranium, released energy equaling about 15 kilotons of chemical explosive. That blast immediately produced a strong shock wave, enormous amounts of heat, and lethal ionizing radiation. Convection currents created by the explosion drew dust and other debris into the air, creating the mushroom-shaped cloud that has since become the virtual signature of a nuclear explosion. In addition, radioactive debris was carried by winds high into the atmosphere, later to settle to Earth as radioactive fallout.

The enormous toll in destruction, death, injury, and sickness produced by the explosions at Hiroshima and, three days later, at Nagasaki was on a scale never before produced by any single weapon. In the decades since 1945, even as many countries have developed nuclear weapons of far greater strength than those used against the Japanese cities, concerns about the dreadful effects of such weapons have driven governments to negotiate arms control agreements such as the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968. Among military strategists and planners, the very presence of these weapons of unparalleled destructive power has created a distinct discipline, with its own internal logic and set of doctrines, known as nuclear strategy.


The first nuclear weapons were bombs delivered by aircraft. Later, warheads were developed for strategic ballistic missiles, which have become by far the most important nuclear weapons. Smaller tactical nuclear weapons have also been developed, including ones for artillery projectiles, land mines, antisubmarine depth charges, torpedoes, and shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles.


What is Nuclear Proliferation?

Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons, fissionable material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information to nations not recognized as “Nuclear Weapon States” by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT.

Proliferation has been opposed by many nations with and without nuclear weapons, as governments fear that more countries with nuclear weapons will increase the possibility of nuclear warfare, de-stabilize international or regional relations, or infringe upon the national sovereignty of states.


Four countries besides the five recognized Nuclear Weapons States have acquired, or are presumed to have acquired, nuclear weapons: IndiaPakistanNorth Korea, and Israel. None of these four is a party to the NPT, although North Korea acceded to the NPT in 1985, then withdrew in 2003 and conducted announced nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017.

Note: – One critique of the NPT is that the treaty is discriminatory in the sense that only those countries that tested nuclear weapons before 1968 are recognized as nuclear weapon states while all other states are treated as non-nuclear-weapon states that can only join the treaty if they forswear nuclear weapons.


What is Nuclear Terrorism?

Nuclear terrorism refers to an act of terrorism in which a person or people belonging to a terrorist organization detonates a nuclear device. The acquisition of nuclear weapons or the materials and know-how to produce them by non-state entities and the use of these to cause death, injury or massive devastation can be termed as “nuclear terrorism”.

Some definitions of nuclear terrorism include the sabotage of a nuclear facility and/or the detonation of a radiological device, colloquially termed a dirty bomb, but consensus is lacking. In legal terms, nuclear terrorism is an offense committed if a person unlawfully and intentionally “uses in any way radioactive material … with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or with the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment; or with the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act”, according to the 2005 United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism


Nuclear terrorism can take different forms:

  • Acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-state entities
  • Production of nuclear weapons by non-state entities
  • Attack on nuclear power plant or other nuclear installations which could result in massive release of radioactive materials
  • Attacks involving radioactive materials: Use of “dirty bombs” in which radioactive material is dispersed by conventional explosives.


What is the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)?

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multilateral export control regime and a group of nuclear supplier countries that seek to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The NSG was founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974 and first met in November 1975. The test demonstrated that certain non-weapons specific nuclear technology could be readily turned to weapons development. Nations already signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) saw the need to further limit the export of nuclear equipment, materials or technology.


The NSG is the only major export control regime India is not part of after its entry into the Australia Group (January 2018), the Missile Technology Control Regime (June, 2016) and the Wassenaar Arrangement (December 2017).


What is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)?

MTCR is the acronym for Missile Technology and Control Regime. MTCR was recently in the news as India got membership in the group (contrary to NSG where India was denied membership).

It is a multilateral, consensus – based grouping of 35 member countries that are voluntarily committed to the non-proliferation of missiles capable of carrying chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

It controls the export of the technologies and materials involved in ballistic missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles particularly capable of carrying nuclear warheads of above 500kg payload for more than 300 km.

This is a non–treaty association of member countries with certain guidelines about the information sharing, national control laws and export policies for missile systems and a rule-based regulation mechanism to limit the transfer of such critical technologies of these missile systems.


Missile Technology Control Regime: Important Facts

It was established in April 1987 by G-7 countries – USA, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan, to check the spread of unmanned delivery systems capable of carrying nuclear weapons of above 500kg for more than 300km. In 1992, it was extended for all types of weapons of mass destruction. Now, it has 35 full members including India and 4 “non-adherent members” – Israel, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovakia.


China is not a member of this regime but it had verbally pledged to adhere to its original guidelines but not to the subsequent additions. These efforts of non-proliferation of ballistic missile systems had further been strengthened by “The International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation”, also known as the Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC), which was established on 25 November 2002 as an arrangement to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles with 136 UN member countries including India.


Wassenaar Arrangement:

Wassenaar Arrangement was established to contribute to regional and international security and stability. It aims to promote transparency and greater responsibility in transfer of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. It was established in 1996 as an extension of Coordination committee for Multilateral export Controls (COCOM). The participating states ensure that transfer of materials do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities. India is a member of this agreement now.

The Australia Group:

The Australia Group is an informal forum of countries that seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons. It was established in 1985. India is a member of the Australia Group.


Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), 1968:

Put forward by USA, UK and USSR, the treaty was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970. The main objectives of the treaty are:

  • To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology,
  • To promote co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
  • To further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament

The NPT classified its state-parties into 2 groups:

Nuclear Weapon States (NWS): – It consists of United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. These five states had tested nuclear weapons before the treaty was negotiated in 1968.

Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS): – The treaty prohibits the NNWS from developing nuclear weapons.


The three pillars of NPT

The NPT rests on three interrelated and mutually reinforcing pillars. These are:

  • Non-proliferation:-NPT prohibits NWS to transfer nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices to any NNWS. It also prohibits the NWS to assist or encourage the NNWS in developing nuclear weapons.
  • Peaceful Uses: NPT acknowledges the right of all Parties to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and to benefit from international cooperation in this area

Disarmament: One of the legal obligations of the treaty for the NWS is to eventually disarm.


What is Nuclear Disarmament?

Nuclear disarmament is the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons. It can also be the end state of a nuclear-weapons-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. The term denuclearization is also used to describe the process leading to complete nuclear disarmament.


Important treaties on Arms Control

April 11, 1996

This treaty, also known as the Treaty of Pelindaba, ensures the denuclearization of Africa.

October 21, 1994

This framework between the United States and the DPRK resolves the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula by replacing the DPRK’s graphite moderated reactors and related facilities with other alternative energy arrangements.

May 26, 1972

The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to each have only two ABM deployment areas so restricted and located that the ABM areas cannot provide a nationwide defense or become the basis for developing one.

June 3, 2013

This treaty establishes common international standards for regulating the international trade in conventional arms, and seeks to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion.

April 10, 1972

This was the first multilateral disarmament treaty that banned the development, production, and stockpiling of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.

January 13, 1993

This is a multilateral treaty that requires, within a certain timeframe, the ultimate destruction of chemical weapons and the prohibition of development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

September 24, 1996

This is a legally binding global ban on all nuclear explosive testing.

December 3, 2008

This treaty, through prohibition and a framework for action, addresses the humanitarian consequences of civilians by cluster munitions.

December 8, 1987

This treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires destruction of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with certain ranges, and associated equipment within three years of the Treaty entering into force.

November 25, 2002

This code is an agreement between states on how they should conduct their missile trade and bolsters efforts to curb ballistic missile proliferation.

February 14, 1967

This treaty prohibits Latin American states from not only acquiring and possessing nuclear weapons, but also from allowing the storage or deployment of nuclear weapons on their territories by other states.

August 5, 1963

This prohibits nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, under water, and in any other environment if the explosions cause radioactive debris to be present outside the territory of a responsible state.

December 3, 1997

This treaty seeks to eradicate landmines by prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of antipersonnel mines.

April 16, 1987

This limits the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks by encouraging its 35 member states to restrict their exports of technologies capable of delivering any type of WMD.

April 8, 2010

A treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States with central standards on further reduction and limitation of offensive arms to be met by February 5, 2018.

July 1, 1968

This treaty is the basis of international cooperation on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons by promoting disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

March 24, 1992

This treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over state territories and enhances mutual understanding of and increase transparency in military forces and activities.

January 27, 1967

This prevented states from placing nuclear weapons or other WMD’s into Earth’s orbit, and prohibited states from installing such weapons on the Moon or celestial bodies or stationing them in outer space in any other manner.

May 28, 1976

This treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union prohibits peaceful nuclear explosions not covered by the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, and verifies all data exchanges and visits to sites of explosions through national technical means.

February 11, 1971

This treaty sought to prevent the introduction of international conflict and nuclear weapons in areas already free of them.

August 6, 1985

This prohibits the manufacture, possession, or control of nuclear explosives, the dumping of radioactive wastes at sea within the defined zone, and the testing or stationing nuclear explosive devices within state territories.

July 1, 1968

These negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union slowed the arms race in strategic ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons by curbing the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

June 18, 1979

This treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union replaced the Interim Agreement with a long-term comprehensive treaty that provided broad limits on strategic offensive weapons systems.

July 31, 1991

This treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation was the first to call for reductions of U.S. and Soviet/Russian strategic nuclear weapons and served as a framework for future, more severe reductions.

January 3, 1993

This treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation implemented reductions in two phases in order to meet the established limit on strategic weapons for both states.

May 24, 2002

This treaty required the United States and the Russian Federation to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces. It took effect and expired on Dec. 31, 2012. Both could then change the size of their deployed strategic nuclear forces.

July 3, 1974

This treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union established a nuclear threshold through the prohibition of the testing of new or existing nuclear weapons with a yield exceeding 150 kilotons.

July 17, 2017

This treaty prohibits the use, threat of use, development, production, manufacturing, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transfer, stationing and installment of nuclear weapons or assistance with any prohibited activities.


India’s Nuclear Doctrine:

India’s nuclear doctrine was first enunciated following a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting in January 2003. Some of the main features of India’s nuclear doctrine are –

  • Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent
  • Posture of ‘No First Use’, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere
  • Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be “massive” and designed to inflict “unacceptable damage”.
  • Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states
  • In the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons
  • The concept of “credible minimum deterrence” is used in conjunction with the concepts of “No First Use” and “No-Use” against nuclear weapon states.
  • It clearly indicates that India envisages its nuclear weapons as only a deterrent merely for defensive purposes and not as a means to threaten others.
  • India’s nuclear doctrine emphasises that global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is a national security objective.



The key difference with today’s return of major power rivalry is that it is no longer a bi-polar world, and nuclear arms control is no longer governed by a single binary equation. There are multiple nuclear equations — U.S.-Russia, U.S.-China, U.S.-North Korea, India-Pakistan, India-China, but none is standalone. Therefore, neither nuclear stability nor strategic stability in today’s world can be ensured by the U.S. and Russia alone and this requires us to think afresh.

The INF Treaty is not the first casualty of unravelling nuclear arms control. In December 2001, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the U.S.S.R. which limited deployment of ABM systems thereby ensuring mutual vulnerability, a key ingredient of deterrence stability in the bipolar era. The next casualty is likely to be the New START agreement between the U.S. and Russia, which will lapse in 2021, unless renewed for a five-year period.

This limits both countries to 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) and heavy bombers and 1,550 warheads each. However, Mr. Trump has described it as “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration”. The lapse of the New START would mark the first time since 1968 that the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals would be unconstrained by any agreement.

The political disconnect is also evident in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the most successful example of multilateral arms control. It has become a victim of its success. It can neither accommodate the four countries outside it (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) as all four possess nuclear weapons, nor can it register any progress on nuclear disarmament. It succeeded in delegitimising nuclear proliferation but not nuclear weapons. This is why NPT Review Conferences have become increasingly contentious.

The most important achievement of nuclear arms control is that the taboo against use of nuclear weapons has held since 1945. Preserving the taboo is critical but this needs realisation that existing nuclear arms control has to be brought into line with today’s political realities.







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