The Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Thursday, August 12, 1999


Unrealistic and partisan?

On the Tokyo Forum on disarmament


-Jasjit Singh

Director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi


The Japanese government last year set up an international group of independent non-governmental experts now called the Tokyo Forum to examine ways and means of getting India (and Pakistan, but not Israel) to renounce nuclear weapons, and recommend urgent steps to further non-proliferation and disarmament. Regrettably the Japanese foreign ministry exercised undue influence in the formulation of the report. They prepared the first document in the shape of the Chairmenís note which outlined the Japanese government position rather than what had transpired in the first meeting of the Forum. This unfortunately set the tone of the report.

During the very first meeting of the Forum in August 1998 overwhelming majority of experts including some eminent Americans emphasised that it would be completely unrealistic to expect India to renounce nuclear weapons in the absence of their global abolition. In fact the background paper commissioned by the Japanese foreign ministry repeatedly emphasised this aspect. Only a few experts from countries which are nuclear protectees like Germany and Canada maintained that India must become non-nuclear. Interestingly, they also tried hard to avoid any firm commitment to total abolition of nuclear weapons! However the majority of the members with active support from the Americans succeeded in injecting greater realism into the overall position of the Forum.

The first draft report was essentially prepared last April by the Secretariat of the Forum composed of Japanese foreign ministry. The orientation of the report therefore was not surprising. This report did not reflect the Forumís view and remained unrealistic not only in terms of asking India to renounce nuclear weapons and sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state but also because it sought to substitute nuclear arms reduction as nuclear disarmament. Overwhelming majority of the members decided at the third meeting that this draft or its approach was not acceptable and a fresh draft was to be prepared by a drafting committee. In spite of serious discussions often carried out over long-distance long-duration telephone calls the final report of the Forum, while a great improvement on earlier formulations, still remains flawed, especially in the main body.

There are two fundamental weaknesses in the report. One is that it is unrealistic in terms of seeking Indiaís accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state (although at the very last stages this was partially modified as an "ultimate" goal). In this context a questionable concession is made to the five weapon states by endorsing UN Security Council resolution No.1172 which seeks India to become non-nuclear. UN Security Council carries the primary responsibility for international peace and security and it must uphold the UN Charter. But the Security Council resolution 1172 violates the UN Charter since it seeks to deny India the right of self defence without even offering a solution to our security concerns, or concurrently demanding that the five weapon states give up their nuclear weapons.

Most of the members in fact stressed that the NPT has intrinsic fragility because it accords legitimacy to five states to possess nuclear weapons (who have done little to honour their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty) and expects the remaining countries to remain non-nuclear into an indefinite future. The process of conferences for NPT Review next year all indicates serious concerns among the non-nuclear weapons states about the failure of the NPT to fulfill its goals especially in terms of Article VI and IV. The developed countries have resolved their dilemma by being part of military alliance where "extended deterrence" is a crucial factor in security. In security terms these states are not non-nuclear and appear to have a stake in the perpetuation of nuclear weapons. But countries outside this group are denied the right of self defence enshrined in the UN Charter. The Treaty has been further weakened by violations by states party to it (e.g., Iraq, North Korea, China, which violated it by transfer of nuclear weapons technology and other states allowed transfer of technology to Iraq). At the end the majority view prevailed that the NPT is in serious danger of unravelling because the central balance of obligations (of those who have the bomb to give up and those that donít have it not to acquire it) has not been achieved even after more than three decades of promises. It may be recalled that India has been pressing for this balance of obligations from the very beginning and the UN General Assembly resolution of November 1965 seeking an NPT unanimously voted for it.

The second flaw is that the report remains a compromise between the majority (including the Americans) who pressed for more definitive demands for abolition of nuclear weapons and those who sought to dilute this approach. The Forum was faced with intrinsic differences on what constitutes nuclear disarmament. The nuclear protectees tended to substitute disarmament with arms reduction only. While most members strongly pushed for unambiguous language supporting total abolition of nuclear weapons unfortunately the final report still only supports it half-heartedly. There is greater emphasis on US-Russia reductions as if this is the final goal. It is not surprising therefore that almost all the Japanese newspapers reporting on the Tokyo Forumís report have focused almost exclusively on US-Russia arms reductions. The Japanese press while hoping that Japan will promote "specific recommendations for abolition for abolition of nuclear weapons" at the UN has, however, been critical that the Forum has not gone as far as even the Canberra Commission in this regard. What is even more regrettable is that a significantly new approach to nuclear disarmament proposed by an eminent Japanese expert member of the Forum seems to have been ignored.

It is unfortunate that the Forum ignored the public opinion in Japan. During the second meeting held at Hiroshima the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Citizenís Committee (including the survivors of Atomic bombing of 1945) put forward a memorandum to the Forum with eleven demands centred on "time-bound steps toward the abolition of nuclear weapons." The memorandum strongly demanded Forumís endorsement of the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. While it had been agreed in the Forum that this memorandum will be noted by the Forum, unfortunately little of this was reflected in the report in spite of many members demanding it. May be the consideration that the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Citizens also demanded that non-nuclear weapon states should not rely on "nuclear umbrella" of other countries weighed heavily with some participants.

The draft final report sought to apply pressure on China. But the Chinese had replaced their senior non-governmental expert with a government official who finally disassociated with portions of the Report. I was compelled to disassociate myself from the first draft report as well as the final report (and the final two meetings) since they neither reflected realism in dealing with the issue of India going nuclear and nor do they really address the real problems of proliferation and disarmament. It is not surprising therefore that a leading Japanese newspaper referred to the Tokyo Forumís list of proposals as "a menu with a variety of dishes. The question is how to eat them all with no leftovers and how to digest the lot." It also depends upon who has made the menu, and who has to eat it. The five states on the high table will need to give us a lead.