India to put disarmament back on global agenda (Lead)

June 6th, 2008 - 8:58 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, June 6 (IANS) Ten years after India declared itself a nuclear weapon state and 20 years after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi presented an ambitious peace plan to the United Nations, India is seeking to revive and put nuclear disarmament back on the global agenda. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday will inaugurate a two-day international conclave here on nuclear disarmament that will be attended by leading global experts on disarmament and related nuclear issues.

The conclave seeks to evolve “a new global consensus” on universal nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation architecture, which will be responsive to the needs of developing countries to harness nuclear energy, a senior official explained.

India feels that its national security interests are best served by a world free of nuclear weapons, specially in the context of emerging threats like nuclear terrorism, the official explained.

New Delhi, which professes by the doctrine of credible minimum deterrence and no-first use of nuclear weapons, also feels that it has greater leverage to influence global discourse on disarmament despite becoming a de facto nuclear weapon state after it conducted tests in 1998.

India unveiled a seven-point proposal for universal nuclear disarmament at a conference in Geneva that includes time-bound universal and non-discriminatory elimination of nuclear weapons and strict verification procedures.

The conference is being organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a non-government think tank. The two-day meet will be held at Hotel Maurya Sheraton in the Indian capital.

Sergio de Queiroz Duarte, high representative for disarmament affairs at the UN, will address the keynote address at the opening session of the conclave.

Top strategic experts and diplomats like Jonathan Granoff, president Global Security Initiative, Douglas Roche, former head of the UN disarmament committee, George Perkovich of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ivan Safranchuk, a Russian expert, and Li Chang-he, vice-president, China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, will be among those participating in the conclave.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Mani Shankar Aiyar, Minister for Panchayati Raj and a former aide to Rajiv Gandhi, will also address the conclave. Vice-president Hamid Ansari will deliver the valedictory address.

The revival of nuclear energy in the US, Europe and elsewhere and the increasing threat of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of non-state actors like terrorists are some of the factors that are provoking a rethink on basic disarmament issues in leading world capitals.

The initiative, which is currently led by the strategic community in India, marks the 20th anniversary of an ambitious plan on universal nuclear disarmament presented by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi before the United Nations General Assembly in 1988.

Rajiv Gandhi’s plan, which was then dismissed as a “fantasy” by the world’s nuclear powers, is now being revived and is finding new constituencies in capitals of nuclear powers.

Interestingly, some of his ideas have found their way into two seminal articles on a “nuclear-free world” written by four former US diplomats and experts, also called the Gang of 4 in strategic circles, that includes such international luminaries as Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn.

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