With Russia threatening Ukraine to use nuclear weapons against it if it doesn’t surrender, the preparedness of the world to restrain nations from using nuclear weapons has been put in jeopardy. The use of nuclear weapons is alarming and distressing not only for Ukraine but for the whole world.
This law note aims to present before you the international efforts made to prevent nation-states from using and proliferating nuclear weapons and an analysis of India’s policy towards the development and proliferation of its nuclear weapons.
What Are Nuclear Weapons?
Nuclear weapons are those weapons that are so dangerous that their use may destroy mankind. They generate a huge amount of energy in the form of blasts and radiation. Nuclear weapons create an explosion in the form of a fireball, and it takes not even ten seconds for this fireball to reach its maximum size. Even a single nuclear bomb is enough to kill millions of people if it is dropped over a city.
These weapons have both immediate and long-term effects. While immediate results include death, severe burns, internal damage, and lung injuries, the long-term effects include cancer and genetic damage.
Therefore, the use of these weapons is not frequent. They were only used when the USA detonated two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki after World War II in 1945. Since then, international efforts have been made to regulate the use of these weapons.
It is also to be noted that these nuclear weapons have positive and beneficial uses too. They may be used in medical science to create energy, generate electricity, and provide clean energy. This is popularly known as the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Need for International Law
International law regulates the behaviour and conduct of nation-states (countries). The need for such a law has arisen as today’s science and technology have made the world a global village.
Problems of terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking, money laundering, the performance of contractual obligations in carrying out trade or business, global warming and other environmental threats, and issues related to intellectual property rights are not limited to national borders.
Therefore, international law seeks to address these issues by promoting international peace & security and friendly relations among nation-states. The said international law aims to create a balance between the protection of the sovereignty of the nations on the one hand and the need to synchronise the actions of nation-states on the other hand, which is required for the peaceful existence of mankind.
Countries have acknowledged the need for a superior international authority to regulate and manage the actions of nation-states. This is reflected in the establishment of the United Nations, the world’s largest international organisation, in 1945. The primary object of the organisation was to maintain international peace.
International law also functions by way of the formation of treaties, whether multilateral or bilateral, wherein nation-states that sign a treaty commit to abide by it.
International Treaty for Regulating Nuclear Weapons
The generation or proliferation of nuclear weapons is regulated by an international treaty known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Soon after World War II, it was realised that an unregulated nuclear world would only be a menace to people, and accordingly, the treaty to prevent the harmful use of nuclear weapons was signed.
The treaty was signed in 1968 and implemented in 1970. This treaty divides the states into nuclear states and non-nuclear states. Nuclear states are those that developed nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices before January 1, 1967, which are China, France, Russia, the USA, and the UK; the others are non-nuclear states.
Broadly, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the treaty prohibits non-nuclear states from developing and producing nuclear weapons and simultaneously forbids nuclear weapon states from transferring the technology to non-nuclear states.
In return, the non-nuclear states would get the know-how to produce nuclear technology from nuclear states for peaceful purposes. The treaty itself acknowledges the right of non-nuclear states to develop nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes.
The nuclear-weapon states have been prohibited from using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states except in response to a nuclear attack. The treaty also aims for complete disarmament, i.e., reducing the number of weapons to zero. Around 191 nations are parties to the treaty.
India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea are the only countries that possess nuclear weapons but have not signed the treaty.
Why Is India Not a Signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty?
India declared itself a nuclear weapon state in 1998. India has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as it considers it to be discriminatory in nature. India considers it to be biased against non-nuclear states as it allows only nuclear-weapon states to develop and generate their weapons. Also, for security reasons, India is reluctant to sign the treaty.
In 1962, after India’s loss to China, India got an impetus to develop its nuclear weapons. The war with Pakistan in 1965, with China supporting Pakistan, further accentuated the need. India could also not rely on the USA and Russia for its border security.
Accordingly, India chose to launch its first nuclear test, Pokhran-I, in 1974. Pakistan and China were already equipped with nuclear weapons, and against their aggressive policies, India couldn’t afford to be without nuclear weapons.
India conducted its second nuclear test, Pokhran II, in 1998. It demonstrated India’s capacity to use nuclear weapons for military purposes. India’s action was condemned worldwide.
At present, India’s nuclear policy is focused on creating a deterrent for countries to use nuclear weapons against it, and India would use its nuclear weapons only in defence and not as an aggressor.
Though India is the land of Buddha, who has always advocated for peace, for its own protection, and to protect its own territoriality and sovereignty, India needs to create a deterrent among its neighbours.
The threat of Russia to Ukraine already shows the vulnerability of non-nuclear weapons and how nuclear-armed states may use weapons against them. It again emphasises how India is justified in not signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
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