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Statement by Ambassador D.B. Venkatesh Varma at the International Seminar on Fiftieth Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, Mexico City (February 13, 2017)

February 17, 2017

Mr. Chairman,
It is an honor to speak at the opening session of this Conference as part of this distinguished panel.

I am grateful to the Secretary General of OPANAL, Ambassador Macedo Soares for his kind invitation. I have always admired his sagacity and benefited from his wise counsel.

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco is both a cause for celebration as it is an occasion for reflection. India´s Ambassador to Mexico and the DG for Disarmament in the Ministry of External Affairs, who are here in the audience, will be representing India at the Commemorative Conference tomorrow, the first time that India will be represented at a meeting of the Tlatelolco Treaty.

The Treaty was a leap of faith at a time when nuclear weapons were viewed as an inevitable currency of power.

It was bold in its vision in seeking the military de-nuclearization of an entire continent.

It was an act of courage at a time when unity within was precarious but the common will for the larger good prevailed.

It remains the only Nuclear Weapon Free Zone that has an organizational structure to ensure its compliance and to promote its objectives.

It is also remarkable that the Treaty is open in its broadest sense – to all powers possessing nuclear weapons.

Most importantly, what it has proved is that nuclear weapons can be taken away from this continent but its voice in support of nuclear disarmament cannot be silenced.

As we debate nuclear weapons, we cannot be oblivious to the debates elsewhere on globalization and its various discontents.

This may not be the forum to debate the liberal global order or the merits about free and fair trade or the need for addressing climate change challenges.

Behind and beneath these issues is a deeper and more fundamental global order shaped by nuclear weapons.

Both these orders, the political-security order shaped by nuclear weapons and the economic order of trade, development and the environment have existed in parallel.

The global economic order was premised on ushering in a larger international good even if it entailed local costs. The political-security order was its mirror opposite - security exclusivism for some but the survival of all hanging by the slender thread of the ever present threat of global annihilation.

The insulation for preventing crises in one from affecting the other is fast eroding. Can we agree on a common vision of security, when there are those willing to endure economic poverty to preserve ethnic purity? Can globalization, as we know it, survive a race to the bottom, when the parameters of national security are being defined narrowly, with the consequent erosion of trust in the international system?

While freezing the status quo is not the answer, the absence of an orderly transition that is inclusive, legitimate and sustainable can be hugely disruptive. In the nuclear field, it could to lead to catastrophic disorder.

In these changing times, is it then within our grasp – in terms of a security vision and political will, to usher in a new global security order without nuclear weapons?

It is a paradox, that the goal of nuclear disarmament is contested by so few yet an agreed pathway to accomplish that goal has eluded us for so long.

Multilateralism has been unable to resolve this paradox rendering multilateral institutions incapable of delivering on the results.

In 1961, at a fateful fork in the road, one leading towards adopting a global declaration on prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons, the other seeking to limit the dissemination of nuclear weapons amongst states, the international community made a decisive choice which has shaped the nuclear order ever since.

It chose to focus on restraints on possession of nuclear weapons rather than restraints on their use, for the primary purpose of stabilizing nuclear deterrence, rather than finding a replacement.

Except for conditional assurances to various NWFZs, restraints on use of nuclear weapons have been dormant - a sort of a blind spot on the disarmament agenda. UNSC assurances of assistance in case of nuclear attack exist on paper - in the form of two key resolutions- with almost no material capabilities in the international community to back them up.

Restraints on possession have developed over the years and now form the core of the global non-proliferation policy.

Effective non-proliferation is one of the pillars of international security. Strict compliance with obligations and commitments is an essential condition for its success.

But non-proliferation is only a means and not an end in itself. Besides, it is often a derivative of the operating geo-political environment.

Classical deterrence stability is under challenge - primarily from the willful support of some states for clandestine proliferation and the threat of terrorists and non-state actors gaining access to nuclear weapons.

States harboring terrorists on their territory and actively lowering the nuclear threshold pose a grave threat to the global order.

Erosion of the geopolitical framework and deterrence stability are compelling reasons for moving forward on nuclear disarmament, provided the transition is inclusive, legitimate and sustainable.

It would be beyond the realm of practical politics to expect states to venture on the road to nuclear elimination at a time of an acute accentuation of nuclear risks.

The only way to reduce the centrality of nuclear weapons is to reduce their military utility – by practical measures of de-alerting and reducing chances of accidental or unauthorized use or their access by terrorists, by doctrinal measures of narrowing the circumstances of their use, leading to a global treaty that would nail down deterrence as the sole purpose of nuclear weapons until their elimination and capped by an international legal instrument that would de-legitimize nuclear weapons by prohibiting their use under any circumstances.

These measures presuppose and in fact require a universal commitment based on a shared belief that the world can be made safer through nuclear disarmament and not its mirror opposite argument made, in particular, by the new found devotees of the concept of strategic stability – that puts the onus on the world being first made safe for nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear disarmament also requires an agreed multilateral framework covering three essential pillars –prohibition, which is largely legal in content, elimination which pertains to the physical destruction of the weapons and the supporting infrastructure and verification, which provides assurance, confidence and credibility to the implementation process. These are the three pillars for a future comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention.

It is of course tempting that we pick and run with one of the pillars, as indeed is being proposed in the Ban Treaty negotiations that will commence next month.

Indeed, like in 1961, once again this year there may be a crucial fork in the road. A treaty focused primarily on prohibition of nuclear weapons would have made eminent sense in 1945, before the military utility of nuclear weapons was demonstrated and acted upon – by one country after another, in one form or another - so much so, today, 25 years after the end of the Cold War and 71 years into the nuclear age, the security policies of countries having almost half the world´s population are linked to nuclear weapons. Besides, there is a whole international architecture that has been built around this nuclear order.

Once again, states would have to ask themselves the question- will this treaty, of disarming the unarmed twice over, leaving the armed untouched - promote the cause of nuclear disarmament?

Each country would have to draw its conclusions, given its own historic experience of the utility or otherwise of past self-abnegation and its current security circumstances. Thus each national choice would be valid in its own right and should be respected.

Whatever the prospects of the proposed Ban Conference, it reflects the aspirations of a large number of states and a dedicated NGO community led by a new generation of young leaders passionate about the noble cause of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

The OEWG which met last year under the able leadership of Ambassador Thani of Thailand made an important contribution to the international discourse on nuclear disarmament, which is slowly returning to its historic roots of the 1950s. While public sentiment favors nuclear disarmament, organized public pressure is less in evidence.

From India´s point of view, an inclusive process is important – not for reasons of appeasement but on the contrary, to leave no space for those wanting to get away from implementing their commitments on nuclear disarmament.

India has supported numerous nuclear disarmament proposals at various international fora. Its nuclear policy combines protection of national security in a nuclearized global order and the responsible use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes for meeting its developmental needs and addressing climate change challenges.

In 1967, it was an error of judgement to view India as too inconsequential to the shaping of the nuclear order. In 2017, it would be a double error to consider India as not consequential enough, as a non-proliferation partner, for the management of this order. Fortunately, countries subscribing to this erroneous view are but a small, sullen and shrinking minority.

India remains steadfast in its support for global disarmament and non-proliferation objectives, the disarmament machinery and the role of dialogue and negotiation in reaching multilateral outcomes that enhance national and global security. We may have a mind of our own matched by a firm and consistent national policy, but we are prepared to embrace collective solutions for the larger common good, demonstrated, in a small way, in our participation here in the commemorative events of the Tlatelolco Treaty.


Thank you.
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