Monday, June 18, 2007

Missing the Point: India’s Proposed Ban on ICBMs Won’t Fix US-India Deal

*Special guest post from Max Postman, intern-extraordinaire at the Center

The International Herald-Tribune is reporting that, according to “unidentified government officials,” India has made a unilateral decision not to develop missiles with a range over 5,000 km in order to “reassure the U.S. of India's peaceful intentions.” Over the last year India has acceded to a seemingly impressive list of nonproliferation measures—the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and now the unilateral missile ban—all of which are entirely peripheral to the fundamental problem with U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation.

The proposed U.S.-India deal would destabilize the non-proliferation regime by violating the norm, codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that civil nuclear assistance is a reward that states get in exchange for relinquishing their right to develop nuclear weapons. The damage will be even more acute if the current sticking points on the deal, reprocessing rights and fuel supply guarantees in the event of a nuclear test, are settled in India’s favor. Stopping India’s prospective development of an ICBM, like the physical protection of its nuclear materials, is peripheral to the real proliferation issues posed by this deal and must not be understood as the sort of concession that should be traded for reprocessing rights.

Capping India’s nuclear reach at 5,000 km will not protect the NPT regime from the aftershocks of this agreement: The violation of an international norm does not require a three-stage boost process to reach decision-makers in Brasilia, Seoul, and Tehran. Nor would India’s nuclear arsenal be any less dangerous under a voluntary ICBM ban, as the mission of India’s nuclear forces is decidedly continental. This map illustrates that even with a nuclear strike capability as short as 2,000 km India can strike Pakistan, most of China, and Iran. If India refrains from developing missiles with ranges greater than 5,000 km it will relinquish the ability to target American and West European capitals, a capacity that will be irrelevant throughout the foreseeable future.

To empower the nuclear-armed and China-counterbalancing India and prevent its weapons from ever targeting American cities in a single stroke of the pen might strike some as quite a clever move. However, given the inextricability of civil space launch and intercontinental ballistic missile technology, any declaration by India that they are not developing ICBM capabilities will be strictly semantic. As India’s civil space program progresses, the state will inevitably and simultaneously develop an ICBM capability based on the same technology. As Richard Speier, a former Arms Control and Disarmament Agency official and one of the architects of the Missile Technology Control Regime warned:

In keeping with India’s practice of describing nuclear and missile programs as civilian until their military character could not be denied, India originally claimed that the [Indian ballistic missile] Agni was a “technology demonstrator”…The United States should not believe that it is possible to separate India’s “civilian” space launch program—the incubator of its long-range missiles—from India’s military program.

Barring the cessation of India’s space launch program or the creation of a verifiable partition between its civil and military aeronautics complexes, this declaration constitutes a limitation on weapons terminology, not technology. Moreover, even if India could be prevented from developing ICBMs, the US-India nuclear deal would be made no less damaging to global non-proliferation norms, nor would the capping of missile ranges at 5,000 km limit India’s nuclear capabilities in any meaningful way. If India’s self-imposed ICBM ban does turn out to be official policy, it is essential that this move be understood for what it is: lipstick on a proliferation pig.


Jay Denari said...

Hi, Jeff,

I agree entirely. The whole idea of dealing with India is incredibly hypocritical given how we treat North Korea and Iran, and is not at all wise in the long term. Nobody has ever seriously considered India a threat to the West, and those who trumpet this agreement as a good thing are delusional if they believe that.

India's danger lies in the fact that a war between it and one of its neighbors could either spiral out of control (especially if the opponent is China) and become a nuclear WW3 or, even if it fizzles out after one salvo, turn into a disaster well beyond the capacity of the world's medical system to cope with. Furthermore, if the Robock study is correct, the world's climate -- and therefore everyone's food supply, etc. -- could be severely shocked for several years by even a regional nuclear war.

Russ Wellen said...

Thanks for explaining that. You and Kyle's posts have a "Now I understand" quality for us laypeople. I found you through TotalWonkerr, I think, another favorite blog.

I cited you in a recent post of mine on AlterNet:

Jeff Lindemyer said...

Great, thanks for the link and the praise!