Report: Exploring the Nuclear Responsibilities Framing in India

On 22nd November 2019, BASIC organised a half-day scoping workshop in New Delhi at the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), to road test the ‘nuclear responsibilities’ framing. The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule and included around 30 representatives from think tanks, academia, Ministry of External Affairs, and the military, with strong diversity in gender and age. The day was facilitated by Dr Rishi Paul (Senior Nuclear Policy Analyst, BASIC) and Dr Manpreet Sethi (Distinguished Senior Fellow, CAPS). BASIC participation in the workshop was funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The aim of the day was to facilitate an exchange of views between the Indian nuclear policy community and BASIC on the subject of ‘nuclear responsibilities’. BASIC explained the framing it has developed along with the Institute for Conflict Cooperation and Security (ICCS), University of Birmingham. This was part of the joint BASIC-ICCS Programme on Nuclear Responsibilities between 2016-2020. By framing nuclear weapons policy and diplomacy through the lens of responsibility, the Programme aims to build international understanding, dialogue, and a shared culture of responsibilities around nuclear weapons.

India historically has a dualistic take on nuclear weapons and perceives them as a necessary evil. It seeks universal nuclear disarmament and dislikes the weapons for their indiscriminate destructive consequences. Yet, it feels compelled to accept them as an inevitable tool of deterrence in its nuclearised regional environment. The country has a long diplomatic record that illustrates this polarity of opinion. This notably includes its status as a non-signatory to the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in protest to what it views as the inflexible and discriminatory distinction that the treaty draws between Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). Nevertheless, India is not immune to nuclear risk, and is caught up in two nuclear dyads – with China to the north and Pakistan to the west – which India recognises should be carefully managed to preserve crisis stability.

The participants at the scoping roundtable generally responded positively to the framing, regarding it as a useful way of thinking and talking about nuclear weapons policy that might help facilitate self-reflection at the national level and, in time, mitigate tensions in the region. One participant said that the nuclear debate in Southern Asia is mostly ‘static’ and that the framing could offer ‘new and fresh thinking’. However, also present were individuals who expressed some scepticism about what kind of impact such a dialogue could have. Both perspectives are set out in this report. With this feedback in mind, BASIC and the ICCS intend to return to India in the coming year to deepen some of these discussions.

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