Korean Peace Process: An Indian Perspective

Korean Peace Process: An Indian Perspective

T P Sreenivasan

T P Sreenivasan

India, like the rest of the world, was supportive of the unprecedented peace initiatives on the Korean Peninsula with the involvement of the two Koreas, the United States and others. The Indian Minister of State for External Affairs even visited North Korea after a gap of twenty years to show our interest. We are also disappointed that after some most spectacular scenes, North Korea appears to have gone back to its weird ways and the peace process has stalled. The most recent announcement by Pyongyang seems to have set the clock back, while the US is heading to an impeachment, followed by an election.

To understand the Indian perspective on Korea, it is necessary to have some clarity on India’s nuclear policy. We are not signatories to the NPT not because we want more proliferation, but because

a world without nuclear weapons is not just a desirable goal; it is an imperative for the survival of mankind. Most strategists and nations rule out the use of nuclear weapons as an instrument of war. But the alarming picture of a terrorist holding a particular country or region, or even the whole world, to ransom by threatening to use a nuclear weapon looms large on the horizon. Instability in countries that possess nuclear weapons is a cause of particular concern. Today's civilization can be protected and preserved only if nuclear weapons and other lethal materials are eradicated. Nuclear technology itself must be defanged sooner rather than later to make it benign enough to serve mankind. In other words, Global Zero must have no caveats.

Even after declaring itself a nuclear weapons state in 1998, India has pursued its disarmament agenda aimed at the elimination of nuclear weapons. India saw its nuclear arsenal only as a necessary evil in a world in which every major country had nuclear weapons or a nuclear guarantee for its security. The general reduction of tensions in the world and the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, which has made India a partner rather than a target in non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, augur well for the Indian dream.

India brought the concept of a nuclear weapon free world to the international political level in 1988 when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi presented his action plan for a “world order free of nuclear weapons and rooted in nonviolence” to the UN General Assembly. There were four essential features of the plan: 1) a binding commitment by all nations to eliminate nuclear weapons in intervals by the year 2010 at the latest; 2) participation of all states in the process of nuclear disarmament, whether or not they have nuclear capabilities; 3) demonstration of good faith by all states by making tangible progress at each stage toward the common goal; and 4) an ideological change in policies and institutions to sustain a world free of nuclear weapons by undertaking negotiations to establish a comprehensive global security system under the aegis of the UN. The plan also suggested specific negotiations and treaties at different stages until the world could not only reach global zero, but also sustain it without apprehensions. Unfortunately, 2010 is here, and the goal that India had envisioned to be reached by now is not even close.

But there is hope. In April 2009 in Prague, President Barack Obama declared, “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Even though he acknowledged that the goal would not be reached quickly and perhaps not even in his lifetime, his words raised new hopes around the world.

It is alarming, however, that the nuclear powers have deliberately violated the NPT provisions not to transfer weapons technology to nonnuclear weapons states. The most celebrated case of such violation is by China, which shared technology with Pakistan and North Korea. Pakistan and North Korea have, in turn, helped others such as Iran and Libya with equipment and technology. A virtual nuclear Walmart has been set up by A.Q.Khan of Pakistan. It is in this context that India felt directly threatened by the nuclear activities of North Korea. We pointed right from the beginning that North Korea should abide by the NPT they had signed and dismantle their weapon facilities.

We believe that partial measures such as Nuclear Weapon Zones etc are of limited value, except when a particular region unanimously decides to adopt it as an interim measure with sufficient guarantees from the nuclear weapon states. We see the denuclearization of Korea from this perspective. But the ultimate should remain the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

While expressing satisfaction over the developments in Korea quickly followed it up by asking both sides to dig deeper into the “proliferation linkages of DPRK’s nuclear and missile programme.” It pointed to reports that Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan had sold both nuclear and missile technology to Pyongyang. India reminded all sides that it was all very well to make peace, but that the core issue — how DPRK was able to ramp up its missile and nuclear programme — should not be forgotten.

Chinese officials are said to have conceded in informal conversations with Indian analysts that it was totally taken by surprise by Kim Jong-un’s determination to end hostilities with South Korea. This was the reason why China stepped in to ensure that China is part of the potential North Korean-South Korean-US conversation and doesn’t want to let Kim forget that Beijing has kept the North afloat these past several decades.

As far as India is concerned, denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is part of our larger dream of a nuclear weapon free world. The first step is for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear establishments to the satisfaction of not only South Korea, Japan and the US, but the entire world, which has a stake in world peace.

A nuclear-weapons-free world is far in the distance, but the time has come to move from pious declarations to concrete action. As a reluctant nuclear weapon power with a minimum deterrent and an active disarmament agenda, India will be in the forefront of the movement for a nuclear weapons–free world. It is already ahead of some of the nuclear weapons states by advocating delegitimization of nuclear weapons and negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention. The world can count on India as a partner in non-proliferation and disarmament, particularly if there is a universal commitment to move toward a verifiable nuclear weapons–free world.