The Chronicle Library Shelf: Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World

The Chronicle Library Shelf

Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World

Edited by Manpreet Sethi KW Publishers, New Delhi, 2009
pp. 164, $16
Reviewed by Douglas Roche

In politics, timing is everything. The same might be said for book publishing. The appearance of Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World at this new moment of rich potential for nuclear disarmament is a stroke of fortune.

United States President Barack Obama has set the goal of a nuclear weapon free world high on his agenda. High-level non-partisan support from former cold war leaders in the US is backing him. And, not least, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has won a resounding victory at the polls, enabling the Congress Party to plan its programme over the next five years in stability.

The strength of Prime Minister Singh is important because, in his inaugural address to an international conference on nuclear disarmament in New Delhi in 2008, he called for negotiations of a nuclear weapons convention "to eliminate nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework." Mr. Singh's whole address is contained in this book and it makes for inspired reading. India, he writes, "is ready to add its own weight and voice to the global debate on nuclear disarmament with a view to crafting such a consensus on disarmament and non-proliferation."

Many people in the world think that India abandoned any such aspirations when it joined the nuclear weapons "club" in 1998. As a long-time proponent of nuclear disarmament myself, I wish India had not done this. But my experience as Canada's Ambassador for Disarmament taught me a cold truth: if the principal powers in the world are going to maintain nuclear weapons for themselves, India will join them. The only way to keep India from maintaining its own nuclear arsenal is for a global ban on nuclear weapons to come into effect.

In fact, in 1988, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi went to the United Nations to propose a 15-year action plan for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The big powers -- the US, the Soviet Union, the UK, France and China -- would not cooperate. The world started to slide into two classes: nuclear haves and have-nots. Since then, proliferation has spread and now India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have acquired nuclear strength. The Non-Proliferation Treaty is jeopardized.

Because Rajiv Gandhi's plan still has validity -- some would say even more urgency -- Jasjit Singh, founding director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, India, organized the international conference to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Gandhi's plan. Singh attracted stellar international leaders such as Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament at the United Nations, the American scholar George Perkovitch, Li Changhe, former Chinese diplomat, Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, Garry Jacob, World Academy of Art and Science, and K. Subrahmanyam, one of India's leading strategic analysts.

The contributions of these leaders and others are found in the book. Though not all agree on every detail, the thrust of their thinking reveals new insights into how to manage competitive security without endangering the world with Armageddon.

I was privileged to speak to the conference and said: "It is not too much to say that India today is at the crossroads and holds the global future of nuclear weapons in its hands. . The world will welcome India actively working with like-minded States for the advancement of human civilization by the abolition of nuclear weapons."

This book opens the way for the renewed Government of India to speak to the world.

Douglas Roche, OC is a former Senator and Ambassador for Disarmament in Canada. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Middle Powers Initiative.