In January, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a non-proliferation organisation of the United States published its second Nuclear Security Indexing report. The first report was published in January 2012.
India is ranked 23rd in the group of 25 countries with one kilogramme and more nuclear weapons usable materials. India is just above Iran and North Korea, and below even Pakistan and China. So, should India use NTI indexing to improve its nuclear security? The answer is no. Why? The answer lies in the faulty methodology and the highly subjective process adopted by the NTI which may take India in the wrong direction if it decides to improve its ranking as per NTI indexing.
First, the study estimated the quantity of Indian nuclear materials. But, at times, the Western estimates vary wildly. This is true in the context of other countries as well. For example, a study conducted in the US a couple of years ago estimated the number of Chinese nuclear warheads to be more than 3,000. Other Western estimates put the number of Chinese arsenals in hundreds, which too fluctuate from one study to another. The Taiwanese do not accept the highly underestimated Chinese stockpile.
So, should India oblige the NTI by revealing its stockpile? A large section of the Indian strategic community believes that one of the real motives or hidden agenda of the NTI report is to procure India’s nuclear secrets. The revelation of the stockpile may have its own complications when the Indian nuclear rivals have a highly opaque nuclear policy. In sum, India cannot afford to compromise the security of its citizens for scoring higher marks.
The materials which are categorised as ‘usable’ nuclear weapons, include civilian nuclear energy uses as well. India has a closed nuclear fuel cycle policy. It has to expand its second stage plan which will use such materials for fuel. Can the NTI provide an engineering marvel whereby the nuclear energy expansion plan does not need to have an increase in sites (ensuring that a country scores more points)? Does the NTI have any nuclear physics model in which plants will generate nuclear energy without use of nuclear fuel (without a country losing points)? Can the NTI suggest a mode by which nuclear materials travel at different stages of the fuel cycle without transportation? If the NTI’s answers are in the negative, it is either against a nuclear renaissance or the indigenous nuclear energy model of a developing country like India.
On many indicators such as physical security during transport and response capabilities, India has developed very advanced systems, but the subjectivity and the lack of knowledge of persons allotting points have made India score less in the NTI report. India as any other country has always a scope for improving its nuclear security system, but there is no guarantee that despite improving it, it may score more points.
India has scored very high for international legal commitments, but other subcategories like voluntary commitments with a number of Western initiatives and highly subjective international assurances have neutralised this advantage.
India’s higher score for UNSCR 1540 implementation has been defused by the scores for domestic nuclear materials security legislation and safeguards adherence compliance indicators. It is really shocking because India has robust legal and regulatory systems for nuclear security on a par with international practices.
The report is nothing but an anti-India Western non-proliferation document. Highly subjective indicators have neutralised objective steps. The Indian government has taken the right decision in ignoring the latest NTI report.
Rajiv Nayan is senior research associate, The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed by the author are personal