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Convenient Consensus and Serious Debate about Disarmament

Convenient Consensus and Serious Debate about Disarmament

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Scott D. Sagan

Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

The United States discourse on disarmament commonly takes Article VI of the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as its key reference point.  The Indian discourse on disarmament, in contrast, routinely condemns the NPT as being a “discriminatory treaty” and takes Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 "Action Plan" as its lodestar.  This striking dissimilarity obscures a deeper and hidden similarity in approaches to nuclear disarmament taken by leading political authorities and strategic analysts in both nations:  elites in both Washington and New Delhi have found it relatively easy to accept vague and lofty calls for nuclear weapons disarmament because such declarations were considered not to have much practical impact on actual nuclear weapons policy.  This condition has clearly changed in the United States with the Obama Administration’s embrace of "a world free of nuclear weapons."  In the U.S., the convenient consensus in favor of promises to honor Article VI has turned into a serious (and healthy) debate about nuclear disarmament.   Ironically, in India, where there is a long-standing political tradition supporting disarmament, it remains unclear whether such a serious debate on disarmament will occur and, if so, what its outcome would be.

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