A Monthly Journal of the IDSA
Why the Non-Proliferation Regime Will Survive
By Rajesh Rajagopalan *
The Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests have raised concerns among Western governments and nuclear non-proliferation activists about the survival of the non-proliferation regime. 1 The South Asian nuclear tests represent the first serious challenge to the regime. 2 Indias tests in particular, in conjunction with Indias consistent and open refusal to accept the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime, and Indias espousal of nuclear disarmament as an alterntive to non-proliferation, strike at the very roots of the non-proliferation regime.
But how seriously have the tests damaged the non-proliferation regime? How likely is it that Indias calls for an alternative disarmament paradigm will replace non-proliferation as the dominant paradigm in international nuclear diplomacy? What are Indias options, given that India has decided to weaponise its nuclear capability? Using a Realist 3 perspective on international regimes, I argue that the nuclear non-proliferation regime is unlikely to collapse and is unlikely to be replaced by the disarmament paradigm. India, then, will have to determine its options within the existing regime.
This paper is divided into three sections. In the first section, I examine regime theory, outlining a Realist approach to international rgimes. I examine the conditions under which regimes form, grow and decline. This subsequently becomes the basis for examining the nuclear non-proliferation regime and its prospects. In the concluding section, I examine Indias options.
Realism and International Regimes
What leads to the formation of international regimes? What explains the growth and institutionalisation of some regimes, such as the nuclear non-proliferation regime, while other attemptscomprehensive nuclear disarmament provides a nice counterpointfail to take-off? Regime theory should provide answers to these questions, but unfortunately, despite the enormous quantity of literature produced by regime theorists, they have not focussed much attention on these issues. 4
Implicit in much of regime theory is the belief that regimes form in response to the problems of cooperation under anarchy, as indicated by the title of one of the major works in the field. 5 Accepting Realists claims that the international system is anarchic and that anarchy represents the primary challenge to cooperative ventures between states in the international system, regime theory suggests ways of ameliorating uncertainty, such as, for example, by increasing transparency. 6 In an anarchic environment, with no neutral arbiter to enforce contracts or settle disputes between states, states have to worry about cheating. Institutionalised regimes represent one way for states to cooperate within this environment, because regimes create both expectations of future cooperation as well as increase transparency that ameliorates suspicion between states. Implicit in this perspective is the belief that states have common interests that they would pursue together, if it were not for the circumstance of anarchy. Since states are assumed to want to cooperate, regime origins have been little explored.
Even in the rare instances when regime theorists focus on regime formation, there are bountiful internal inconsistencies and incompatibilities with the larger assumptions of regime theory. 7 For example, Oran Young, one of the few regime theorists to look at the issue of regime formation and regime change, argues at the beginning of an essay on regime formation that regimes are responses to problems of coordination among groups of human beings and products of regularities in human behaviour. 8 This formulation is consistent with the assumptions that guide regime theory in general. Unfortunately, further down in the essay, Young complicates the issue by arguing that regimes also reflect the prevailing structures of power in society. Regimes are never neutral with respect to their impact on the interests of participating actors. Therefore, powerful actors will exert whatever pressure they can in the effort to devise constitutional contracts or legilative bargains favouring their interests. 9 Such a formulation is both inconsistent with the general premises of regime theory and closer to the Realist perspective on regime formation. 10 In essence then, regime theorists have provided few clues as to the formation, growth and decline of regimes. Partly, this reflects the Realist roots of regime theory: most of the early regime theoretic literature was an attempt to come to terms with the problem of maintaining order after the decline of American hegemony. 11 Indeed, many regime theorists have been accused of being Realists, a charge they reject. 12
Realists, though only occasionally targetting regime theory, have pointed out major deficiencies in the assumptions made by regime theory. Joseph Grieco, for example, challenged the regime theoretic assumption that states are motivated by absolute gains in international interaction. 13 States, he argued, are more motivated by relative gainsin other words, states are likely to refuse to cooperate even when they would benefit from such cooperation, if the benefits of cooperation are perceived to disproportionately favour other states. 14 This criticism struck at the roots of regime theory, because regime theory assumes the existences of certain neutral, common interests between nation-states that all could agree upon.
Realists, like regime theorists have not focussed much attention on the formation and change of international regimes either. However, Realist theory in general and writings of specific Realists point to clues about a Realist view of the formation of international regimes. Essentially, this view suggests that the balance of global material power would determine which regimes are formed, which regimes find international legitimacy and which fall by the wayside. John Mearsheimer succinctly sums up the Realist view of international regimes when he states, For Realists...institutions largely mirror the distribution of power in the system. 15 Realist writings dismiss the very suggestion of any neutral, common, international interests. E.H. Carr argued, for example, that international common interests were usually national interests of the strong states in masquerade. 16 More recently, Kenneth Waltz has criticised American efforts to promote American conceptions of the common interests. 17
These broad conceptualisation can help outline the Realist theory of the formation and change of international regimes. Clearly, for Realists, successful international regimes would have to fit the perceived interests of the hegemonic power(s). This suggests that only those regimes that fit the perceived interests of the hegemon will likely succeed in being formed. This also means that there are limitations to the possibility of creating new regimes or modifying existing regimes. Alternative regimes might be conceived of, and proposed, but they are unlikely to succeed unless they meet the perceived interest of the hegemonic power.
There is good evidence to support the above hypthesis: any number of international regimes have been proposed in the post-1945 international system, but only a few have become legitimised. The number of proposed regimes that have fallen by the wayside include the New International Economic Order, the New International Information Order and comprehensive nuclear disarmament. None of these regimes enjoyed the support of the United States, the hegemonic power during the post-1945 period. In contrast, the liberal international economic order and nuclear non-proliferation, alternative conceptions of the international economic and security order, have become dominant regimes.
Regime dynamics, either in terms of formation or change, can proceed along three different routes. First, a fundamental change in the international structure of power can create new hegemons, who pursue their interests with new regimes. The US acquired just such a status in 1945, at the conclusion of World War II, and it used its overwhelming power to create, among other regimes, a liberal international trading regime. But it should be noted that the ascent of a new hegemon might not necessarily create new regimes or change existing regimes unless the new hegemon believes that such changes are in its interest. Indeed, it is quite possible that a new hegemon will find virtues in existing regimes, since regimes have as their fundamental purpose the pursuit of the interest of the hegemonic power. Thus, not only must a new hegemon arise, but the new hegemon must perceive new interests in order for either new regimes to arise or for changes in existing regimes.
The second source of regime dynamics could be changes in the perception of interest by an existing hegemonic power. Such changes could come about for a variety of reasons: new circumstances, including technological changes might make it unnecessary to control certain resources or technology, or alternatively, it might require the creation of new regimes that will ensure that control over such resources remain within the hands of the hegemon. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a good example of this phenomenon. Equally important, changed perceptions of interest could also lead to new regimes. The US embrace of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, after initial objections, represents one such case of changed perception of interest leading to new regime formation.
A final source of regime change might be the decline of the international political system from a hegemonic system into a multipolar one. In the absence of a dominant hegemonic power with the interest and capacity to promote international regimes, it is likely that existing regimes would founder and equally unlikely that new regimes would form. A good example is the inter-war period, when the decline of British power and the isolation of the United States from European power politics prevented formation of new regimes, despite several arms control initiatives.
The centrality of hegemonic power in the formation of international regimes means that new regimes or new institutional structures bolstering existing regimes are created in response to changes in the perceived interests of the hegemon. Many of the arms control measures taken over the last three decades fall under this category. Changed perceptions of the utility of atmospheric testing led to the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963. 18 Similarly, despite decades of opposition, the US changed track and supported the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the early 1990s, in response to advances that made possible laboratory and computer simulated nuclear testing. In both the PTBT and the CTBT, the changes in the US perception of its interest were vital to the making of these regimes. Indeed, that the US could get included in the CTBT the provision to conduct sub-critical tests is an indication of the amount of control that it exercised over the framing of the CTBT.
The structure of international power determines not only which regimes form but also changes within regimes. For example, controls over nuclear technology exports have become an important part of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, even though this explicitly violates one of the original cornerstones of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which endorses the spread of peaceful nuclear technology. Similarly, the explicit bargain between the nuclear weapon states (NWSs) and the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWSs) about the eventual abolition of nuclear arsenals by the nuclear powers, institutionalised in Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has lost its legitimacy within the non-proliferation regime because of its unviability.
Regimes and Nuclear Non-proliferation
What does the Realist perspective on regimes tell us about the nuclear non-proliferation regime? How closely does it match the expectations of the theory? Crucially, what does Realism tell us about where the regime is headed?
Much of the history of the nuclear non-proliferation regime conforms to the expectations of Realist theory. The regime served the crucial interests of the United States by constraining the spread of nuclear technology to other likely powers, thus reducing the risks of a challenge to American hegemony and vital American national security interests. Indeed, the United States consistently opposed the spread of nuclear technology, well before nuclear proliferation became fashionable. In addition to refusing to share its technology with Britain, the original instigator of the war-time nuclear weapon programme, the fundamental thrust of the Baruch Plan was to ensure that Soviet nuclear facilities and technology would be controlled by the US-dominated United Nations. With the Soviet atomic test in 1949, the United States lost interest in the Baruch Plan, seeing nuclear arms now as a necessary means to defend itself. 19 Similarly, the fundamental thrust of the Atoms-for-Peace programme was also to ensure that the United States maintained control over the spread of nuclear technology. 20 That the US failed to gain the advantage it wanted through the Atoms-for-Peace programme does not in any way detract from the expectations of the theory.
The American embrace of the NPT, despite some initial hesitation, also falls well within the expectations of the theory. Indeed, the leading role that the United States has played in the promotion of the NPT, both through domestic legislation that cut off nuclear technology from aspiring nuclear power and through fostering multilateral technology control agreements such as the London Suppliers Group, fall within the expectations of the theory.
The end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, and the disappearance of the nuclear disarmament agenda from international nuclear politics provide further support for the theory. Even though the Soviet Union was no less a supporter of the non-proliferation regimeindeed, it could be agreed that the Soviet Union was even more careful about the spread of nuclear technology than the United States 21 the Cold War conflict provided a certain space for alternative conceptions of nuclear security to gain a foothold. Soviet support of the Third World in general, and its support of nuclear disarmament proposals in particular, kept disarmament as an alternate conception of nuclear security alive through the Cold War. The impact of the Cold War conflict on UN politicsthe deadlocking of the Security Council and the resultant importance of the General Assemblyprovided additional space for such alternatives to find a voice, such as through the UN Special Sessions on Disarmament (UNSSOD). But these could achieve little progress in the absence of American support. American declarations that nuclear testing constituted a vital national interest effectively ended any hope raised after the 1978 UNSSOD for a CTBT in the early 1980s. 22 The removal of nuclear disarmament from the international agenda at the end of the Cold War is, therefore, not much of a surprise.
The Future of the Regime
The outline above of the Realist view of international regimes has suggested three conditions for change in international regimes: new hegemonswhose perceived interests are not satisfied with existing regimeshave to rise; or the international system should become multipolar, without any clear hegemonic power; or existing hegemons must perceive that current regimes to not satisfy their perceived national interests. In this section, I suggest that none of these conditions is likely to the fulfilled. In essence, the Realist perspective would predict that the nuclear non-proliferation regime will continue and prosper because it not only satisfies the perceived national interests of the United States, but also because no other state is likely to replace the United States as the dominant hegemonic power in the near future. Moreover, if other likely hegemonic power contenders do arise, they are likely to perceive the nuclear non-proliferation regime as promoting their interests also.
It might appear odd for a Realist analysis to conclude that new hegemons are unlikely to replace the United States. Many Realist predictions of the future of the international system have concluded the opposite, that American hegemony would be challenged by emerging powers. Waltz, for example, argues that Japan, the European Union and China would challenge American domination. 23 Similarly, Christopher Layne has argued, after examining historical instances of unipolar systems, that unipolarity would not last because unipolar moments create geopolitical backlashes that lead to multipolarity. 24
While Realists might be correct in asserting that American hegemony will be challenged, it is critical to note that Realists write about the eventual rise of challengers, rather than about any immediate challenge to the United States. Most Realist writings do not specify any time-frame within which new challengers are expected to rise. In fact, Waltz argues that the US will be the leading economic and military power for some years to come. 25 In addition, much of the debate about Americas hegemonic decline ended in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. 26 Even a casual persual of Americas material power position in the world would suggest that any challenger would have considerable difficult in dislodging the United States. This is not to suggest that Realists are wrong: the erosion of Americas relative position in the structure of international power is inevitable, but such erosion is unlikely to critically alter American position and influence at least over the next two or three decades.
The above discussion was based on the assumption that the rise of new hegemons might alter the fate of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. But, as I stated in an earlier section, the fate of international regimes is not necesarily tied to the fate of the hegemon; new hegemonic powers do not necessarily have to undo existing regimes. A successful challenger could decide that its interests are best served if an existing regime continued. Thus, even if a new hegemonic power such as China should replace the United States, it is not necessary that such a change should necessitate the demise of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The changed perceptions of nuclear proliferation agnostics such as France and China, and the rigidly anti-proliferation stance of other possible challengers such as Japan, Germany and the European Union suggest that the non-proliferation regime would continue even if the United States were to be replaced by a challenger as the hegemonic power.
One of the other conditions for regime change that was mentioned earlier was the possibility of the decline of a hegemonic power resulting in a multipolar international system, in which no power as likely to dominate. In such a system, it is possible that the absence of a hegemon would result in the deterioration and even the demise of existing regimes. Moreover, this condition, rather than the replacement of the United States by another hegemonic power, is the more likely one over the next several decades. Would such changes threaten the non-proliferation regime?
Though a multipolar international system is more likely than one with a new hegemonic power, it is unlikely that this would necessary presage the decline of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. As stated earlier, both the United States and all its major challengers retain a strong interest in the continuation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. France and China, the two major powers that had exhibited some semblance of opposition to the non-proliferation regime, are now fully supportive of the regime. Given such uniformity among the great powers, the change to a multipolar international system is unlikely to lead to any deterioration of the regime.
The final condition that might lead to the change of an existing regime is if the hegemonic power perceives a change in its interests that leads to corresponding changes in the regime. This is the condition that appears least likely to be satisfied. The United States has strongly supported the regime for several decades; in the post-Cold War period, it considers nuclear proliferation to the vital threat to its national interest. 27 The US role in the indefinite extension of the NPT, in the strengthening of the NPT verification and inspection procedures, in the transformation of the CTBT from a nuclear disarmament measure to a nuclear-non-proliferation measure, all indicate strong American resolve to promote the non-proliferation regime. Despite the temporary hiccup over the ratification of the CTBT by the US Senate, non-proliferation enjoys strong bipartisan support within the American political establishment (unlike, for example, the SALT/START process). Thus, this condition for the change of regime is also unlikely to be met.
The Realist perspective on international regimes, thus, suggests that the nuclear non-proliferation regime is likely to continue and prosper. None of the conditions necessary for changing of the regime is likely to be satisfied in the near future. But a caveat is in order here. The continued survival of the regime does not mean that there will be no further spread of nuclear weapons. It is possible that like India, Pakistan, Israel and South Africa, other countriesIran, Iraq, North Korea immediately come to mind, but the list could also include countries such as Taiwan, Japan and Germanymight succeed in breaking out of the constraints of the regime and build their own nuclear arsenals. Such breakouts do not necessarily mean the collapse of the regime.
Conclusions: Indias Options
If the nuclear non-proliferation regime is likely to continue, then what are Indias options? In examining Indias options, we must look, first, at whether the further spread of nuclar weapons is in Indias interest, and second, at whether the continued promotion of nuclear disarmament is in Indias interest.
Despite Indias consistent objections to the NPT, we have so far assumed, almost automatically, that nuclear proliferation is dangerous. Both in rhetoric and policy, India has been an anti-proliferationist. Indias primary objection to the current regime has been that it addresses only one type of proliferation, what Waltz has called the spread of nuclear weapons, while Indian policy has been based on an opposition to all types of nuclear proliferation. Unlike many American theorists, India has never taken the position that proliferation might have positive effects, such as reducing the risk of regional wars. 28 Moreover, India has been far more careful about not transferring its nuclear and missile technology, unlike come of the other nuclear power such as the United States, France and China.
Nevertheless, we need to address the question of the impact of the further spread of nuclear weapons more carefully, rather than assume that any further spread is dangerous to Indian security and harmful to Indian interests. Further selective proliferation, especially to countries on the periphery of China and Pakistan with whom we have common strategic interestsIran, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwanmight not necessarily be harmful to Indian strategic interests. This is not to suggest that India should transfer nuclear on missile technologies to these states, but we should, at the least, examine closely our blanket opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons. Such a re-examination of Indias policy on the spread of nuclear weapons becomes increasingly necessary as some of these countries come ever closer to the threshold of nuclear status.
Similarly, we need to re-examine our promotion of nuclear disarmament as an alternative to nuclear non-proliferation. Even after the nuclear tests, India has reaffirmed its commitment to eventual nuclear disarmament. 29 Nuclear disarmament might indeed be in our interest. First, in a non-nuclear world, we would be less constrained in reacting to provocation in areas like Kashmir. Secondly, the conventional balance in South Asia does mostly favour us, especially vis-a-vis Pakistan, but nuclear weapons have largely wiped out this advantage. Finally, more pragmatically, promotion of nuclear disarmament is a no-cost policy that gives us an amount of international leverage over some of the other nuclear powers.
On the other side of the coin, we should acknowledge that fifty years of ceaseless promotion of nuclear disarmament has brought the world no closer to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. Without the support of the United Statesan improbable scenarionuclear disarmament is unlikely to be successful. Moreover, given that we are essentially a status quo power, the conflict-freezing effect of nuclear weapons provides some benefits. Finally, nuclear weapons, as the great leveller of strategic power, also have advantages for weaker powers such as India.
Without resolving these two issues, we are unlikely to be able to determine our status in the nuclear order. Resolving these issues early will also help us in defining our nuclear policy with greater clarity than we have in the past.
Note 2: Other previous challenges include Indias 1974 test and the covert nuclear programmes of Iraq and North Korea, both signatories to the NPT. But Indias 1974 test took place during the early days of the regime and the problems of cheating by NPT signatories has only helped to strengthen the regime by reinforcing the inspection and verification mechanisms within the regime. Back.
Note 3: For the purposes of this essay, I collapse the varieties of Realism into one approach. Though there are significant disagreements between Realists on a number of issues, this does not extend to the issues discussed here. Back.
Note 4: The exception is an essay by Oran Young. See Oran R. Young, Regime Dynamics: The Rise and Fall of International Regimes, in Stephen D. Krasner, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983) pp. 93-113. Back.
Note 6: See, for example, Ronald B. Mitchell, Sources of Transparency: Information Systems in International Regimes, International Studies Quarterly 42, 1998, pp. 109-130. For early and influential formulations of regime theory, see essays in Krasner, n. 3. See also, Robert O. Keohane, The Demand for International Regimes in his International Institutions and State Power: Essays in International Relations Theory (Boulder: Colorado: Westview Press, 1989), 101-131. See also Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984), which takes a game theory approach to problems of cooperation. Back.
Note 7: Manfred Efinger, et al, Integrating and Contextualising Hypotheses: Alternative Paths to Better Explanations of Regime Formation? in Volker Ritterberger, Regime Theory and International Relations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp.252-281. Back.
Note 10: For a comprehensive Realist critique of regime theory, see John J. Mearsheimer, The False Promise of International Institutions, in Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, eds., The Pearls of Anarchy: Contemporary Realism and International Security (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1995) pp. 332-376. Back.
Note 13: Joseph Grieco, Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the Newest Liberal Institutionalism, International Organisation 42:3, Summer 1988, pp. 485-507. See also his subsequent essay, Understanding the Problem of International Cooperation: The Limits of International or Neoliberal Institutionalism and the Future of Realist Theory in David Baldwin, ed., Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993) pp. 301-338. That the entire volume is structured around the Grieco critique of regime theory is an illustration of the importance of this critique. Back.
Note 14: Michael Mastandunos empirical work backs up Griecos criticism of regime theory. See Michael Mastanduno, Do Relative Gains Matter? Americas Response to Japanese Industrial Policy, International Security 16:1, Summer 1991, pp. 73-113. See also, Robert Powell, Absolute and Relative Gains in International Relations Theory, American Political Science Review 85:4, December 1991, pp. 1303-1320. Back.
Note 18: Note President John F. Kennedys justification of the PTBT: American nuclear progress would not be halted. Underground nuclear testing, in which the United States has more experience than any other nation, would continue...The treaty would preserve the relatively favourable nuclear position of the United States. As quoted in Glenn T. Seaborg, Kennedy, Khruschev and the Test Ban (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981) pp. 263-264. Back.
Note 19: For a brief review of major efforts to promote nuclear disarmament, see Joseph Rotblat, Past Attempts to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, in Joseph Rotblat, Jack Steinberger and Balachandra Udgaonkar, A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Desirable? Feasible? (Boulder Colorado: Westview press, 1993) pp. 17-32. Back.
Note 20: On the political and other objectives of the Atoms-for-Peace programme vis-a-vis India, see Brahma Chellaney, Nuclear Proliferation: The US-India Conflict (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1993), especially pp. 24-27. Back.
Note 22: Harold Muller, David Fischer and Wolfgang Kotter, Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Global Order (London: Oxford University Press, 1994) pp. 26-28. See also, Valerii Davydov, The Indian Proposal at UNSSOD-III: Problems and Prospects, in M.P. Fry, N.P. Keatings and J. Rotblat, Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Non-Proliferation TreatyI (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1990), pp. 181-184. Back.
Note 26: As stated earlier, much of regime analysis came up as a response to the perception of American decline. Other important works in the debate include Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987). For an opposing perspective, see, Joseph Nyes, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 1990). Nye argues that American hegemony is based on soft power, rather than on material power. Back.
Note 27: See excerpts from the Press conference announcing the findings of the 1994 US Nuclear Posture Review, in the Report of the US-Japan Study Group on Arms Control and Non-Proliferation After the Cold War, The United States, Japan and the Future of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, DC: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1995), pp. 163-179. Back.
Note 28: Waltz is most closely associated with this position. See his The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better, Adelphi Paper 171 (London: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1981). Some others have suggested selective proliferation as means of increasing stability. See, John J. Mearshiemer, Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War, in Brown, Lynn-Jones and Miller, n. 9, pp. 78-129 and John J. Mearsheimer, The Case for a Ukarainian Nuclear Deterrent, Foreign Affairs 73:3, Summer 1993. Devin Hagerty has suggested that nuclear weapons played a role in dampening risks of escalation during the 1988 Brasstacks crisis between India and Pakistan. See Devin Hagerty, Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia: The 1998 India-Pakistan Crisis, International Security 20:3, Winter 1995-96, pp. 79-114. Back.
Note 29: See interview with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, India Today, May 25, 1998, pp. 38-40 and Government of India, Paper Laid on the Table of the House on Evolution of Indias Nuclear Policy, reprinted in Strategic Digest, July 1998, pp. 1879-84. Back.