Reviving Rajiv Gandhi’s Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament

The world is not wanting for well-crafted, well-intentioned, and resolutely ignored blueprints for ridding the planet of nuclear weapons. So it is not at all clear that the re-emergence of yet another detailed formula is any reason to rejoice, but when the source is India, a state still energetically acquisitive when it comes to nuclear weapons, it may be worth a closer look.

This Indian plan is a re-emergence inasmuch as a special committee appointed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has just released a major report designed to rejuvenate the 1988 nuclear disarmament action plan that was presented to the Third Special Session
on Disarmament by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. [i]

The plan was straight forward and surprisingly similar to current proposals. It called for a new, universal, and legally binding commitment to the staged elimination of nuclear weapons within a defined timeline (essentially a nuclear weapons convention). The focus
on a staged process emphasized the need for concrete steps to show good faith progress toward elimination – those steps largely paralleling the “13 practical steps” set out in 2000 by states within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Rajiv Gandhi plan added something that is too often missing from current formulas – namely, the recognition that, as he put it in his June 8, 1988 address to the UN, eventually nuclear disarmament will “depend upon progress in the reduction of conventional armaments and forces.” He said armed forces will have to be restructured to serve defensive purposes only, adding that “the United Nations needs to evolve by
consensus a new strategic doctrine of non-provocative defence.”[ii]

The new report on the Gandhi plan was released in August on the eve of what would have been his 67th birthday and was the work of an informal group chaired by Congress Party MP, Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar.[iii] The report moves the 1988 plan forward by incorporating elements of a 2006 Working Paper that India submitted to the General Assembly.

Thus the new consolidated report offers a sensible sequencing of steps.

The first step is a renewed commitment by all states with nuclear weapons to the goal of complete nuclear disarmament, with India renewing its commitment to eliminating its own arsenal as part of a universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable global process.  This kind of rhetorical commitment is of course now largely in place.

The second step focuses on reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, and India had already introduced the idea of a dialogue on nuclear doctrines among all states possessing nuclear weapons. The report suggests that India could engage initially at a Track-II level and then move towards the official level talks on security doctrines with a view to identifying ways in which the salience of nuclear weapons could be reduced.

Third, the report calls for dialogue among states with nuclear weapons to identify ways of
reducing the danger of accidental use of weapons through de-alerting and other measures.

The fourth step is proposed as the negotiation of a global agreement on no-first use – a process that would also involve non-nuclear weapon states covered under extended deterrence doctrines of nuclear weapon states.

Fifth, the report proposes that binding negative security assurances should be adopted by nuclear weapon states, through which they would undertake never to launch a nuclear
attack on States which have renounced nuclear weapons and participation in nuclear-armed alliances.

Then, sixth, once the states with nuclear weapons have agreed on no-first-use and negative security assurances, they should agree to a convention banning the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Then, the final and seventh, step would be to negotiate a Convention banning the production, stockpiling and possession of nuclear weapons.

So there is really nothing new here, but the authors of the report do sensibly argue that this kind of sequencing of steps is important inasmuch as states with nuclear weapons are unlikely to be prepared to ban nuclear weapons if they have not been gradually moving
toward nuclear disarmament through such measures as de-alerting, negative security assurances, and no-first-use.

It’s not yet clear whether The Indian Government will take up this activity in a new way. What has been proposed is the following:

*India should initiate bilateral dialogues on nuclear disarmament issues with all other states with nuclear weapons, including Pakistan, as well as threshold states.

*Without changing India’s basic position that it will not accede to the NPT except as a fully-recognised nuclear weapon state, India should actively participate behind the scenes and from the wings at the 2012 – 2015 NPT review process, particularly through the non-aligned movement, to keep the focus on the commencement of multilateral negotiations on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

*India should actively participate in civil society initiatives globally to push the disarmament agenda and make available adequate resources to leading Indian civil society
organizations to engage with similar campaigns globally.

The world disarmament community has long known what needs to be done to get to zero nuclear weapons – this new report simply confirms that well-understood agenda. But the report will prove to be anything but routine if it heralds India’s entry into active engagement in global disarmament diplomacy.


[i]  Report of the Informal Group on RGAP. Informal Group on Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi’s Action Plan for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free and Nonviolent World Order 1988
(RGAP 88). New Delhi, 20 August 2011. Available at:

[ii] A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Shri. Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of
India then, delivered this speech at the United Nations General Assembly on
June 9, 1988.

[iii] Indian Pugwash summary of the report, 23 August 2011.

This entry was posted in Nuclear Disarmament and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *