Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and India’s Stance – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

The Parliament has passed the Weapon of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill 2022. The Bill amends the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005.  The 2005 Act prohibits unlawful activities (such as manufacturing, transport, or transfer) related to the weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery. It is a step towards ensuring that WMD’s don’t come in the hands of non-state actors and the domestic law becomes more aligned to the changing international scenario. However, a global cooperation is required for properly managing these WMDs and aiming for their abolition in the long run.  

What are the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)?

The closest definition of WMDs is provided in the 1977 resolution of the UN General Assembly, “[…] atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which might have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above“.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) constitute a class of weaponry with the potential to: (a) Produce in a single moment an enormous destructive effect capable of killing millions of civilians, jeopardize the natural environment, and fundamentally alter the lives of future generations through their catastrophic effects; (b) Cause death or serious injury of people through toxic or poisonous chemicals; (c) Disseminate disease-causing organisms or toxins to harm or kill humans, animals or plants; (d) Deliver nuclear explosive devices, chemical, biological or toxin agents to use for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.

What are the international treaties/agreements curbing usage of WMDs?

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), 1972 effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. It was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The Geneva Protocol (1925) prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare. However, the Protocol had a number of significant shortcomings e.g., it did not prohibit the development, production or stockpiling of chemical weapons. Many States that ratified the Protocol reserved the right to use prohibited weapons against States that were not party to the Protocol.

To address the shortcomings, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), 1992 was signed. It prohibits the large-scale use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons, except for very limited purposes (research, medical, pharmaceutical or protective). The treaty is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Multilateral treaties targeting the proliferation, testing and achieving progress on the disarmament of nuclear weapons include: (a) The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); (b) The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW); (c) the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, also known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT); (d) The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which was signed in 1996 but has yet to enter into force. 

Read More: Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Its Prevention

Several treaties also exist to prevent the proliferation of missiles and related technologies, which can be used as a vehicle to deliver WMD payloads. These treaties include the Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

What is India’s status with respect to the International treaties?

It has signed and ratified the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.  India is also a subscribing state to the Hague Code of Conduct. 

India is a member of three multilateral export control regimes — the Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. 

India has not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty nor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, considering both to be flawed and discriminatory.

India previously possessed chemical weapons, but voluntarily destroyed its entire stockpile in 2009 — one of the seven countries to meet the OPCW extended deadline.

India maintains a “no first use” nuclear policy and has developed a nuclear triad capability as a part of its “Minimum Credible Deterrence” doctrine.

Read More: Nuclear Disarmament and India’s Stance – Explained, pointwise
What is India’s status with respect to possession of WMDs?

India has developed weapons of mass destruction in the form of nuclear and chemical weapons.

India had ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1996 and declared a stockpile of 1,044 tons of sulfur mustard in 1997. India established the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention (NA CWC) in April 1997 as an office in the Cabinet Secretariat. India also signed an India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons (1992) under which both countries agreed to “never under any circumstances… develop, produce, or otherwise acquire chemical weapons“.  

India has not released any official statements about the size of its nuclear arsenal. Recent estimates suggest that India has 160 nuclear weapons and has produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for up to 200 nuclear weapons. India has conducted nuclear weapons tests in 1974 and 1998.

India has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). India has a well-developed biotechnology infrastructure (including bio-containment laboratories for working with lethal pathogens) and has enough talent pool of qualified scientists to launch a biological warfare programme. However, there is no evidence of India possessing biological weapons or having an offensive biological warfare programme. India pledges to abide by the BWC. Former President Dr. Kalam, during his tenure (in 2002), had said that, “India will not make biological weapons. It is cruel to human beings“.

What is the purpose of the WMD Act, 2005?

Its primary objective is to provide an integrated and overarching legislation on prohibiting unlawful activities in relation to all three types of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials, equipment and technologies. 

It institutes penalties for contravention of these provisions such as imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years (extendable for life) as well as fines. 

The Act was passed to meet an international obligation enforced by the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 of 2004.

UNSCR 1540 WMDs UPSC

Why has the WMD Act, 2005 been amended?

The Amendment expands the scope to include prohibition of financing of any activity related to WMD and their delivery systems. To prevent such financing, the Union Government shall have the power to freeze, seize or attach funds, financial assets, or economic resources of suspected individuals (whether owned, held, or controlled directly or indirectly). It also prohibits persons from making finances or related services available for other persons indulging in such activity. The Amendment was needed because:

First, the relevant organizations at the international level, such as the Financial Action Task Force have expanded the scope of targeted financial sanctions and demand tighter controls on the financing of WMD activities.

Second, with advancements in technologies, new kinds of threats have emerged that were not sufficiently catered for in the existing legislation. These notably include developments in the field of drones or unauthorised work in biomedical labs that could maliciously be used for terrorist activity. Therefore, the Amendment keeps pace with evolving threats.

Third, having now updated its own legislation, India can demand the same of others, especially from those in its neighbourhood that have a history of proliferation and of supporting terrorist organisations.

What lies ahead?

First, at the domestic level, this Amendment will have to be enforced through proper outreach measures to the industry and other stakeholders to make them realize their obligations under the new provisions.

Second, it is also necessary that India keeps WMD security in international focus. Even countries which do not have WMD technology have to be sensitised to their role in the control framework to prevent weak links in the global control system. India can offer help to other countries on developing national legislation, institutions and regulatory framework through the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) or on a bilateral basis.

Third, to help secure the world, India should propose a global treaty that commits every State to ‘no first use’ of WMDs, in line with India’s nuclear doctrine.

Conclusion

Preventing acts of terrorism that involve WMDs or their delivery systems requires building a network of national and international measures in which all Nation States are equally invested. India’s impeccable record as a responsible State provides it an opportunity to lead the discourse on complete global disarmament.

Syllabus: GS II, Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests, Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.

Source: Indian Express, Mint, The Hindu, IDSA, UNODA, UNRCPD, Nuclear Threat Initiative

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