Nuclear Issues and the G-20 Leaders’ Declaration


Prime Minister Narendra Modi, United Kingdom PM Rishi Sunak, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and other dignitaries attend Session 3 of the G20 Leaders' Summit at Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi (ANI)

The G-20 diplomacy has prevailed over confrontation and disruption. Efforts of Indian diplomacy have averted the G-20 plunging into a crisis. The declaration has underlined the principle of adaptation and adjustment

Rajiv Nayan

On 9 September 2023, the G-20 summit secretariat issued the ‘G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration’. This is considered a big success for the Indian leadership and the Indian Presidency. This consensus document reflects the understanding of the participating parties regarding managing global challenges in the near future. The G-20 was created to accommodate rising powers in the global order so that the crises in the global financial order could be tackled effectively with involvement of multiple stakeholders. Recent developments in Ukraine, though, keep threatening the consensus-building approach of such an organization.

The G-20 diplomacy has prevailed over confrontation and disruption. Efforts of Indian diplomacy have averted the G-20 plunging into a crisis. The declaration has underlined the principle of adaptation and adjustment. The right kind of language agreed upon among member states on some contentious issues has actually made it possible for the Declaration to be realized. Had there been no declaration, the exercise to resuscitate the global economic and financial order would have suffered a big setback.

The declaration contains a projection of not only global challenges but also their solutions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also promised to deliver an action-taken report soon. The declaration, which is a culmination of the exercise conducted by different tracks and engagement groups, is designed to address the priority areas of global challenges, essentially in the economic and financial areas.

A few nuclear issues relating to traditional military issues and non-traditional security issues matters like energy security are also discussed in the Leaders’ Declaration. The Declaration wants to address worldwide escalating costs associated with commodities such as food and energy along with other financial challenges. To construct a more promising tomorrow, the Declaration finds that implementing equitable energy transitions has the potential to enhance employment opportunities and people’s well-being, as well as bolster economic resilience.

The declaration has a strong emphasis on energy transition plans.  For nations choosing to utilize civil nuclear energy, there is a proposal for partnership based on voluntary and mutually accepted conditions. The partnership may have all the components of ‘research, innovation, development & deployment of civil nuclear technologies including advanced and Small Modular Reactors’. It is to be in alignment with their respective domestic laws. The nations are supposed to be responsible nuclear decommissioning, radioactive waste and spent fuel management and mobilizing investments, and share knowledge and best practices, through strengthening international cooperation to promote nuclear safety globally.

The Small and Modular Reactor, in contrast to the traditional method of building a reactor, is being promoted for its uniqueness. Such reactors could be useful in remote or isolated areas, on-grid deployment for replacing steam-coal power plants, generating dispatchable electricity, desalinated water, hydrogen for fuel, and ammonia for shipping. This is also considered useful for the countries that need energy but do not have diverse sources. The companies doing business in small modular reactors are offering services from fuel management to waste management. It is marketed for its minimal continuous human presence. However, the specialists are divided over the economic feasibility of the Small and Modular Reactor.

The Fukushima incident, environmental lobbies, regulatory issues, among others are complicating the matter for this reactor. Moreover, the supply of fuel, safeguards, safety and security challenges continue to dog the reactor. A modular reactor may have a high regulatory cost for small energy gains. No doubt, the ‘traditional guards, gates, and guns approach’ would ruin the economy of small modular reactors. New approaches are, therefore, essential.

Issues relating to transportation, nuclear security despite lower insider threat, commercial confidentiality, cyber threats, funding issues for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification, and so on are generally highlighted as the principal challenges for the Small Modular Reactors. However, forging of an early collaboration of designers, manufacturers, potential operators, governments, and IAEA may have the chance of making this type of reactors attractive for energy security.

The Declaration has strongly condemned any terrorist acts against critical infrastructure, including critical energy facilities. Although the declaration has not mentioned Zaporizhzhia, Chornobyl and any other Ukrainian nuclear complex, any nuclear energy complex is considered a critical energy facility. Both state and non-state actors may sabotage a nuclear energy complex. For years, the nuclear summit process and its follow-up activities have placed the limelight on nuclear terrorism. The international community is active in meeting the challenge not only in the nuclear summit process but also in other international forums. The G-20 has also become an important forum to address the challenge of nuclear terrorism.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has emerged as an important global watchdog for combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism. It establishes global guidelines designed to thwart these unlawful actions and the detrimental consequences they inflict on society. The proliferation financing for Weapons of Mass Destruction, including nuclear weapons, has been one of the subjects of the FATF. It has been quite active on the issue. The G-20 has been recognizing the role of FATF in many of its previous meetings.

The Delhi Leaders’ Declaration also lays down:

    We reiterate the importance of countries developing and implementing effective regulatory and supervisory frameworks to mitigate risks associated with virtual assets in line with FATF Standards, especially for terrorism financing, money laundering, and proliferation financing risks. In this regard, we support the FATF’s initiative to accelerate the global implementation of its standards, including the ‘travel rule’, and its work on risks of emerging technologies and innovations, including decentralized finance (DeFi) arrangements and peer-to-peer transactions.

The G-20 underlines the significance of determining and evaluating the potential risks associated with potential violations, lack of enforcement, or avoidance of specific financial sanctions tied to proliferation financing, and implementation of suitable measures to address these risks in proportion to their severity. This approach will serve to inform both private sector entities and their regulatory authorities about the inherent risks within their industries and professions, preventing inadvertent support or involvement in proliferation financing networks or schemes, which would violate pertinent obligations. Additionally, it will guarantee that countries and private sector entities allocate resources appropriately, aligning with the level of risks associated with proliferation financing.

The Russia–Ukraine War seems to have shadowed the Delhi summit and the Declaration, too. After mentioning the discussions in Bali on the war in Ukraine, the Leaders’ Declaration mentions the national positions taken on the UN resolutions passed on the War in Ukraine. The same paragraph also cites the UN Charter, especially its principle ‘the use or threat of use of force for territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state.’

The last line of the paragraph has a statement on the nuclear threat. “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”   This is a consensus line upon which the entire summit has agreed upon. This is futuristic and universalistic in nature. Since it is part of the paragraph on the War in Ukraine, it clearly means that no side will resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. However, a Ukrainian official wanted the line to be read as: “On war against Ukraine, Russia’s use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”

This begs the question: as Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons, doesn’t the statement apply only to Russia if the war in Ukraine is taken as a context? At present, it may appear so. However, the future of war is unpredictable. The Russian threat of nuclear weapons use kept happening in the past. But fortunately, notwithstanding the regular sabre rattling, the taboo on nuclear use has remained intact. And the Russian utterances have basically been aimed at extracting concessions in the conflict.  A careful reading of the Russian leadership of the use may indicate that it always has caveats that are downplayed or concealed by a section of the media.

However, those backing Ukraine occasionally have also used the Russian nuclear threat to mobilize global public opinion. As the situation is escalating and Ukraine is increasingly getting more sophisticated weapons, the G-20 has taken the right step in making the statement general in nature. It needs to be applied to all. Even if the immediate signaling is for Russia, in the future, the statement should remain a dominant global norm.

An overemphasis on the Ukrainian narrative may lead to the impression that Europe is still self-centered and Ukraine does not think beyond itself. This may lead to the weakening of the overwhelming global support it has for its territorial integrity and sovereignty. India and many other countries also face nuclear threats and blackmail from those nuclear countries that do not ascribe to the no-first-use policy.

Thus, the comprehensive and inclusive nature of the G-20 and its Leaders’ Declaration may be witnessed in different issue areas which have been covered during the Delhi meeting. The nuclear issue has all the dimensions—economic, energy transitions, security and the combination of all. A consensus document may have some words desired by an individual country missing but overall, it is a balanced document on the nuclear issues it has sought to touch upon or cover for various objectives.

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.

The full version of this article first appeared in the Comments section of the website ( of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi on September 15, 2023

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