Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty : To Be or Not to Be
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Three sour ironies mark the evolution of the Indian stand on the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) issue. First, New Delhi, which pioneered the CTBT proposal way back in 1954 and has argued for it repeatedly as a worthy measure in the face of stiff resistance by the nuclear weapons-states (NWSs), has now emerged as the biggest source of resistance or obstacle to its successful completion. Conversely, some of the NWSs which evaded a serious discussion of the ban repeatedly in the fifties and sixties, in 1977-80, and yet again in the late eighties, have emerged as the treaty's champions.
India's amendments could be seen either as a means of
bargaining to secure improvements in the treaty and make it more
water- tight, or as an escape route out of the CTBT. Being
intransigent on them, and accepting no moderation, could become
an excuse for opposing the treaty and not signing it on the
grounds that it does not meet India's requirements. The first is
a perfectly legitimate negotiating tactic compatible with an
approach rooted in good faith and standard conference practices.
The second tends to be devious, it is a means of counterpoising
one desirable goal to another, in order to defeat both. In the
event, New Delhi appears to have chosen the second option. That
alone can explain why it behaved the way it did between January
and June to present the CD with a rejectionist face. Remarkably,
India was the sole state which did not moderate its initial stand
at the CD. All major players, including the US, UK, France,
Russia and China did, whether on scope or linkage, or on
withdrawal or verification, or on peaceful nuclear explosions and
This unique change of stand could not have become possible without a radical change in the terms of discourse on the CTBT and its contextualisation. Without presenting the CTBT as part of a process of rationalization of nuclear weapons by the NWSs, it would have been impossible to castigate it as a false, unequal, "discriminatory", "bogus" or "worthless", "redundant" and "dishonest" treaty, or a "trap", "conspiracy", etc. The terms of public discourse were systematically altered over the span of a year to distort the CTBT's context and hide the reasons for its emergence on the CD's negotiating agenda in 1994 and its imminence in 1996.
This needed a new demonology, new myths, a new characterization of India as a victim state, which the NWSs have singled out for discriminatory treatment, new ways of exaggerating real and imagined security threats to India, a complete distortion of the truth about the global security environment and the nuclear situation, and above all, a new emphasis on xenophobic nationalism, on insular, claustrophobic and militaristic notions of security and insecurity. This was manipulated through the mass media by strategically placed publicists and self-styled experts who launched a systematic and energetic campaign against the CTBT. The nature of the operation raises serious questions of journalistic ethics and the "manufacture of consensus" on critical issues. But that is not the subject of this essay.
The pertinent point is that the CTBT was successfully presented as a "second edition" of the much--and rightly--hated Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as yet another maneuver in the NWSs', in particular the US's, plan to maintain their hegemony and "cap, roll back and eliminate" all other states' capabilities, with a special emphasis on the threshold states (India, Pakistan and Israel). This could only be done through a series of elisions, distortions and deliberate attempts to suppress the truth. The anti-CTBT lobby put out that the CTBT is a joint "conspiracy" of the NWSs, ignoring the fact that the NWSs' motives, interests and positions on specific issues vary greatly, on some to the point of potentially threatening a treaty, and that their stands have changed significantly.
CTBT opponents also had to falsify the fact that the end of the Cold War has created a new situation which favours nuclear restraint in a quite new way, and that with all its limitations, vicissitudes and weaknesses, there is a new momentum which favours nuclear restraint and disarmament. After all, the past few years have seen the actual withdrawal or dismantling of thousands of nuclear weapons. Admittedly, some of them are tactical weapons which became redundant with the Cold War's end. But then, it is equally plausible to argue that several classes of strategic weapons have also become redundant or dysfunctional, and have become ripe for removal.
How real is the momentum? When the Intermediate Nuclear Free Treaty (1987) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I and II are fully implemented (following START II's likely ratification), US and Russian arsenals will decrease by two-thirds, surely to mean reduction. Equally important, three NWSs with holdings of thousands of weapons, which could have found ways of retaining them if they really wanted to (Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan) have voluntary abandoned them. Three threshold states (South Africa, Brazil and Argentina) have also renounced their capability.
There are other indications too of changes in perception and public opinion. Revulsion against testing and, to an extent, against nuclear weapons too, runs strong the world over. The fact that the Canberra Commission and think-tanks like the Henry L. Stimson Centre in the US are actually advocating the total elimination of nuclear weapons, must not be ignored. Nor should the July 8 judgment of the International Court of Justice holding the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons contrary to international law (with some ambiguity about use in self- defense). Although symbolic, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Joseph Rotblat is signifies the same trend.
With all this limitations, the April-May 1995 conference to extend and review NPT was also of a piece with this. Although Indian official and media insularity has obscured this, the extension of the NPT last year was secured at a high cost, not by legitimizing the possession of Indian weapons by the P-5, but by imposing further obligations on them, and through enhanced periodic reviews of the progress achieved in respect of the obligations (four preparatory meetings every five years). The "Principles and Objectives" resolution of the conference marks some progress, albeit modest, in the direction of nuclear restraint and voices the concerns of the vast majority of the world's states. It may not be wrong to argue that the NWSs had to pay a heavier price to get the NPT indefinitely extended than they would have to, if it had only been extended by 25 years. See Indefinite Extension of the NPT: Risks and Reckonings, Acronym No. 7, London, 1995 by Rebecca Johsnon. The fissile material cutoff mandate given to the CD is a direct consequence of the "Principles and Objectives" resolution.
It is therefore fair to argue that the global environment has become more, not less, favorable to nuclear restraint and disarmament in the post-Cold War period, and the legitimacy of the doctrines for the actual or deterrent use of nuclear weapons has eroded, especially in the West. It follows that it would be wrong to see the CTBT as a means of rationalizing the possession, or further development and qualitative improvement, of nuclear weapons, or just as one more devious maneuver within a Machiavellian scheme. Rather, it is a partial, grudging acknowledgment of the need to undertake some demonstrative nuclear restraint measure, one which is limited, but by no means vacuous, fraudulent or irrelevant.
A genuine CTBT will bring about a slowing down and cessation of the qualitative nuclear arms race which has been the worst menace to world security for five decades. This surely is worthy in itself. Besides, a CTBT will have the important psychological and political impact of breaking the "talk-build-test" format in which arms control has remained locked for decades. This could put further meaningful restraint and disarmament measures on the global agenda, without "compensatory" rearmament, thus clearly setting the future direction--also a major gain. A CTBT would undermine the technological push behind the arms race and development of pernicious doctrines justifying nuclear deterrence or war fighting. It would also weaken the "fear factor"--fears about rivals' intentions and plans, which in turn drive belligerency and rearmament.
The sheer value of creating a world without nuclear tests should not be underrated. Each nuclear test explosion provides validation of the arms-racer's, deterrence-monger's or nuclear war-fighter's faith in the potency of and utility of these weapons of mass destruction. Each such bang confirms the cynical strategist's view that there is no alternative to the balance of terror, the sole route to peace and stability. Imagine a world in which there are no nuclear tests for 10, 20, 50, 100 years. Surely that's a world more amenable to greater restraint and sanity,, non-coercion through horror weapons, and more conductive to nuclear disarmament and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Surely, the CTBT is a worthy, positive, non- discriminatory and highly significant nuclear restraint measure.
It has been contended that the CTBT should and would have been all this, but the way it has been drafted, it fails to meet two principal criteria: that it must have a nuclear disarmament context (or linkage), and that it must be truly comprehensive and ban all tests in all environments, which could lead to the further development of nuclear weapons, through major modifications of existing designs or innovation of new- generation weapons. The contention is misconceived, factually incoherent and ignores the progress of the Geneva negotiations for the past two and a half years. Over this period, the NWSs-- which first tried to put a relatively weak treaty on the table allowing for low-yield explosions with only a vague statement on its linkage with disarmament--have had to move towards a far better Preamble, a clear definition of scope, reasonable conditions on verification and on-site inspections, and on withdrawal from the treaty.
Consider the following. A greatly improved Preamble is already contained in the Ramaker "final text". This elaborate 10- paragraph Preamble anchors the treaty firmly in a disarmament context: the CTBT must prevent the "development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons", and the "development of advanced, new types of weapons" as part of "systematic and progressive" efforts "to reduce nuclear weapons globally". The text locates the CTBT in a process to achieve "nuclear non- proliferation and nuclear disarmament in all its aspects".
This means that the CTBT as it exists is not just a non- proliferation measure, but a significant restraint measure in a step-by-step process towards complete nuclear disarmament. Indeed, logically, such a process would be inconceivable without a CTBT figuring in it at an early stage. A freeze on the further development of nuclear armaments is surely indispensable in any rational program for the elimination of these weapons.
The G-21 are now seeking a further improvement in Preamble language. The NWSs' resistance to this can be broken; some Western non-NWSs, as well as the G-21, are firm that the treaty be anchored in a strong disarmament context. If India joins forces with them, the CTBT could be further strengthened and the unacceptable "Entry into Force" part of the Ramaker text can be modified into a reasonable and non-discriminatory provision.
What is a important is contextualisation, not the procedural perspective of "time-bound" disarmament demanded by India. A procedure such as a time-table or schedule does not concern the content and direction of a test ban--no more than the demand for, say, class-by-class elimination of nuclear weapons. It is surely unwise to make a good treaty hostage to impractical or excessive procedural conditions. Can New Delhi give a "time-bound" commitment to resolving the Kashmir problem or the Cauvery dispute? Or London a schedule for resolving the Irish question? When India proposed its "time-bound" amendment in January, it was widely seen as a tactical maneuver to get stronger language on the substance of linkage, not a method of achieving it. But it now turns out that the government is stuck on this position and has proved intransigent.
It has also been contended that a CTBT is "ineffectual", "redundant" or "useless" because the NWSs no longer need to test nuclear weapons, having developed enough computer-based and sub- critical testing expertise. Ergo, the treaty won't achieve the stated purpose. But this mystifies what computer codes can do, and how far sub-critical testing can go. Computers cannot tell you what you don't already know. They cannot replace explosive testing which alone generates the data needed to benchmark, validate and revise computer codes. Being highly complex, non- linear systems involving extreme temperatures (tens of millions of degrees) and pressures, nuclear weapons cannot be easily simulated. Each computer code is specific to a certain set of parameters. New codes are needed for new parameters, that is, modified designs or new weapons. These can only be validated by explosive testing.
What of sophisticated "sub-critical" tests and low-yield hydronuclear tests? Can these generate enough data to design and make new weapons or substantially modify existing designs? There is general agreement among scientists (in particular, peace- minded scientists) that hydrodynamic tests (which do not use fissile materials, nor involve a chain reaction) and other sub- critical tests are not adequate for new weapon development or qualitative improvement. They are at best auxiliary aids to explosive tests. (The interested reader should see Testing Times, The Global Stake in a Nuclear Test Ban by Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, published by Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden, 1996 Nuclear Weapons Databook series and The Role of Hydronuclear Tests and Other Law-Yield Nuclear Explosives and Their Status Under a Comprehensive Test Ban, by T.B. Cochran, C.E. Paine, et al, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York, 1995, and Nuclear Weapon Tests: Prohibition or Limitation? edited by J. Goldblat and D. Cox, OUP, 1988, and Implementing the Comprehensive Test Ban, SIPRI Research Report No. 8, ed. Eric Arnett, 1994. Even inertial confinement fusion, for which expensive laboratories (such as the National Ignition Facility in the US) are being used, has severe limitations. There is no substitute, at least at this stage, for explosive testing of nuclear weapons if they are to be developed and refined.
Explosive testing (that is, full-fledged explosions or "hydronuclear" explosions which involve a nuclear chain reaction, but which is quickly aborted) is a necessary point of reference for all sub-critical or laboratory-level experiments. Under the "true zero-yield" commitment specifying the prohibition of all tests releasing nuclear energy, there can be no hydronuclear testing. Thus, the definition banning "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion" will serve the CTBT's purpose.
Most peace-minded scientists and independent experts worldwide, inducing Joseph Rotblat, the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate, believe this. However, our so-called security "experts"--few of whom can be credited with thorough scientific knowledge or consistency, leave alone creativity--have distorted these technical truths. Our policy-makers, advised by them and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), have either bought into their technological disinformation, or deliberately used it to obstruct reasonable agreement on the scope of the CTBT. There is no evidence that the Indian delegation even debated the issue of scope and definition of nuclear tests seriously at Geneva.
This raises an important issue, that of the process by which New Delhi effected its major shifts on linkage and scope, and later on an even more important consideration--viz. `national security'--which it suddenly cited as a "key factor" on June 20 behind its decision not to sign the CTBT in its present form. There has been no discussion or statement at the official level explaining the rationale of these shifts and changes of stand. How did officials in the ministry of external affairs reach the conclusion that the Australian definition of scope is not comprehensive? Which experts or scientists advised them on the adequacy and effectiveness of sub-critical tests and computer simulation for weapon development? What published literature did they rely on? Who among our 5,000-plus DAE scientists, not one of whom has published a single paper on nuclear testing in recent years, or joined the international debate on testing, advised them? Foreign Secretary Salman Haider evaded the question at his June 20 press conference.
Take "national security". What threatens it? Has the security environment changed in recent years? If it has changed for the worse, are there official reports or documents that note the change, and list the measures (both military and non-military) that have been or could be taken to deal with the new threats? Precisely what "national security" considerations are violated by the CTBT as it exists? Do these involve making and testing nuclear weapons? To what end? Through what sequence of discussions or debates has the government arrived at this? How might these be made more transparent?
The opacity of the process through which India's volte face was executed raises serious doubts about the government's sincerity and its intentions. These cannot be settled by post facto rationalizations about the alleged Sino-Pakistan ring magnet deal, Brown Amendment, indefinite extension of the NPT, etc. It is more plausible to argue that New Delhi had actually more or less decided, in its own bumbling, contradictory, confused and devious way, not to sign the CTBT, although it should have been clear to it that the treaty would not prevent it from having a "credible minimum deterrent" against China as well as Pakistan (which is itself a questionable idea).
India's nuclear capability was demonstrated 22 years ago, and for first-generation fission weapons, no testing is necessary. Thus, unless it toyed with even more ambitious (and adventurist) plans to develop a full thermonuclear arsenal, or was under pressure from the DAE to keep all its options indefinitely open for unstated or vague reasons, it is difficult to explain why it shifted its stand...except for grandiose potential-superpower, nation-of-destiny self-perceptions.
At any rate, right until 1994, when the CTBT looked more like an abstract or distant possibility, New Delhi ardently advocated it. When it became imminent, New Delhi shifted its stand for irrational, devious and otherwise questionable--if not downright specious--reasons. In doing this, it also executed a shift of doctrine: from rooting foreign, security and nuclear policies in some general and universal principles, to promoting specific "national security" considerations as defined and perceived by a handful of bureaucrats in the rarefied atmosphere of South Block. This is a dangerous shift fraught with serious consequences. An irresponsible, hawkish, ultra-right government could tomorrow cite "national security" considerations to make and deploy weapons of mass destruction or launch war on a neighbor.
Equally important, this change could propel India towards embracing the doctrine of "nuclear deterrence", which India has traditionally rejected as "abhorrent". By doing this, New Delhi would be violating every single premise on which its classical positions were based: the irrelevance of nuclear weapons to genuine security, their total indefensibility under all conditions, their contribution to international and regional insecurity, and their role in legitimizing the use of force, and massive force at that. This would also go against the position the government itself took at the World Court hearings only last year, pleading that the manufacture, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is violative of international law and incompatible with humanitarian law.
Mercifully, it is still not too late to reverse the shift and rescue the situation. But that means New Delhi should return to Geneva with a positive, constructive attitude and try to secure an improved treaty in close cooperation with the G-21. It may not be unrealistic to demand and expect that India could still drive a good, favorable bargain: considerable improvements in treaty text (besides a new, equal "Entry into Force" provision) and a specific commitment from the NWSs in the form of a solemn declaration that they will not develop new nuclear weapons or make qualitative improvements in existing weapons, and that they see the CTBT as effectively preventing such development and ending the nuclear arms race.
This will need courage and foresight. But then no major act that contributes to any other good cause has ever been accomplished, even addressed, without courage and foresight. Can New Delhi summon these up? Through what process? Can it retrieve the disarmament agenda? Or will it choose the easy but dangerous option of being cynical, and therefore keep out of the CTBT and thus contribute to defusing the disarmament momentum--and thus compromise its own security in the long run? That is the central problem that confronts India today.
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Praful Bidwaiis a well known columnist and political commentator with "The Times of India", "The Economic Times", "Frontline", "The Tribune", "Newstime', "Lokmat", "Hindustan", "Mid-Day", "Nai Duniya", and 20 other English and Indian-language newspapers. Contributor to "The Nation" (New York) and "The New Statesman and Society" (London).