Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -
India emerges CTBT spoiler: what next?
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India has finally emerged as the spoiler of the comprehensive
test ban treaty (CTBT) which it had itself pioneered in 1954 and
energetically advocated for four decades. On September 8, it
joined Libya and Bhutan in opposing the CTBT at the reconvened
50th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. The CTBT
resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority, 158 of the
UN's 185 states, with five abstentions.
Two sour ironies mark New Delhi's isolation and humiliation at
New York. First, the Indian effort to block and scupper the CTBT
by vetoing it at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) at Geneva
ultimately turned out to be futile. But second, the CTBT as it
stands cannot enter into force until 44 specifically named
states, including India, ratify it. India has already said it
won't sign or ratify. This represents a gain for no one and a
loss for the cause of nuclear disarmament and peace. The CD
debated the CTBT for more than two and a half years.
Recent developments, including the vote in New York, to be
followed by a signing ceremony next week, highlight the
predicament and the crisis of credibility in which India finds
itself. On the one hand, New Delhi claims to be a leading
campaigner for nuclear restraint and disarmament. On the other,
it scuppers the only nuclear restraint measure to have been put
on the global negotiating agenda in a quarter-century.
Again, New Delhi's opposition to the CTBT would make sense if it
were to propose a serious alterative to what it strenuously
claims is a flawed, loopholes-ridden measure not seriously linked
to disarmament. But not only has it proposed any such
alternative; it is under pressure to expand, deepen and even test
the nuclear weapons option which it has possessed since May 1974,
when it exploded a fission device.
The Indian government is trying awkwardly to cope with this
crisis of credibility by putting a brave face on the vote in the
UN by pretending at least domestically that it wasn't such a
defeat after all. A few members of the non-aligned movement, of
which it claims to be a leading figure, did express some
reservations about the CTBT; this, it argues, vindicates its own
stand. However, the fact that only two others finally voted
against the treaty, while an overwhelming majority co-sponsored
it, gives the lie to the claim, as does the fact that not a
single state backed India's position at Geneva.
New Delhi's second tactic is to try to seize the moral high
ground by demanding that the nuclear weapons-states (NWSs) commit
themselves to a time-table for rapid nuclear disarmament by
agreeing to negotiate this at the CD. Its ambassador at UN,
Prakash Shah, cites the fact that a resolution calling for the
elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020 recently received the
support of 106 states in the General Assembly. But this too
cannot substitute for realistic specific steps towards
disarmament, in which a CTBT remains an indispensable early
The plain truth is that India is reluctant to take such steps, in
particular accept constraints on nuclear testing and on cutting
off production of fissile material for weapons purposes. To
justify this reluctance and oppose nuclear restraint--which it
has itself long advocated--it must elevate the level of rhetoric
and adopt a sanctimonious, holier-than-thou stand.
That is precisely what India did at Geneva. It attacked the CTBT
then under negotiation on two grounds. First, it said the treaty
text does not locate it in a perspective of
"time-bound" disarmament and hence that there is no
strong link with the objective of eventually eliminating nuclear
weapons. Second, it claimed that the treaty only bans nuclear
test "explosions" and not all nuclear tests, leaving a
big loophole for the NWSs to conduct non-explosive tests,
including sophisticated computer simulation, and still develop
new nuclear weapon designs, thus defeating the CTBT's original
Both arguments are specious. The present CTBT text does locate
the treaty in a disarmament context, as part of "progressive
and systematic efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally"
and constrain the "development and qualitative improvement
of nuclear weapons" with a view to eventually eliminating
them. Admittedly, it does not specify a linkage with
"time-bound" disarmament. But India never demanded this
until last year. Nor is a procedural linkage necessary. Indian
counterposed one desirable goal to another--to lose both.
As for the non-explosive "loopholes", the vast majority
of the world's scientists, especially peace-minded ones, are
agreed that it is adequate to ban test explosions so as to
prevent nuclear weapons development. Non-explosive tests yield
some useful information to weapon designers, but not enough to
develop new weapons or substantially improve existing ones.
Besides, India did not cite a single technical authority in
support of its claim, although it employees 8,000 nuclear and
Ironically, just as India claims that the present CTBT is a means
of furthering the NWSs' hegemony, powerful conservative lobbies
have emerged in the NWSs (e.g. the Republicans in the US) which
oppose the treaty precisely because it is an effective restraint
measure which will impede their hegemony!
The principal reason why New Delhi opposes the CTBT in this
hypocritical manner is that is under increasing pressure to
expand its nuclear weapons option, even to test it. Domestic
hawks argue that India should aim not just for a "minimal
deterrent" against China and Pakistan (which it already has,
and which needs no testing) but for more sophisticated second-
generation weapons such as hydrogen bombs. This would put India
on an entirely different trajectory, far away from restraint and
disarmament, and right into the nuclear arms race which has been
the main source of global insecurity.
New Delhi has increasingly capitulated to hawkish pressure. In
the process, it has not only set back the global post-Cold War
momentum favouring nuclear restraint and moderation, but
compromised its own regional security. Pakistan has declared that
it won't sign the CTBT unless India does. And China could use the
present Entry-into-Force clause to walk out of the treaty, and
resume testing to develop deadlier weapons.
However, India is not about to conduct a nuclear test. Doing this
would invite severe sanctions, penalties and opprobrium, besides
degrading regional security equations. There is still some
hesitation on this score among Indian policy-makers, although the
situation today is far more conducive to conducting a test than
just a few months ago.
The hawks have shifted the Indian nuclear policy-making ground
rightwards and also succeeded in weakening the effectiveness of
the CTBT and the authority of the CD, the world's sole
disarmament negotiation forum. This may temporarily help India
delay and scuttle a fissile material cutoff (over which it is
already jittery). But it will harm India--and world--interests in
the long run.
By opposing the CTBT for devious reasons, India may have cut off
its nose to spite its own face.
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Praful Bidwai is 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).
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