The Indian Budget 1996-97 The Indian Economy Overview

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - India emerges CTBT spoiler: what next?

[ Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] [Related Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7]

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 measure.

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 purpose.

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 military scientists.

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.

[ Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] [Related Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7]

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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