July 06, 2020
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India In A Diplomatic Soup

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India In A Diplomatic Soup

THE Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations in Geneva are over. India has formally blocked the consensus in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). How the declared nuclear powers proceed from here is unclear. Will they take the Ramaker text to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), with a "friend of the treaty" such as Australia tabling a resolution which will be put to the vote, or will they let the CTBT die? We shall soon know, of course, but as the endgame is played out, it is worth reflecting on India's diplomacy on this issue, past, present, and future.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the triumphalism being trumpeted about by Indian officials and commentators notwithstanding, our diplomacy has looked wretched. Consider the following sequence. In 1993, New Delhi co-sponsored the UN resolution for a CTBT and a fissile material cut-off treaty. At the time, however, Indian calculations privately were that both treaties were remote possibilities and therefore it was safe to play along—this being revealed by a senior Indian diplomat at a seminar at the India International Centre in 1994. In a very short time, it became clear that Indian calculations were utterly wrong: the nuclear powers, contrary to our expectations, could and indeed would pilot a CTBT through by September 1996. Indian diplomacy now began to go through a tortuous, even embarrassing evolution.

India's first shot was the criticism that the Treaty would only ban explosive tests. How a CTBT could verifiably ban non-explosive tests tries the imagination, but this was the first real sign that New Delhi was unhappy. There then followed the move to link the CTBT to complete nuclear disarmament within a definite time-frame. The Americans replied that this was impractical. India's suggestion of a 10-year time-frame was so ludicrous, even as a negotiating device, that it received no attention from anyone, even from NGOs critical of the nuclear powers. US officials tartly returned India's challenge: why didn't New Delhi come up with a time-bound plan for solving Kashmir?

India now turned to the national security argument, helped along by revelations about Chinese ring magnets popping up in Pakistan: if the Chinese were giving Pakistan ring magnets and certifying Pakistani weapons designs, then what good was a CTBT in dealing with India's security concerns? That the China-Pakistan nuclear link has been common knowledge since President Zia's time and that Chinese certification of a design is by no means proven gave this question a rather shallow ring.

After the national security argument, India was prepared to let the Treaty go ahead if the entry-into-force (EIF) clause was suitably amended. How a CTBT which exempted India could solve our anxieties over the China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation was never explained; and how the CTBT harmed our security interests more generally was airily left to the world's and our public's imagination.

Unfortunately, the diplomatic mess may not be over. Reports from Geneva and Delhi suggest that India is confident that a majority resolution in the UNGA will be a hard contest for the US to win—and that even if Washington wins it, the resolution will lack 'credibility'. Many governments have apparently sidled up to pat us on the back and promise they will abstain or vote against any such manoeuvre. This seems like another fantasy.

For one, the nuclear powers as well as Germany and Japan have considerable clout, and their ability to mobilise small and vulnerable nations should not be underestimated. More importantly, though, there is widespread international support for a CTBT quite apart from the arm-twisting that may go on. Thus, everyone in Asia wants China tethered. Virtually everyone from the Gulf to Turkey and from Turkey to North Africa wants the Israelis included in a CTBT. South of the Sahara, they are anxious that South Africa signs on. The Latin Americans would like to tie the Brazilians and Argentinians into as many nuclear renunciatory agreements as possible. Lastly, all our small neighbours want us, as well as the Pakistanis, in a CTBT.

If this reckoning is correct, that leaves no one in the Third World who will support India or abstain, except our Bhutanese, Mauritian and North Korean friends. Libya and Iran may side with us, but this will only ensure that everyone in Africa, the Gulf and West Asia will want a CTBT: no one wants to deal with a nuclear Libya or a nuclear Iran.

What of the more distant future? If the CTBT does not go through, the Chinese will have the most to gain. China, our government never tires of claiming, is our primary strategic threat. In the absence of a CTBT, it will be in a position to resume testing and to refine its non-explosive test capacities from data gained by a renewed testing programme.

If the CTBT is stalled, this will also strengthen the hands of pro-testing elements in the US and Russia. In addition, the Americans are already talking about Theatre Missile Defences against 'rogue' states, and the failure of the CTBT negotiations may well energise that programme. If it is energised, the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the Russians will be in danger, and an arms race or a drastic slowdown in disarmament could well result—all of which will palpably and concretely harm international and Indian security.

Finally, even if the CTBT does go through without India, the position of the CD and the cause of multilateralism in arms control and disarmament will have been seriously damaged—and New Delhi will have played a part in hurting it.

Is there anything positive that India can do even now? Two things, at least. First, India should declare that it will not test, as part of a global moratorium on testing. Second, with the cooperation of a cross-section of states, it should sponsor the idea of an Adhoc Committee empowered to consider how and when complete nuclear disarmament can be achieved. This is a diplomatic agenda still worth pursuing. 
* (Dr Kanti Bajpai is an associate professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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