Making A Difference

India Spells Out Its Terms

At the Geneva conference, India hardens its position on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

India Spells Out Its Terms
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In a statement at the CD, Arundhati Ghose, India's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, not only reiterated India's position on time-bound nuclear disarmament, but, for the first time, clearly spelt out its reservations about the CTBT being pushed by the West, especially the US. The unusually forthright statement, shorn of the pussyfooting in earlier official stands, appears to have been made now that negotiations on the CTBT are at a crucial phase. Going by the present schedule, the CTBT has to be wrapped up by April and opened for signatures when the UN General Assembly meets in New York in September.

As positions on CTBT harden, a consensus seems to be emerging among policymakers and strategic thinkers that since India did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was extended indefinitely last year, it need not sign the CTBT either. "If the whole idea is to legalise nuclear weapons in the hands of a few, then we have to weigh our options on whether we should sign it or not," said a senior South Block official who did not want to be iden-tified. "What do we tell the legislators and the Indian public? Why are we signing the treaty if there is no commitment from the nuclear powers?"

To drive home its point, India has introduced an amendment to the text being debated in Geneva, which says the treaty shall come into force "only after all parties have committed themselves to the attainment of the goal of total elimination of all nuclear weapons within a well-defined time framework (of 10 years)."

"The nuclear powers should come up with an indication of the time-frame bywhich they would start the process of disarmament. We have already lost the opportunity of pinning them down to nuclear disarmament through the NPT. If we miss the opportunity of getting a commitment from them this time, it will mean a burial of any commitment on nuclear disarmament," the official observed.

This is the point made by Ghose at the conference. She reminded the members of the commitment made in the NPT by nuclear powers. India, she said, was aware that these states had undertaken "to make progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally with the ultimate aim of eliminating those weapons". She pointed to the hypocrisy of the nuclear powers, which had followed up on this undertaking by reasserting the need not only to possess these weapons but to also ensure their reliability for using them, "citing reasons of security". In fact, President Jacques Chirac of France, while announcing the end of nuclear tests, gave precisely this argument for his country having conducted six tests.

Ghose also expressed India's unease at the announcement of "sub-critical" tests for the refinement of nuclear weapons and proposals for political discussions ontheir future role to ensure the security of some nuclear states and their allies, for these clashed with the avowed goal of nuclear disarmament.

The Indian and American positions cannot be further apart. John Holum, head of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), told the conference that "today's threat to the test ban wears a benign face. It masquerades as even deeper devotion to arms control. The test ban, it has been suggested, should be linked to, if need be even sacrificed on the altar of, a time-bound framework for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons." He did not name India, but this sharp barb was clearly aimed at it.

"I discount everything that ACDA says. They are not being smart enough by dismissing our arguments," said an Indian offi-cial. India feels the US will jeopardise thetreaty by pushing it through without any linkages. India does not want the CTBT, as Ghose put it, to become another flawed instrument to curb horizontal proliferation. It should be a genuine step to terminate the qualitative improvement and development of nuclear weapons of all states, she added.

But the US appears to be prepared to push the treaty through even if India does not sign it. Thomas Graham, special representative of the US president for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament, said as much in Kuala Lumpur on February 7.

India is the only country which is insisting on linking the CTBT to time-bound nuclear disarmament. While many other countries, including the non-aligned bloc, have been pressing for total nuclear disarmament, none has linked it to the CTBT.

The buzzword for the Americans is "realistic". They want the world to be realistic, which in their terminology means not to expect them to give any commitment tonuclear disarmament that will pin them to a timetable. Holum's deputy, Ralph Earle, termed the calls made for total nuclear disarmament as "rhetorical posturing." Holum said the argument for linkage was "self-defeating" and "manifestly absurd".

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The Americans had opposed the CTBT till two years ago. Having realised there was no need for further tests (between the nuclear powers more than 2,000 explosions have been carried out) and with their technology now sufficiently advanced to move into the laboratory, they joined countries like India in calling for a comprehensive test ban. Now, as Holum says, they have three options in response to India's demand: "First, a comprehensive test ban is itself a profoundly important new constraint, especially on the nuclear weapon states. Second, the CTBT is an indispensable step if the ultimate elimination of nuclear arms is ever to be achieved. And third, holding one important goal hostage for another is a sure way to fail at both."

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But the fact remains that the Americans are worried at India's hardening stand. Without mentioning India, Holum spent considerable time in rebutting Indian arguments. Indian officials say what both -ers the US is that the people in many western countries support the idea of complete nuclear disarmament.

Indian leaders are hamstrung by the coming elections and are wary of taking a step which may seem to be againstnational interests. This explains why the Government recently dropped the idea of sending a team to the US to discuss disarmament issues.

The American administration, too, has electoral compulsions. With presidential elections at the end of the year, it is in a tearing hurry to have the treaty ready by September so that President Bill Clinton can present it as a major achievement.

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It is an accepted fact that the CTBT is meant essentially for nuclear threshold states—India, Pakistan and Israel. The NPT, which has 180 members, allows only the five nuclear states to test, produce or acquire nuclear weapons. If the three threshold states which have not signed the NPT, sign the CTBT, it will effectively prevent them from producing advanced nuclear weapons that require regular tests. Which is why the US is taking the CTBT route to prevent these states from making advances in the nuclear field. However, while the US has mounted pressure on India in this entire debate, Israel has escaped much of it.

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Yet another problem the US has with India is that Pakistan has effectively tied its case to India. It is true that Pakistan has pointed out some of the same discriminatory aspects of the CTBT as India in the conference. But its ambassador in Geneva, Munir Akram, has gone on record saying that if India signs the CTBT, Pakistan will also do so. This is curious. If Islamabad finds the CTBT unfair and discriminatory, why agree to sign it, irrespective of the Indian stand on the issue?

As the CTBT's draft 'rolling text' stands today, there are about 1,200 "disputed provisions", which have to be sorted out by April. As Ghose says, the conference is yet to come to grips with several major technical and political issues, including the scope of the treaty, the verification regime, on-site inspections, the International Monitoring System (IMS) architecture, financing of the new organisation to oversee the treaty and the IMS, the composition of the executive council, the articles related to withdrawal from the treaty and the coming into force of the treaty.

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India has introduced amendments to base the CTBT in the global disarmament process. The three-tier amendments related to this have been introduced not just in the preamble but also in the section related to the treaty's coming into force. It has called for a review of the commitments made by the member countries, along with the review of the treaty.

But there is another school of thought crystallising in India. Defence analysts ask what benefits can a CTBT bring for India. Says Savita Pande, fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi: "Even if the nuclear states agree to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons in principle, India could look into the practical aspects of the issue. We should explore what we get in return for acceding to the comprehensive test ban. Will the Americans and their cronies lift their export control regimes on dual use technology? Can we get unhampered access to technology? I think these issues are equally important."

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Others argue that India has not conducted any test since 1974 in any case. It has maintained unilateral restraint on testing a nuclear device. Then why not look for some practical gains from the CTBT? .

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