CTBT Blues

28 Sep, 1998    ·   144

Prof. R. V. R. Chandrasekhara Rao says even if the exigencies put asymmetrical pressure on Pakistan, India cannot afford to trifle with the implications of Pakistan signing the CTBT

The matter of India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)  has again surfaced from as good as a source as the Prime Minister himself. Atal Behari Vajpayee referred to a conditional adherence to the treaty.  Still, it remains doubtful whether the offer is not a mere diplomatic response to the reported readiness of  Pakistan to sign the document, a readiness that may not come off at all.  If then, India 's own disposition is likely to be reviewed and reined.  Indeed, its conditionalities may not find endorsement by the international nuclear regime.  In the context of the structured uncertainty in the situation it may be timely to discuss some of the related issues.



Given the stratospheric flying of the present Indian government towards a global nuclear power status it is advisable that it turns back before its Icarus wings get melted.  In any case, the current misgivings about the acceptance of the CTBT reminds one of the British colonial policy in this century when Britain started with a 'never' for granting freedom to its colonies, then climbing down to a not 'now', ultimately saying 'freedom now'.



In any case, the ambitions of a global nuclear status seem ill-suited to a nation that acquired international respect for its championing of global nuclear disarmament, authenticated by its own earlier commitment to nuclear renunciation.  Even if one concedes the argument that the nuclear 'haves' let India down badly by not showing any disposition to disarm, it still remains an exercise in terminological inexactitude to claim that if only the 'haves' have demonstrated a sincere effort to denuclearise, India would even have remained an innocent sanyasi, nuclear-wise.  The plain fact is that greater power hypocrisy perhaps provided a shield for India to introduce a diversion in its disarmament logic.



The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its inherent inequity in endorsing vertical proliferation while embargoing horizontal proliferation marked the end of the halcyon days of high moral tone for India .  The demand for reciprocity on the part of the five nuclear powers provided the text for India keeping the nuclear option; but there was a subtext written into the discourse.  That subtext meant that India wanted to keep the nuclear option open irrespective of any reciprocity over vertical proliferation.  The text declared a conditional and negotiable nuclear option, while the subtext suggested an unconditional and non-negotiable option.  The text harped on an acceptable degree of reciprocity to restrain vertical proliferation. But what degree of reciprocity on the nuclear powers' part would be regarded as adequate for India to sign the NPT?  It may be recalled that during the Janata regime, under Morarji Desai, in the 1970s, it was very much in the air that India was prepared to become a signatory to the treaty in return for genuine gestures from the great powers in terms of reduction of nuclear stockpiles.  But as the Morarji regime collapsed the proposal was buried and along with it a few South Block heads rolled.  The subtext provided the real basis for India 's continuing objections to NPT at various review conferences.  Even after Pokhran-I the very same logic buttressed India 's insistence that it had not exercised the nuclear option.



Came the CTBT conference in Geneva and one could only guess India 's embarrassment in refusing acceptance of the document.  A comprehensive test ban had only been the quintessence of India 's pioneering advocacy for over two decades.  Exactly at the moment the CTBT materialised, a half a century after Alamogordo, India 's NPT logic constrained it to oppose the new document also. Because an exercised nuclear option would normally be regarded as a stage in the full acquisition of a viable nuclear strike capability, the CTBT would prove to be a hurdle.  And that is precisely why both India and Pakistan have a compulsion to dither over the CTBT.  The requirements of the situation warrant some amount of contrition on the part of both the countries.



The economic sanctions now in place may hurt differently both the states.  Even if the exigencies on this ground put asymmetrical  pressure on Pakistan , India cannot afford to trifle with the implications of Pakistan signing the CTBT.  In that event, India (and Pakistan , to that matter) will have to settle for its nuclear development process retarded or even frozen.  This may indeed be the price that it has to pay under the circumstances.  No doubt, a certain amount of vacillation and obfuscation will accompany the process of Indian decision making.  And we shouldn't expect India , with the ambiguity that it cultivated for itself, to go for the CTBT singing and yodelling.