Negotiating the CTBT: India's Security Concerns and Nuclear Disarmament
Ghose, Arundhati, Journal of International Affairs
".... [W]hen India and other developing countries proposed the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] a global balance of responsibilities was envisaged. Those who did not have nuclear weapons would not seek to acquire them; those who had them would not try to either refine or develop them or to increase their arsenals. This balance was never honoured ..."
--Statement by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, 50th Session of the U.N. General Assembly (New York: October 1995).
"Nuclear weapons are making a comeback--not in numbers, but in being.... Countries which previously pressed hard for more nuclear cuts have shifted their focus onto softer arms control issues, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Materials ban .... Rather than anticipating further deep reductions, the USA and Russia are solidifying their nuclear weapon stockpiles and consolidating their nuclear weapons infrastructure (which) is being modernised into a smaller, cheaper and more sophisticated maintenance apparatus."
--Hans M. Kristensen and Joshua Handler, "The USA and Counterproliferation," Security Dialogue, 27, no. 4 (December 1996) p. 387.
India's decision not to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996 was based both on its traditional approach to nuclear disarmament and its national security concerns. Yet this decision has often, somewhat reproachfully been viewed by Western critics as a reversal of India's traditional stand on nuclear disarmament, particularly former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's 1954 call for a halt to all nuclear testing. To understand India's position during and after the CTBT negotiations, it is necessary to review the historical context of our approach.
While a country's position in arms control and disarmament negotiations is necessarily a product of its political, economic and strategic environment and its national security perceptions, it is equally a product of its unique historical experiences that have determined its fundamental world view. Several political analysts, both Indian and Western, have placed India's security concerns and its approach to nuclear issues in the geographical region of South Asia, or at best, in a region including China. Yet India's promotion of the goal of total nuclear disarmament predates the nuclearization of China and even the emergence of the U.S.-USSR nuclear rivalry For example, as early as 1948, India tabled a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly that noted the then U.N. Atomic Energy Commission's proposal for the control of atomic energy ... for peaceful purposes and for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons."(1) The resolution recognized the grave dangers to international peace and security resulting from the absence of effective international control of atomic energy
In the years immediately after independence, India's leaders enunciated an ethical approach to foreign policy in general, and to nuclear issues in particular. This reflected deeply held views on global issues adopted by a country that felt it had won a moral victory in addition to its political independence. This approach also reflected a genuine fear of the new weapon of mass destruction. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only provoked moral outrage, it also gave rise to a particular political perception that such a weapon was a new means by which the country's hard-won independence might be threatened.(2) This concern led Nehru to write, in 1954, that "fear would grow and grip nations and peoples and each would try frantically to get this new weapon or some adequate protection from it. Nehru recognized that "a dominating factor in the modern world is this prospect of these terrible weapons suddenly coming into use before which our normal weapons are completely useless."(3)
Reacting to a U.S. nuclear test in the Bikini Atoll, Nehru presented to the Indian Parliament what was to become India's declared approach to nuclear weapons:
We have maintained that nuclear (including thermonuclear) chemical and biological (bacterial) knowledge and power should not be, used to forge these weapons of mass destruction. We have advocated the prohibition of such weapons, by common consent, and immediately by agreement amongst those concerned. Pending progress towards some solution, full or partial, in respect of the prohibition and elimination of these weapons of mass destruction, the Government would consider, some sort of what may be called "standstill agreement" in respect, at least, of these actual explosions, even if agreements about the discontinuance of production and stock-piling must await more substantial agreements amongst those principally concerned.(4)
This was the context in which Nehru first called for a "standstill" to nuclear testing, one of the steps he proposed to halt, roll back and eliminate nuclear weapons development--a development that India found not only morally repugnant but one whose power could possibly pose a threat to its security and its independence. Nehru's eloquence masked a very pragmatic approach to India's problems, as recognized by George K. Tanham, a respected American scholar of the Rand Corporation, though at the time, many in the West were not so discerning.(5)
India joined the Partial Test-Ban Treaty in 1963 believing that it would be a first step toward reversing the nuclear arms race. The increase in the number of underground tests belied this hope and became a cause of serious concern, which later influenced, to an extent, India's stand on the CTBT in particular, and to any partial disarmament measure in general. In India's view, the discriminatory nature of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) maintained the status quo. Speaking to the Indian Parliament, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asserted that:
India's refusal to sign the NPT was based on enlightened self interest and the considerations of national security ... nuclear weapon powers insist on their right to continue to manufacture more nuclear weapons. This is a situation that cannot be viewed with equanimity by non-nuclear countries, especially as they are called upon to undertake not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons for their own defence. At the same time, we have stated that the Government of India does not propose to manufacture nuclear weapons. This is a decision taken many years ago and is unrelated to the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. We shall continue our efforts for nuclear disarmament because it is only through nuclear disarmament that discrimination would be eliminated and equality between nations established.(6)
By this time, China, which had fought a brief but successful border war with India in 1962, had joined the other declared Nuclear Weapon States (the United States, United Kingdom, France and Soviet Union). In addition to France, China had refused to sign the NPT and for that matter the Partial Test-Ban Treaty.
Then in 1971, the Indo-Pakistani war and the subsequent liberation of Bangladesh occurred. For the first time since independence, Indian policy was subjected to military pressure by a Nuclear Weapon State when the USS Enterprise entered the Bay of Bengal in an attempt to force a cease-fire on India, which clearly had the advantage over Pakistan, an ally of the United States. The fact that between 1946 and 1977 there were as many as 37 incidents involving the threat of use of nuclear forces against mainly non-nuclear countries demonstrated clearly to India the power that could be used explicitly to coerce a weaker country. In addition, India realized the pervasive threat implicit in the very existence and deployment of nuclear weapons.(7)
In 1978, India once again proposed a ban on nuclear weapons testing, this time as part of a defined program of nuclear disarmament. The proposal was made at the Special Session of the …
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Publication information: Article title: Negotiating the CTBT: India's Security Concerns and Nuclear Disarmament. Contributors: Ghose, Arundhati - Author. Journal title: Journal of International Affairs. Volume: 51. Issue: 1 Publication date: Summer 1997. Page number: 239. © 1997 Columbia University School of International Public Affairs. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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