India's Nuclear Weapons Debate: Unlocking the Door to the CTBT

By Perkovich, George | Arms Control Today, May/June 1996 | Go to article overview

India's Nuclear Weapons Debate: Unlocking the Door to the CTBT


Perkovich, George, Arms Control Today


On June 20, eight days before the Conference on Disarmament (CD) was scheduled to end its second session of 1996, India announced that it would not sign the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) as drafted. In a statement presented to the CD, India's ambassador to the Geneva negotiations, Ms. Arundhati Ghose, said the draft treaty's scope would still allow the nuclear-weapon states to "continue refining and developing their nuclear arsenals." In addition, Ambassador Ghose said, "substantive disarmament provisions in the treaty have been blocked by some delegations. Weak and woefully inadequate preambular references to nuclear disarmament such as those contained in [the draft] cannot meet our concerns." In a reference to recent policy statements from Washington, the ambassador also lambasted "talk of new doctrines and targeting strategies being developed for nuclear weapons .... [which] are attracting consideration for use against chemical or biological attack" as proof that the CTBT is not a disarmament measure. These objections, combined with transfers of nuclear weapon technology from China to Pakistan, made India conclude that it "cannot accept any restraints on its capability if other countries remain unwilling to accept the obligations to eliminate their nuclear weapons."

The ambassador's rationale reflected the stance India had taken at the CTBT talks in recent months. Yet several unstated considerations lay behind this position. The Indian political scene is thoroughly unsettled following the recent national elections which failed to yield a clear winner. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the largest bloc of parliamentary seats, but its government could not win enough support to last more than 13 days in office. The successor government, the United Front coalition, remains shaky. Such political uncertainty precludes the kind of bold decision-making that signing a CTBT would require. Because Indian political parties believe that the evolving treaty remains fundamentally a non-proliferation measure and not a disarmament treaty as New Delhi has demanded, any government proposing to sign the treaty would have to expend major political capital. Nuclear issues simply do not rank highly enough for a weak government to gamble its capital on.

India's June 20 announcement represented the United Front government's attempt to escape from the pressure that would be imposed on India by the draft treaty's entry into force provision. This provision requires that all states hosting seismic or air monitoring stations that comprise the regime's primary verification network must ratify the treaty before it enters into force. The five declared nuclearweapon states and the three "threshold" states-India, Israel and Pakistan-all appear on the two annexes that list the 37 countries hosting such facilities. The United Kingdom and others insist that the threshold states must be part of the treaty if it is to serve its essential non-proliferation purpose. India wanted to avoid being put in a high-pressure position where its decision to sign or not sign would make or break the treaty. By indicating early its inclination not to sign the CTBT, India hoped the entry into force provision would be redrafted so that India would not hold the key to the treaty's implementation. India wants the treaty to take effect even if it is not a party to it.

In essence, the Indian leadership sees the CTBT as a moment of truth, a fateful choice whether to continue the nation's traditional policy of keeping the "nuclear option" open or instead move toward foreclosing the capacity to develop, test and deploy a sophisticated nuclear arsenal. Indian leaders have avoided such sharp nuclear policy decisions since the beginning of the nuclear program in 1948. The June 20 announcement represents an effort to postpone once again a clear policy decision. Some Indian leaders and analysts understand that the nation's security depends on attaining an annual economic growth rate of 7-8 percent, and that spending scarce resources and international goodwill on a nuclear weapon program does not make sense. …

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