Negotiating the CTBT: India's Security Concerns and Nuclear Disarmament

By Ghose, Arundhati | Journal of International Affairs, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

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.

Historical Context

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. … 

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Negotiating the CTBT: India's Security Concerns and Nuclear Disarmament
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