by Rajesh Gopalan

The following article is excerpted from the text of the main presentation at a meeting held by IPSG - New York at Columbia University with the above title on October 22, 1996

On September 22, 1996 in New York, Bill Clinton, along with the foreign ministers of China, the UK, France and Russia signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which was voted on by the UN General Assembly on September 11. The Conference on Disarmament (CD), consisting of 62 states, (44 of which have nuclear capabilities, energy or military), had been underway in Geneva since January 1994 to negotiate a draft test-ban treaty. Under the norms established at that time, the CD had to endorse a draft treaty unanimously before sending it to the UN General Assembly for final approval by August 1996.

But the CD ultimately did not reach agreement on a basic text, primarily because of opposition from Iran and India. In Geneva, India's representative declared that India would "never sign this unequal treaty, not now, not ever" and essentially vetoed the draft treaty. Ultimately, the CTBT was only brought up for vote before the UN General Assembly, as a "private nation's bill" by Australia - a backdoor method widely considered to be at the instigation of the US. In New York, only India, Bhutan and Libya voted against the CTBT, while Tanzania, Lebanon, Cuba, Mauritius and Syria abstained after expressing their grave reservations.

In order for the CTBT to enter into force internationally, it must first be signed by all 44 nuclear-power countries - and must also be ratified within the respective political institutions of each one within a three- year time limit. If the bill has not entered into force within this time, it can be re-opened for further negotiation. Given the stand that India has taken, it is quite likely that the treaty will not go into force for the next three years. It is anticipated that for the time being, the CTBT will be the basis for intense carrot-and-stick politicking by the US to get India to tone down or drop its opposition under threat of isolation.

Immediately after the vote, the US State department spokesman Nicholas Burns warned ominously:

"We would advise those countries that are holding out against the will of the international community to think very carefully: do [they]really want to be the sole countries not in favour of the CTBT? ... I am speaking particularly about ... the Government of India which has taken such a difficult position against the will of the international community."

But what exactly is the will of the international community? Within India, and internationally, anti-imperialist sentiment runs deep, and any principled opposition to the global diktat of the US and the big powers carries widespread popular support. In recent years, a string of non-nuclear countries from Malaysia through Mexico have also become increasingly outspoken in their opposition to big-power duplicity over the nuclear menace. But why then did India suffer such isolation globally on the CTBT? To understand this, it is important to examine both the content of the CTBT draft, and also its significance globally in terms of post-cold war geo-politics.

The kernel of India's objection to the CTBT is that as with the earlier nuclear treaties, it divides the world permanently into nuclear "haves and have-nots" - and more importantly, that it puts India permanently in the camp of the "have-nots".

What India has demonstrated with its intransigence over the CTBT is that within the realities of present-day global geopolitics, nuclear weapons hold the key to big-power status. India's rulers cannot realise their big-power ambitions if they do not have nuclear weapons, or if they ever agree to being stuck as a second-class citizens in the global nuclear hierarchy.

Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

In the discussions surrounding the CTBT, an important distinction is made between three separate issues: horizontal proliferation, vertical proliferation, and disarmament. Horizontal proliferation refers to the development or spread of existing weapons technology to new or "threshold" countries such as India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa or Brazil. Vertical proliferation, on the other hand, refers to the upgrading and further development of more sophisticated weapons by the existing nuclear powers. Disarmament, of course, refers to the dismantling of existing nuclear weapons by the five nuclear weapon states (N5).

The most significant feature of the recently signed CTBT text, and of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was indefinitely extended in 1995 is that they both essentially address only the first of these goals - horizontal proliferation. When the CD opened in January 1994, it adopted a mandate to negotiate a treaty which would effectively deal with all of these goals of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. But it soon became obvious that the N5 (and particularly the US) did not come to Geneva to discuss disarmament, but were only looking for ways to protect and safeguard their own nuclear superiority by ensuring that nuclear weapons remained permanently out of the reach of the rest of the world.

Ultimately, the discussions in the CD consisted of behind-the-scenes negotiations among the N5 and their close allies to hammer out a text they could find mutually acceptable. As a result, while the CTBT requires all its signatories to stop underground nuclear testing (which would effectively stop horizontal proliferation), it carefully avoids any substantive or enforceable terms on either vertical proliferation or disarmament - which would directly apply only to the existing nuclear powers.

NPT Extension

In 1995, a precursor to the CTBT debate erupted in the negotiations to renew the NPT, which was originally signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970 in the thick of the cold war for a 25 year term. Under the NPT, all signatories were categorised as either nuclear weapon states (NWS) or non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) based on their status at the time. Essentially, the NPT recognised and legitimised the possession of nuclear weapons by all five declared powers - the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China. It is perhaps not a coincidence that these are also the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. All other signatories fell within the NNWS category and agreed thenceforth not to develop or acquire nuclear weapon technology. India, Pakistan and Israel were among the countries that did not accede to the NPT, and were consequently not bound by these restrictions.

But the only commitment the N5 themselves had to make under the NPT - (and this was considered to be the major inducement in 1968 to get the rest of the world to sign away their nuclear ambitions), was to "pursue negotiations" in "good faith" to disarming their own stockpiles. In addition, they were to pursue good faith negotiations to conclude a treaty on complete disarmament.

Incredibly enough, in spite of the various "good faith" assurances provided, the entry into force of the NPT in 1970 actually precipitated a dramatic acceleration of the weapons programs of the N5. In the first ten years after signing the NPT, between 1970 and 1980, not only did the N5 not disarm, but the US (the largest) more than doubled the number of its strategic warheads, the Soviet Union tripled them, while France and China multiplied their arsenals by four times!

Indeed, "faith" is probably the last thing anyone still had 25 years later, in May 1995 when the same N5 came back to the world demanding a permanent renewal of the NPT. Understandably, the nuclear cartel had found the NPT very beneficial to themselves, and wanted to "freeze-in", as it were, the immense political and military superiority it afforded them into perpetuity.

By this time, the N5 did not even maintain the pretense that they had any intentions to disarm and indeed expressed annoyance when reminded of their solemn declarations made back in 1968. In 1995, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd described the NPT as:

...not an abolition of nuclear weapons but a non-proliferation treaty which distinguishes between nuclear and non-nuclear states. It is not necessary for this purpose to talk about the abolition of nuclear weapons.

He also claimed that the indefinite extension of the NPT would enshrine Britain's nuclear status permanently. Similarly, just after the UN General Assembly vote on the CTBT in September 1996, Nicholas Burns of the US state department revealed:

...we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world ... in which the United States will continue to have nuclear weapons. There is no getting around that.

But it would be an error to conclude that the only intention of the nuclear powers is to maintain and preserve their old cold war era arsenals.

N5 Nuclear Strategy

Even while the N5 are pushing for enforcement of the NPT and the CTBT, they are themselves quite busy developing new warheads and actually reinforcing and affirming the role of nuclear weapons in their military doctrines. What makes this even more alarming is that many of these weapons are intended to be used against non-nuclear weapon states, and in particular, against an unspecified threat from "third world states".

The US and France, in particular, have clearly elaborated their post cold war nuclear strategies, and are in the forefront of new technological developments for sub-critical testing and for developing a new generation of low-yield weapons of greater flexibility and reach that can meet their plans for global hegemony. In the US, these have already been dubbed as "mini-nukes", "micro-nukes" and "tiny-nukes".

In short, more than 25 years after signing the NPT, and eight years after the end of the cold war, the nuclear powers still show no sign of ending the nuclear arms race. If anything, by stubbornly refusing to commit to disarmament, and by increasing and modernising the position of new, long- range, offensive nuclear weapons in their military doctrines, the N5 are affirming that they consider nuclear weapons to be a cornerstone of their big power status. Finally, four of the N5 countries have not even given up the use of nuclear weapons as a first-strike option in their military doctrines.

Background to CTBT

The first test ban treaty in 1963 (signed by the US, Britain and the USSR), prohibited nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space, or underwater - but continued to permit them underground. However, other than the obvious environmental hazards it mitigated, the treaty did not end the proliferation of nuclear weapons in any sense. In fact, the three existing nuclear powers only agreed to such a treaty because they knew they could immediately switch over to underground tests without affecting their weapons programs. In 1974 a Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) was signed that set a size limit on underground test explosions. The CTBT, as its name suggests, proposes to go a step further in banning all underground tests regardless of size.

Weapons testing is an crucial part of the successful development and deployment of nuclear weapons - to the extent that it would be impossible for any country to develop nuclear weapons without a series of ongoing tests. Testing is also very important from a maintenance point of view, and Russia, for example, is most concerned about this, because while they may not be very active in new weapons development, they do intend to keep their old cold war-era weapons in good working order.

The premise behind the CTBT then, is that a ban on nuclear testing effectively ends the ability of any country to develop and deploy new nuclear weapons. The CTBT would be most effective in stopping "threshold states" like India, Pakistan or Israel from being able to develop their nuclear option. But it is obviously of far less significance for the N5, who already have already completed their testing and have their weapons in place. As such, the CTBT effectively takes the NPT a step further in practically consolidating the power and security of the nuclear cartel - by ensuring that no country develops the ability to challenge or dilute this.

Obsolescence of Underground Testing

The most glaring flaw in the present CTBT text is that it will essentially mean in terms of today's technology what the atmospheric test ban treaty meant back in 1963. The US has itself conducted over 1,000 underground tests over the last 40 years - more than any other country, and is clearly in a position where it no longer requires such testing. In its place, there exists a wide variety of high-tech nuclear tests that can bypass the need for underground tests - and that have been developed specifically to circumvent an underground test ban like the CTBT. These "virtual" test explosions have been developed primarily in the US and France, and include sub-critical testing, advanced computer simulation testing (using data from previous explosions) and the new applications of laser ignition.

For example, in April 1997, more than six months after signing the CTBT, the US revealed that it was launching two sub-critical nuclear tests during 1997, to be followed by four more in 1998 and on through at least 1999. These tests were initially to be conducted in 1996, but were postponed because of their potential negative impact on the CTBT negotiations. In the absence of full-blown nuclear testing, such tests provide data to be used in supercomputer simulations at US nuclear weapons laboratories. US Energy Secretary Frederico Pe±a defended the tests as part of American policy to maintain "test readiness", and confidently pointed out that they were not in violation of the CTBT. Even newer techniques are reportedly being developed today. Billion dollar projects, such as the US National Ignition Facility in Los Alamos and France's megajoule laser facility in Bordeaux have come about specifically in anticipation of the CTBT

In the murky diplomacy and secret negotiations that overshadowed the Geneva conference, it is understood that the US agreed to share non- explosive test technology with the French and British. As early as October 1994, US Defence Secretary William Perry revealed that computer simulation technology was being offered to China in exchange for support of the draft treaty. It is not difficult to surmise that the US also engaged in heavy deal-making with most of the other 44 participants. What did become clear was that the they were not able to reach agreement with India or Iran, both of which strongly opposed the draft.

India and the CTBT

The US stepped up its efforts to strike a deal with India beginning last June when Warren Christopher met with I.K.Gujral in the Far East and carried it through the UN General Assembly vote in September. Even after the vote, Bill Clinton hinted that negotiations were not over when he remarked cryptically that "we will work to find a way to address India's concerns."

In this regard, it is probably not a coincidence that in the thick of the CTBT negotiations between June - August 1996, the US suddenly shifted its position on Kashmir to a decidedly more "pro-India" stance and engineered some curious manoeuvres in the UN to reflect this. Many experts believe that the US had previously struck a similar "deal" with India in 1995 that kept India from lobbying world opinion against the NPT - which is far more naked in its aims and iniquities than the CTBT.

India has carefully cultivated a policy of "nuclear ambiguity" over the past twenty years - a policy that would end if India were to comply with the CTBT and give up its nuclear option. India's aspirations are clear, and it is also clear that the objections India has raised are not really against the paradigm of big power domination, but at the fact that the CTBT will permanently freeze India out from fulfilling its aspirations to big power status and exerting such domination itself some day.

What made the situation acute was that while India could simply opt out of the NPT, the entry into force provisions of the CTBT required India's participation and signature as one of the 44 states with nuclear technology and as one of the three "threshold states".

Post-Cold War Geopolitics

The post-cold war period is frequently characterised as a unipolar world. Whereas the world was previously held hostage to the agendae and competing claims to domination of two rival superpowers, the end of the cold war did not end this notion of polarity. What changed was merely that one superpower (and perhaps only temporarily) left the scene, leaving the other with its supremacy unchallenged. The US continues to this day, to impose its political, economic and ideological domination over the world as do the other powers to a lesser extent. But as evidenced in the numerous conflicts that have erupted since the end of the cold war, this new paradigm is yet to find stability and has not ended the disequilibrium brought about at the end of the cold war.

The unipolar world, in its strict sense, enjoyed unchallenged supremacy only for a very brief period of time that extended roughly between the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989 to the end of the Gulf War in January 1991. What has been witnessed since the Gulf War, (and which has sharpened since then), is an increasing opposition to US hegemony worldwide. This is evidenced in the sharp opposition that Canada, Mexico or the EU have shown to its embargoes against Cuba and Iran. These and numerous other such instances ranging from Bosnia to Zaire have demonstrated that the interests of France or even Britain are no longer synchronous with that of the US. Even sharper differences though, are emerging between the US and the likes of Russia, China and a number of other regional and extra-regional powers who are seriously dissatisfied with the direction of the unipolar world.

India figures very seriously within this list of regional powers and has long nursed ambitions to become an extra-regional power. India went through a massive wave of militarisation during the 1980's, placing emphasis not just on its traditionally large army, but on new naval bases, sophisticated submarines, a new Southern Air Command, and the development of short and medium-range missile systems capable of carrying nuclear warheads. India has already deployed its short-range (200 km) Prithvi missile with conventional loads and is reportedly finalising the development of a medium-range Agni missile that has a reach of 1,500 km.

But the most important ingredient of this, and key to the ambitions of India's ruling establishment, are India's neo-liberal economic policies that seem designed to ensure that India's business houses gets the access to capital, technology and infrastructure that they need to emerge with the economic clout that can support - and in turn benefit from the rise of India as a extra-regional power.

It was abundantly clear to the world at large that India's self-righteous position in Geneva did not emerge from a principled opposition to big- power politics - but rather from the simple fact that the CTBT draft threatened to interfere with the ambitions of India's ruling circles. Perhaps this helps to explain why India failed to rally almost any international support for its position in Geneva or New York.

At the same time, India's ruling circles have a long history of compromising and collaborating with the big powers in order to gain acceptance and join their ranks and indeed, India continues to negotiate for an amicable settlement with the US. One likely scenario that can unfold over the next three years is that India reaches agreement with the US and accedes to the CTBT in exchange for some technology favours similar to the agreement with China.

But regardless of whether the current text ever comes into force or not, the controversy it stirred internationally helped to expose some of its cleverly hidden subterfuge. Many well-intentioned advocates still support the CTBT as an incremental, though flawed step towards a "nuclear-free world". But if anything, the sheer brazenness and duplicity with which the NPT and CTBT were passed (for the price of a few tongue-in-cheek "commitments" to disarmament) can have only further emboldened the nuclear states and reinforced their belief that their global eminence exists by virtue of their ability to threaten everyone with nuclear annihilation. And in spite of Bill Clinton's assurances to the contrary, the world cannot possibly be a "safer place" if most of its peoples continue to live under the menace his "smart-nukes".

Ultimately, the CTBT itself is a reflection of the extremely unequal and undemocratic nature of international relations today - a situation that is even enshrined for example, in the membership of the Security Council. What the CTBT controversy that erupted last summer demonstrates is that fundamental changes to this situation will not arrive through the chance interventions of those who cry foul only when they feel they have been cheated of their fair share of the spoils.