As the Geneva talks on drafting a treaty to ban nuclear explosions draw to a close, India is finding itself isolated in its stand that an effective CTBT must be an instrument for global nuclear disarmament.
Politics have occupied everyone in India for the past three months or so, but now that the country finally has a government in place-one that is expected to last more than the 13 days the previous one did-it will be time to take some hard decisions. And the first and perhaps the toughest one will be India's stand on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
As the Geneva talks on drafting a treaty to ban nuclear explosions draws towards a conclusion, India is finding itself isolated in its stand that an effective CTBT must be an instrument for global nuclear disarmament. India is arguing that the present approach of the nuclear powers will create a nuclear apartheid between the haves and have nots and this is unacceptable to Indian security concerns.
With a declared nuclear power - China - on one side and Pakistan which is suspected to have the capability on the other, India has to keep its options open. This has been the consistent stand of all governments in the past few
years and the present coalition government in the country too has clearly said that it will follow that route. Indeed, on the questions of nuclear weapons there is a national consensus which transcends political differences-India wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes but will not forego the nuclear option as its security perceptions are based on the nature and direction of threats. India and China have fought one war and India and Pakistan three; temperatures are always high on the Indo-Pak front
and of late even diplomatic relations have plummeted to a new low. China, which tested a nuclear device two weeks ago has an estimated 300 warheads; Pakistan has always broadly hinted it has the capability.
The successful parliamentary elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the recent offer of talks by the Benazir Bhutto government may have thawed the atmosphere somewhat, but the mutual distrust between the two countries will not dissipate so easily. Add to that Pakistan's recent acquisition of arms and planes from France and the US and the revelation that China helped Pakistan with its nuclear program and one can see why the Indian policy makers have little option but to stick to their present stand. The apparent ambivalence also adds to India's clout-it has not tested a nuclear device since the implosion in 1974-but it is clear that it does have some form of nuclear capability. India has so far not tested another one, despite reports in the US media that a test was imminent some months back, but it is no secret that it does have the capability.
Right from the early days of independent India the country has maintained that it will use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and has refused to sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty calling it discriminatory. Indian policy-makers never fail to point out that the nuclear states resolutely refused to curb their own capabilities and do not hesitate to test devices regularly-indeed the Chinese carried out a test recently. During the period of the NPT many countries have increased their capabilities and weaponry four fold. Why then discriminate against other countries-and why lump India among the so-called rogue nations which could exercise the nuclear option indiscriminately?
France, having finished its series of South Pacific tests has joined the moratorium on nuclear testing, while the Chinese have declared their intention of dropping their earlier resistance to the treaty after the current tests
are over. The Chinese have reportedly worked out their security needs and may have reached a stage of comfortable equilibrium in their relationship with the US and they may be ready to endorse the treaty. By signing the CTBT, India would have foreclosed its options, a situation that is clearly unacceptable.
But India is getting increasingly isolated. It had expected support from several countries but did not get it.That leaves India with two options-either to stay on within the talks and oppose the treaty or to disengage itself. By staying within and opposing the treaty, India may not be able to block its passage as there is no need for unanimity to pass the treaty, only consensus. India will not only lose face if the treaty passes but also find itself blamed if the conference is abandoned due to other internal problems and contradictions.
Staying out of the conference may be more in tune with India's interests -the treaty has a clause allowing a nation to withdraw by giving six months notice- by arguing that it goes against India's supreme security interests. India has a unique security problem as it is the only country in the world situated between two nuclear weapon countries with a cooperative nuclear weapons relationship. By staying out, India holds the bargaining card of returning to the table once it is in its interests to do so. China and France stayed out of NPT for 22 years-India is still out of it and it will not come as a surprise to the rest of the world if India does so with the CTBT. That is the argument that has developed in the Indian security establishment.
However, with the ongoing preoccupation with internal political affairs, so far there has been no emphasis on this issue. The deadline for the conference is a few days away. There is a good chance that the government will now not waste time, gaining political ground with this critical issue.
Sidharth Bhatia is a senior Indian journalist who runs a well known television
program on Indian business and current affairs. A former newspaper editor
and foreign correspondent, Bhatia has written for several publications in
India and abroad.