Rediff Logo News Rediff Personal Homepage Find/Feedback/Site Index
September 28, 1998


E-Mail this report to a friend

US experts lukewarm to India's offer on CTBT

Vaishali Honawar in Washington DC

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech before the UN General Assembly on Thursday showed India's commitment to discontinue nuclear testing but left too many questions unanswered, say non-proliferation experts in the United States.

"The prime minister could have discussed several subjects of considerable interest on the nuclear issue. People outside India are very interested in hearing why India tested and what it intends to do with its nuclear capability. They want to know if the Indian government is considering how to reduce nuclear dangers. The speech was too minimalist for that," said Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L Stimson Center, a Washington-based non-proliferation think-tank.

Vajpayee's speech, coming a day after Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's, was also seen here as a follow-up to the commitment made by Sharief. The media and the state department, having expended their loudest applause for Sharief's statement, were lukewarm in receiving Vajpayee's speech. While Sharief's speech was flagged on the front pages and carried on the front of world sections, the story on Vajpayee was buried on an inside world page in many US dailies.

Krepon said the language used by both prime ministers was "indirect and tortured," adding that "there is an urgent need to reduce the rhetorical posture India and Pakistan have taken so far." So far, he said, the evidence presented by these two countries was completely contrary to what they have been saying.

Toby Dalton, a non-proliferation expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed that the "Indian prime minister didn't say anything new." India's decision to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, however, was a good thing, he said, adding: "They now need to figure out what issues to tackle."

"The important thing was the meeting on Thursday between the two prime ministers. Both countries need to deal with Kashmir," Dalton said. "We definitely welcome them agreeing to sign the CTBT."

In his speech, Vajpayee did not reiterate the condition that the Big-5 should move on disarmament or that India should be granted nuclear weapon status. Krepon said he saw this as a compromise by India on its former position. "India's leverage with respect to CTBT is very limited. The longer the Government of India stands apart, the longer it will hurt," he said.

Non-proliferation experts were not the only ones to greet Vajpayee's long-awaited statement with a seeming lack of enthusiasm. At his press briefing on Thursday, White House spokesman Mike McCurry, when interrupted with news of Vajpayee's speech at the UN, responded with an almost indifferent, "See, the plan works."

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was also quoted as saying that "obviously, much remains to be done." She added that the actual signing and ratification of the test ban treaty, as well as the strengthening of export controls by both countries and other steps were needed to bring India and Pakistan into full compliance with international arms control agreements.

In his UN speech, Vajpayee promised to sign the CTBT before September next year when the treaty will come up for review. So far, of the 44 countries whose signatures are required for the treaty to come into force, only three have refrained -- India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Even if India and Pakistan do sign, there is no hope yet that North Korea will come around. However, Dalton said there would be "too much international pressure on North Korea for it to continue to refuse."

Meanwhile, the fate of the test ban treaty continues to be uncertain. Of the five nuclear powers, only Britain and France have ratified the treaty. Following the subcontinental tests, US Senate leaders have almost written it off. A Washington Times report on Thursday that claimed Russia was preparing for an underground test in the Arctic, has also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the treaty.

"The predicament has been created by the United States which said (in the CTBT) you can do sub-critical tests. The United States itself has maintained it needs tests. So whether or not Russia needs to do the tests, they need to show the United States they can do it," said Edwin Lyman, scientific director at the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington.

Also, Lyman said, the "whole problem with the CTBT is it is taking a whole lot of time ratifying, negotiating...and it really isn't meaningful given US stockpile stewardship." The US now needs to hold negotiations with Russia or come up with a more verifiable alternative to the CTBT, he said There is also concern in the United States that millions of dollars provided by the US to Russia for dismantling nuclear weapons may actually be used to make develop new weapons.

Dalton said a stabilisation of the Russian economic situation could pave the way for disarmament by the United States and Russia, leading to effective arms control the world over.

Tell us what you think of this report