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October 2, 1998


Ex-defence officers feel signing CTBT is no big deal

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Amberish K Diwanji in Delhi

Will signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty hurt the Indian armed forces and its plans for marrying nuclear warheads to its weapons? The Vajpayee government is in talks with the Clinton administration and India has hinted that it is willing to sign on the dotted line provided certain conditions are met. However, strategic affairs experts are divided on the question, and many have argued that it is too early to sign the CTBT since India has still to weaponise its nuclear arsenal.

While the armed forces are maintaining a stoic silence as per their etiquette, former defence officers are convinced that there is no harm in signing the CTBT at this juncture.

"Right now our scientists are convinced that we possess sufficient data to carry out computer simulations, so signing the CTBT will not harm our security interests in any way," said Lt General (retired) K S Brar. "And I think the defence forces too will not mind India signing the CTBT at this juncture."

Defence publications specialist Lancer's chief executive Bharat Verma, who retired as a captain in the Indian army, said he disagreed with security experts who want more tests. "I think we have sufficient data for laboratory tests. After all, we just want a minimum nuclear deterrent, nothing more," he said.

"We want that our missiles with nuclear warheads should be able to hit strategic targets such as cities," pointed out General Brar, "We don't want to have pinpoint targets which is what the US armed forces are now seeking. And for that kind of targets, I am certain we have sufficient data and won't need any more tests."

Both agree that signing the CTBT now would help reduce India's political isolation, lift economic sanctions, and ensure high technology transfer. No further tests were needed, even for such high technology areas such as sub-kilo or high-power thermonuclear tests.

"We have tested, and shown the world that we have the nuclear weapons knowledge," said General Brar, "That is enough to provide a minimum deterrent, which is our final aim. We don't need thousands of bombs that just become useless after a few years. We have a few, and that is more than enough for our needs. And even the minimal data that we possess regarding sub-critical and thermonuclear tests is sufficient for our country's aims and goals."

Added Captain Verma, "China has targeted just 14 US cities and that has earned Beijing the respect of Washington, even though the US has targeted far more cities with more potent weapons. We too need a deterrence of the same kind. "

And according to Captain Verma, an Indian delegation that visited China was told by Chinese nuclear experts that Indian knowledge of sub-critical tests was superior to that of the Chinese. "If this is true, it means our data is good enough."

One of the US demands is that India must not deploy the nuclear weapons or marry them to missiles, something that Defence Minister George Fernandes has said was a logical next stage of exploding the nuclear weapons. But not deploying is not seen as a major hurdle.

"We can keep the bombs and missiles next to each other, and put them together within an hour or so," pointed out Captain Verma. "So that is no problem. And Indian minds are extremely innovative, we'll find a way to ensure that there is no hassle."

General Brar felt India did not even need to deploy its nuclear weapons. "As long as we have the nuclear deterrent, it is good enough. And even if Pakistan were to hit us, we can easily hit back. There is no harm to India in not deploying," he insisted.

Captain Verma also referred to other developments taking place that could affect security and defence. "The prime ministers of India and Israel met, for the first time, recently in New York, which is a major step forward. Vajpayee is talking with the French for nuclear technology. Seen in context of all this, India should sign the CTBT."

General Brar pointed out that India's strategic needs were looked after now. "China and India have both promised not to use nuclear weapons first, so our only worry is Pakistan. And even if Pakistan were to launch a nuclear attack on India, we have the capability to strike back, and hit targets such as Karachi and Islamabad," he said.

A positive factor is that the CTBT needs to be signed and ratified only by September 1999, an entire year away. Plus, it still remains to be seen whether the US Senate and House of Representatives will ratify the CTBT, not to mention the Russian Duma.

"We can sign the CTBT and then the onus is on the US to ratify. And we should insist on a time-frame for global disarmament, this will convince the world of our intentions," said General Brar.

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