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September 30, 1998


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The Rediff Interview/Achin Vanaik

'Even if this government goes against the grain and does sign the CTBT, there is no surety of ratification as of today'

Achin Vanaik has been an advocate of peace and disarmament for about two decades now, strongly arguing against nuclear weapons, Indian and foreign. He strongly supports the notion of India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and has blasted the hypocrisy of Indians in dealing with nuclear weapons and the issue of disarmament. He discussed this issue with Amberish K Diwanji.

Do you support India signing the CTBT? What do we gain from doing it?

Yes. I am part of a small minority of Indians who favour and support the CTBT. In fact, if India had signed it in 1996 itself, there would not have been the disaster of Pokhran II. Even though the context is different now, and today the CTBT does not prevent India from deploying nuclear arms or weaponising, I still support signing the CTBT. This is why there is so much support from so many pro-nuclear activists for the CTBT now.

Whatever the hypocrisy of the pro-nuclear lobby stand given its earlier position, it is recognised by the lobby that this is the minimum price India has to pay to end its international political isolation and nullify the economic sanctions. It is also the best way for India to improve ties with the United States, especially in the areas of economic, commercial and dual-use technology.

The effort now is to work out some kind of a deal that would recognise India as a nuclear power, de facto, if not de jure. Second, the lifting of economic sanctions, and third and the question of possibility technology. This will not be directly connected, but form the background of understanding.

What will be the impact on India, if it signed the CTBT?

From India's side, more than just the CTBT is being offered. The message to the US is that India is prepared to be a responsible member of the nuclear club and to that extent play the game that is to be expected.

This means that whatever the difference within the nuclear club -- and there are many -- but this club has been characterised as a two-tier club, with the US and Russia at the top, and China, France and Britain as the second class. Now there will be third class comprising India and Pakistan.

Russia as a nuclear weapons state remains at the top, despite its current economic crisis. This just indicates that being a nuclear power is no indication of being a world power. Even though India will be a member of the nuclear club, it does not mean that there is no tension within the nuclear club.

Can you give details of the kind of tension? Can it be resolved?

Let me give you an example. Even today, Britain, France, and China do not have an adequate second-strike capacity, unlike the US or Russia. Before the end of the Cold War, the Chinese and French said only when the US and Russia cut their arsenals by 50 per cent would they join the reduction talks. But the moment it became clear that START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) would lead to cuts of over 50 per cent, the French and Chinese changed their positions to state that now they would join the talks only after the strategic arms of US and Russia were cut by 95 per cent. This shows the imbalance of nuclear arms, and the problems it could cause.

Then, today, the British and the French, and even the Chinese may join in, could be persuaded to an informal agreement of no further increase in the numbers of their strategic weapons. But since India and Pakistan joined the nuclear club, a no-further increase would not be agreeable to India and Pakistan. Here, we are talking about India really, because Pakistan will follow in India's footsteps. With India looking to deploy, there will naturally be a demand to increase the weapons.

These are the kinds of tension within the nuclear club, with different outlooks and different national security perceptions.

What about the difficulties with the non-nuclear weapon states? Where will India, with its commitment to disarmament, stand?

There will be a big clash of interests with the non-nuclear weapon states. Those in the nuclear club will find greater common interests and unite against the non-nuclear weapon states, especially those that are not tightly bound to a security system such as Australia, Sweden, Japan, South Africa. These latter states are pressing for complete disarmament.

In this conflict, you can expect India, for all its pretensions of disarmament, to be part of the nuclear club, because it will have more in common with the US than the non-nuclear weapon states. The non-nuclear weapon states don't want to part of the nuclear club, they just want the club to wind up. India too had demanded the same before, but is now on the other side.

The central conflict here is that all the nuclear club members are determined not to allow those outside to determine the agenda of the club, and are subordinating the demand for restraint and total disarmament. The worst common hypocrisy here is the claim by the nuclear weapon states that the pursuit of their national security interests is not in conflict with the general aims of disarmament!

What about the Fissile Missile Cut-off Treaty? What are the issues involved there?

Unlike the CTBT, the FMCT is not a restraining measure to the Big Five nuclear weapon states, because all of them have sufficient stocks. Moreover, the US and Russia could be adding to their fissile material stocks as they dismantle some of their present strategic weapons as part of START. In all these countries there is a moratorium in place against producing more fissile material, even in China, thereby indicating that they have enough of it.

But the FMCT can affect India and Pakistan. So India and Pakistan have to make a calculation that in three years time, when the FMCT comes into effect, they will have sufficient stocks of fissile material. So India has to make a calculation that it is willing to go along with the FMCT talks, while stocking enough till such time as the treaty comes into effect. This could be a source of tension with the US.

Now, all the hawks in India agree that India must have a minimum nuclear deterrent, but cannot agree on what that minimum should be. And this will determine our need for fissile material.

Is there a conflict with the non-nuclear weapon states?

The non-nuclear weapon states clearly point out that cutting production is not a restraining measure, but cutting down the stocks held is, and they want the nuclear weapon states to take measures towards that over a certain time period. The other nuclear states position on this has been an adamant 'no'. The Indian position even before was that it would not reduce fissile material stocks, because even a reduction of 10 per cent could have harmed India's position gravely. Pakistan here is the hypocrite. Earlier it had wanted stocks reduced, now, after going nuclear, it does not.

The CTBT comes into effect only after the signatory countries ratify it. Will this create complications?

Countries like China and Russia will not ratify unless the US does so. An Indian signing of the treaty or an Indian pledge to do so can help the ratification of the treaty, or to get a majority in the Senate, but not guarantee it. A lot depends on what happens behind the scenes, what the Clinton administration does. Yet, there is the risk that the treaty will not come into force.

However, the CTBT will exist as it does now as a legal, moral norm for the world to abide by, even if not as a formal, punitive treaty. This is not unimportant. To cite a precedent: France and China refused to sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty (that barred atmospheric nuclear tests), but at least after the early 1980s, began to accept the treaty and stopped all atmospheric tests, even though they are not bound to do so. The existence of a treaty, thus, does have an effect.

Even the case of North Korea, whose signature is needed, is just a case of some bargaining. The question is of India, Pakistan, and Israel. Israel will sign if the Arab states do, and Pakistan if India does. So it really boils down to India, which is related to a number of factors.

First, there is a section that wants India to sign as paying the minimum price for going nuclear. But you also have differences between this group. Some say the deal is not good enough, some want more bargains. And there is one group which asks why India should give up the option of further testing because to have credible minimum deterrent, we may need further testing. These forces right now are willing to go along, but they could be strengthened if the circumstances change. One option that India does have is that it can sign but not ratify, that is, sign now, but ratify only after the US does.

What are the dangers to India ratifying the CTBT? What might happen if we don't sign or ratify the treaty?

A danger is that India still has to generate a domestic consensus, or rather, a domestic elite consensus. The Congress may agree to sign the CTBT. In fact, the noise they are making now is just to embarrass the BJP, because they have been in agreement with the treaty. The Left too may sign, though there are sections within the Left which is against the CTBT, finding it unequal. A Congress government supported by the Left is unlikely to ratify the treaty.

If we don't sign or ratify the treaty by September 1999, then there is every chance of the centre of gravity of the discourse shifting to the right. Whatever the reason for not signing -- and there may well be many -- the logic will then be that what is the point of receiving the brickbats of not signing and yet not testing? If we don't sign, and sanctions again stay on, etc, then there will pressure to test further, especially since other countries have tested 45 times or much more.

There is a lobby that strongly feels that we need more tests to garner sufficient technical data.

Let me tell you, that if you need some kind of sufficient sophisticated arsenal, then the claim made that we have data on thermonuclear tests or for subcritical tests is all nonsense. We still don't know if India actually tested a hydrogen bomb. India may have, certainly, but what prevents the government from giving out more evidence to settle the dispute once and for all.

Why do you think this is happening?

In many ways, it is because the movement towards a nuclear weapon state gives the nuclear scientific establishment a second life, a need to justify its existence. India's civilian nuclear record is the worst in the world, it is just absurd. Their claims on our nuclear capacity is not to be taken seriously. The establishment's statement that India may have avoided the mega-ton route to testing is subject to legitimate doubt. It may be true, but is not certainly so.

Thus, to get back to your earlier question, there are all kinds of pressures on the government not to sign. And even if this government goes against the grain and does sign, there is no surety of ratification as of today.

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