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Tricks and treaties - The Telegraph

Arundhati Ghosh ()
May 29, 1998

Title: Tricks and treaties
Author: Arundhati Ghosh
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: May 29, 1998

The conducting of the five nuclear tests is a logical outcome of
the stand India took during the test ban negotiations. To
simplify at least our main objection to what the then prime
minister called a "flawed" treaty, a "charade" - the
comprehensive test ban treaty does not ban all nuclear tests; it
only bans those that domestic public opinion in the United States
had campaigned against not because non-aligned movement countries
asked for it and because other forms of tests could be carried
out just as effectively At that time he had said we were not
bound by the treaty. Would this not imply, to any thinking
individual - provided, of course, he took seriously our
reiteration of our security concerns - that India would have to
conduct a series of tests to upgrade and modernize and even
perhaps develop our weapon capacity, unless the nuclear weapon
states legally committed themselves to eliminating their arsenals
in a timebound frame work?

Several democratically elected Indian governments had taken the
decision to keep the nuclear option open, not in abeyance. The
timing of the tests could have been earlier, later, whenever.
These were tests; we did not really drop a bomb on anyone and the
purpose of tests is to collect data. If, therefore, our
scientists feel that we have sufficient sources for data required
for our purposes - no more tests. Why have the world and some
Indians raised their hands, eyebrows and voices in holy horror as
though a heinous sin had been committed?

Let us be clear about three facts about nuclear weapons. One,
during the CTBT negotiations it became clear that none of the
five nuclear weapon states had any intention of ever giving up
these weapons, notwithstanding their duplicitous affirmations in
the context of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review
conference. Two, nuclear weapons are not ever going to be used as
they are civilian targetted and against the Geneva conventions on
humanitarian law, which protects non-combatants. Then why keep
them? Because they are par excellence weapons of coercion. If
any nuclear weapon state does not approve of your foreign policy,
these weapons are very persuasive agents. The threat of use of
force is forbidden by the United Nations charter, but this is
precisely what these weapons do. Three, nuclear weapons are
cheaper than the technologically high level armaments developed
not only by the US but also China.

Another question some times raised is, why does a country like
India need nuclear weapons? I, for one, find them one of the
most unacceptable forms of weaponry invented by man. But as long
as one or two or five countries feel that their children's
security requires them to have the ability to indefinitely
threaten others who have not accepted their suzerainty in
security matters - I refer, of course, to the nuclear umbrella
and the still nuclear armed North Atlantic Treaty Organization -
a country which values its independence, which is a continental
conglomerate of states of 950 million people to whom governments
are answerable, certainly for their security, must needs develop
the means to reduce the opportunities for coercion. Decisions
about India's security can only he taken through the eyes of New
Delhi and not Washington, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Stockholm and
certainly not Canberra or Brussels.

Let me turn to the issue of signing or not signing the NPT and
the CTBT and entering into negotiations on yet another acronymic
set of laws - the fissile material cutoff treaty. Our prime
minister has offered at least some of these sops to the sulking
super powers. Let me state my personal position categorically: I
have some acquaintance with all three treaties and I am totally,
unreservedly and adamantly against our joining any one of them.
Let me try and explain my reasons.

The NPT was meant to control the proliferation of weapons by
those who had them, not of countries who did not. Not only did
proliferation out-proliferate any early expectations of
restraint, but in 1996, the International Atomic Energy Agency,
which had originally been set up to promote and over the years
become a sort of policeman monitoring the implementation of the
NPT, adopted a set of even more stringent rules (known as the
93+2) to ensure that no non-nuclear weapon state developed
nuclear weapons. The facilities and arsenals of the nuclear
weapon states were, of course, out of bounds.

One further point needs to be made here:, the NPT recognizes only
five nuclear weapon states, that is, only those five can hold any
number of nuclear weapons legally. So even if India is de facto a
nuclear weapon state, according to NPT it is not. Amending the
NPT to accept India as a sixth nuclear weapon state is not only
hypocritical on our part but will be opposed by all major NPT
countries - the five declared nuclear weapon states and the
wannabes: South Africa, Germany, Japan and even perhaps Brazil.

The inequality inherent in the NPT has laid the basis of the
current nuclear regime, unstable, with breakouts, but the basis
none the less. The CTBT and the proposed FMCT are corollaries to
the NPT, strengthening through a network of laws and norms, the
current unequal nuclear regime. Our joining the NPT or the
current nuclear regime may be a frightened response to "fear
loathing in Washington". To sign the NPT, find clauses to which
we might adhere in the "charade" of the CTBT and to offer to join
the negotiations on the FMCT, would, in my view, be the
antithesis of the strategic decisions to go nuclear. India
cannot, indeed, should not, be Party to unequal treaties, and not
only on moral Gandhian grounds. If our nuclear programme serves
our national interest, we do not need to be defensive about
defending ourselves. We do not need to rush around asking to be
recognized as a nuclear weapon state, we are what we are. India
is a nuclear weapon state without having broken any international

What would we gain today by signing the CTBT, the only
disarmament we have voted against in the UN general assembly?
What is achieved by joining a nuclear regime which seeks to
freeze the status quo of the new world order? There is a need to
point out the anomalies, the hypocrisy and the unashamed power
play of the five nuclear weapon states on a group of countries
more than 90 per cent of which were already bound not to test by
the NPT.

Why am I averse to negotiating the FMCT? The two fissile
materials utilized in a nuclear weapon are plutonium and uranium
235. The nuclear weapon states have so much fissile material
that they do not know what to do with it and how to safeguard it.
Why in the name of reason should one want to stop production of
these? The nuclear weflpon states have already stopped production
- voluntary moratoria, they call it - and 90 per cent of the non-
nuclear weapon states cannot produce weapons grade fissile
material under the NPT. Who does this leave out of the control
regime? Pakistan? The Chinese supply of material forbidden by the
NPT has been accepted as a fact. Israel? It has signed the CTBT
and not ratified it. Since most of the software for the US
defence programme comes from Israel, should Israel need fissile
material does any one believe it will not have access to it? So
who does that leave?

India may already have sufficient stockpiles. So why not agree
to a "cutoff" in future production? For three reasons: the five
nuclear powers (and India till 1996) have been objecting to
tockpiles" being included in the scope of the treaty. Anyway,
that changed. If we are interested in total nuclear disarmament,
all stockpiles, civilian, weaponized material must be included,
inventorized and monitored.

The second reason is the inevitable verification regime which
will be built into the treaty In my view, the verification regime
of the FMCT, like that of the CTBT, will be the core of the
treaty. The CTBT is not about stopping tests, nor the FMCT about
cutting production of fissile material of which there is too
much. Both flow from the NPT philosophy: they are control
mechanisms - to control the disarmament of the unarmed. FMCT
verification would be tantamount to full scope safeguards of all
our facilities. So why not go the whole hog and the sign the NPT?
The FMCT is India targetted.

Finally, I do not think we should even enter into negotiations on
the FMCT and then be surprised when the nuclear weapon states
agree among themselves to their version of what they can accept
and do another CTBT. India takes its legal commitments seriously
and enters into commitments with the intention of complying with
their provisions. Whatever else we are we do not cheat, we
comply. If we feel we are unable to comply with a treaty
commitment, we would prefer to stay out. So my conviction and
strong advice to government would be to stay out of these control

And do what? We must push, now that we have the leverage for a
nuclear weapons convention which would ban the use, the
possessions, the manufacture, the stockpiling of weapons and
would promote in our globalizing world the peaceful uses of
nuclear energy in a peace starved third world. What would then
happen to our security? If no country has these weapons of
coercion, of mass destruction, won't our security interests be
served? But this would need a stringent verification regime, and
mainly in the nuclear weapon states to ensure that no one is
hiding a bomb in their basement. It may be unrealistic but the
abolition of slavery and of apartheid had once been considered
unrealistic. The nuclear weapons convention is another subject, a
goal for perhaps the distant future and a negotiation in which
India can participate with all her interests intact.

(The author is former ambassador to the United Nations agencies
in Geneva)

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