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Get subtle - The Indian Express

Editorial ()
July 7, 1998

Title: Get subtle
Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: July 7, 1998

The Vajpayee government has let it be known it is exploring the
possibility of signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This is
sensible. Official spokespersons have indicated more than once in
the last two months that the treaty will be acceptable under
certain conditions. Immediately after the Pokharan tests,
Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary in the prime minister's
office, announced India's willingness to approach the CTBT afresh
along with other countries. in Parliament, shortly afterwards,
the Prime Minister was more categorical when he declared India
was prepared to turn its unilateral moratorium on testing into a
legally binding commitment. It is on this basis that Indian
emissaries are understood to have engaged Washington, Paris,
Moscow and London in discussion. Clearly a negotiating process
has begun which means that neither New Delhi nor the P5 are
taking absolutist positions. This promises to make the process

There are several aspects to consider if the negotiations are to
lead to a satisfactory outcome for India. As far as accepting
treaty constraints on testing is concerned, there need be no
hesitation on technical grounds. Scientists from the Atomic
Energy Commission and the Defence Research and Development
Organisation have said they are confident about the results of
the five tests in May and the option now available of sub-
critical and computer testing which the CTBT permits. Some
experts like Arundhati Roy, India's former chief negotiator at
Geneva, have expressed qualms about the CTBT verification system.
That should be re-examined for possible problems. Politically,
it is a more complex matter. The government is going to have to
work hard at carrying public opinion along with it. Most people
have been led to believe the CTBT is discriminatory and flawed.
The government will have to explain why discriminatory aspects no
longer hold after India acquired the capabilities of the weapons
powers. The fundamental flaw-the treaty is not the kind of
advance towards disarmament that India hoped for - can be
addressed by active diplomacy aimed at setting up an ad hoc
committee in the disarmament conference at Geneva. Finally, a
firm consensus has to be built with Opposition parties whose
support will be crucial.

Internationally, there should be more clarity about India's aims
and how to go about achieving them. At one time, the government
appeared to be pursuing some form of disarmament commitments from
the P-5 linked to signing the CTBT. Later, the stress shifted to
stricter observance of non-proliferation rules by the P-5 and
chiefly China. The latest is a trade-off on dual-use technology
transfers. It is astonishing that the government, albeit through
an anonymous official, should go public prematurely with its
negotiating stance. Obviously, Vajpayee would like to be seen at
home as gaining something out of CTBT "renegotiations". It is
equally obvious other capitals have to overcome various
constraints of their own before they can meet India on this
point. It is most unsubtle to bind oneself into a sharply defined
position so early in the day. Make no mistake. The locks on
technology can only be prised open bit by painstaking bit. A
sledgehammer won't work and could cause unintended damage.

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