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NPT and Obama: How long can India hold out?
wASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Agencies):
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Published on 17 Oct. 2009 11:26 PM IST
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"To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty." US President Barack Obama, Prague, April 5, 2009 "Nations with nuclear weapons have the responsibility to move towards disarmament and those without have the responsibility to forsake them." Obama, at the UN, September 24, 2009, while chairing a summit of the 15-member UN Security Council which unanimously adopted a resolution calling on countries that had not signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (like India) to join as "non-nuclear weapons states" and to "comply fully with all their obligations… pending their accession to the Treaty" . The resolution also asked all states to refrain from conducting nuclear tests, and to sign and ratify the CTBT. Even as New Delhi went into a frenzy over the mere thought that Barack Obama might indirectly be seeking to "pressure" India to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the real killer arrow was still in the American quiver, virtually forgotten but still enormously potent - the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which is expected to knock on India's door yet again soon and with much greater purpose. The intent was clear in Prague this April when Obama pledged to secure US ratification of CTBT which India once famously rejected with four eloquent words: "Not now, not ever." If he succeeds in his mission, pressure is certain to mount on India and eight other countries - including Pakistan, Israel and China - that have still not ratified the treaty. The other eight are expected to fall in line once US ratifies, leaving India with perhaps little option but to sign. Obama's reiteration, at the UN, of his non-proliferation and disarmament policy has stirred the coals of strategic debate once again. How long can India hold out? As policy wonks went into a huddle, a few things got clear and have, in turn, reshaped the debate. To begin with, NPT - regarded by India as "discriminatory" - is not seen as the real threat. Within hours of Obama's grandstanding on NPT, Manmohan Singh clarified that he had been assured by Washington that the president's resolution was "not directed against India" and would not affect the India-US nuke deal. The real challenge is CTBT which Obama , it is reckoned, would like to push through if only to burnish his disarmament credentials and live up to the Nobel Peace Prize that's fallen into his lap. At the same time, the assessment among India's nuclear pundits is that the situation has changed - and changed dramatically - since the feisty "not-now-not-ever" stance. India has tested once more in the period since - Pokhran II - enhancing its nuclear weapons capability. The game-changer has been the civilian nuclear technology agreement with the US which will open up N-technology while keeping its weapons intact. Globally, India is now perceived to be inside the tent, a part of the global solution to nuclear proliferation issues. So while NPT is a no-no for New Delhi, at least in its present form, CTBT can leave room for manoeuvre. Less than a day after Obama piloted the UNSC resolution through, India's permanent representative to the UN, Hardeep Puri shot off a strongly-worded letter to the president of the Security Council. "Nuclear weapons are an integral part of India's national security and will remain so, pending non-discriminatory and global nuclear disarmament . We remain committed to a voluntary , unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. We do not subscribe to any arms race, including a nuclear arms race. We have always tempered the exercise of our strategic autonomy with a sense of global responsibility. We affirm our policy of nofirst-use of nuclear weapons." (Please see box, 'ABC of NPT and CTBT' .) Hamid Ali Rao, India's top diplomat at the Conference on Disarmament, had, earlier in May, said as much: "We will not accept obligations not in keeping with or prejudicial to our national security interests , or which hinder our strategic programme , our R&D and our three-stage nuclear programme." All of this could be compromised, feel officials, if it were to sign the CTBT without certain guarantees. No one is quite spelling out the guarantees as that would show India's hand prematurely, but New Delhi may want the US to share the results of US tests (at least some key aspects). India will almost certainly not sign the CTBT before the US ratifies the treaty in the Senate. In 1999, a Republican-majority Senate held up ratification of CTBT, and that had let India off the hook then. Ten years on, the Senate is Democrat-led , but the Obama administration is still six to seven votes short of the required 67. As US nuclear expert Ashley Tellis explained to TOI-Crest , "The Senate's position will evolve only after the publication of the Nuclear Posture Review, scheduled for the year-end . If it indicates the US needs a new generation of nuclear weapon, then the debate is likely to veer towards whether the administration can guarantee new warheads without further testing." Second, said Tellis, there are serious questions about the monitoring mechanism of CTBT, which basically means - can countries cheat? Tibor Toth, secretary general of CTBT Organisation (CTBTO) claims the international monitoring system (IMS) is now sophisticated enough to be able to detect even the smallest test on land or water . But the IMS is not yet foolproof. Finally, Obama might be bluntly told by the US Senate to first get the signatures of India, China, Pakistan and Israel before it ratifies the treaty. That's the point at which the US would be forced to enter, as Tellis said, a "delicate discussion with India . " That would also become the starting point for negotiations with the US for which New Delhi is now preparing. Arundhati Ghose, India's permanent representative at the UN and chief negotiator on CTBT in the 1990s, and the protagonist of its "not-now-not-ever" stance, acknowledges that the situation has since changed and India's posture can't be the same today. Asked what assurances India needed to get if it were to sign the CTBT, she told TOI-Crest , "While the negotiations were going on in the 1990s, the P-5 nations (five nuclear powers) would meet every morning for their own negotiations. Later we found these were part of negotiations to swap data among them and we suspect an unwritten agreement among them to conduct hydronuclear tests (tiny yield underwater nuclear tests that may not be detected by the IMS) and share the results." These are the kind of things that India could demand access to, she suggests. Shyam Saran, special envoy to the PM on nuclear matters, has also indicated that the Indian position might evolve. At a speech in Brookings Institution (in the US) earlier this year, Saran said, "It is our conviction that if the world moves categorically towards nuclear disarmament in a credible time-frame , then Indo-US differences over the CTBT would probably recede into the background." This effectively puts the ball in the US court. At the same time, India is changing the terms of the CTBT debate from it being "discriminatory" to whether signing it can ensure India's national security interests. It's a shift that's happening at a glacial pace. What if things move fast at the US Senate, requiring India to speed up its response? It's possibly in anticipation of this that Department of Atomic Energy secretary Anil Kakodkar and scientific advisor to the government R Chidambaram have sought to scotch doubts about the efficacy of Pokhran II - loudly voiced by scientist K Santhanam - and come out openly on the veracity of India's nuclear tests and its simulation capability. The signal is India does not need more tests - at least not for now. This is being read as the first steps taken by the government to put its nuclear czars on record, a lesson learnt the hard way during the nuclear deal. India could learn from China. For decades China avoided the global nuclear regime, calling it an instrument of western hegemony, while it proliferated with impunity to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. India's reputation is saintly by comparison. But after signing the NPT in 1992 as a nuclear weapons state, China drank up the entire alphabet soup of non-proliferation regimes, signing CTBT, FMCT, MTCR and so on. Suddenly, it looked not just good but was gleefully shoving non-proliferation mantras down an enraged India's throat. India's diplomatic stance - which has always had a strong moral component to it - sets it apart from the Chinese, but in the amoral world of global realpolitik it's also a handicap. Now with assured supply of technology and fuel, it is better off. If New Delhi were to pull the right strings it could make the right music. Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) A treaty between 189 countries, it prohibits manufacture or transfer of nuclear weapons, but allows peaceful use of nuclear energy under strict monitoring . The five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- US, Russia, UK, China and France - are recognized as having nuclear weapons (Nuclear Weapons States), while others cannot develop or acquire them. Countries that already have nuclear weapons, are supposed to destroy them once they sign the NPT - as South Africa, for instance , did. India, Pakistan and Israel are the only countries that have refused to sign the treaty; North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003. Iran is a signatory, but has been accused of violating it. India's objection: NPT arbitrarily divides nations into nuclear haves and have-nots . Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Adopted by the UN general assembly in 1996, 150 countries have ratified it while 32 have signed but not ratified including the US. It calls for a total ban on nuclear tests, whether peaceful or military. It can come into force only after all 44 countries mentioned in its Annex II ratify it. Of these, 35 have signed and ratified, nine (among them, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and the United States) have signed but not ratified, and three (India , North Korea and Pakistan) who have not signed it at all. India's objection: the Nuclear Weapons States conducted over 2000 nuclear tests over the past 50 years, and have over 30,000 nuclear weapons in stockpile. Until they disarm, it is discriminatory to ask India not to conduct tests. Nobel Peace Laureate Obama is keen that US ratifies CTBT, but he needs a two-thirds majority (67 votes) in the Senate, and that won't be easy. The conservative/hawkish constituency doesn't want the US to foreclose its options, particularly the testing of a new generation of nuclear weapons. All the countries that haven't signed/ratified are likely to point at one another and say, you ratify first, then we'll do it.

 
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