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Flunking the Test of Times

The issue of whether or not the CTBT is an `American trap' is essentially a red herring", says this book, Testing Times: The Global Stake in a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty from the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation of Sweden. Written by noted left-wing commentators Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik - both have extensively participated in the overall nuclear debate through newspaper articles and seminars - this book represents an exceptional pro-CTBT position among a few left intellectuals which is not shared by the entire organised Left in India.

The authors' main contention is that CTBT is more of a disarmament measure - in the sense of arresting nuclear race in qualitative improvements in warhead design and delivery systems for which testing is crucial - directed primarily against the five major nuclear weapon states (NSWs) themselves and not so much of a device for targeting primarily the threshold powers like India or establishing some kind of nuclear apartheid and monopoly. Well, there could be broadly four objectives behind any CTBT: 1) Freezing the arms race between US and Russia, the two nuclear majors, in the sense of a vertical race in qualitative improvisation; 2) Preventing the intermediate nuclear powers like China or France from catching up with the big two, if not in numbers, then in qualitative terms; 3) Capping the nuclear capability of threshold powers like India and Iran, especially their quest for reaching the state-of-art levels in warhead design; and 4) Preventing rest of the states from going nuclear.

Abstracting disarmament from these vastly varying objectives having different implications for different states as well as the global balance of power, the authors make a strong plea for CTBT arguing that as a disarmament measure it 'caps the nuclear capability of all'. The entire course of Geneva negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament - not a Conference on Test Ban mind you, which however, the authors would have preferred perhaps to the misnomer 'Disarmament' - and its outcome have proved how simplistic this position is. If the US is primarily keen on 1 and 2, then they could have sorted it out among the major NWSs themselves. If the NWSs want to bargain for 3 and 4 to yield something on 1 and 2, then, apart from certain objections within the ambit of CTBT, additionally, they will have to address a host of security as well universal disarmament concerns without which CTBT cannot just be rammed down the throats of everybody without much resistance.

The CD negotiations have proved without doubt which objective has come on top for the US and its western allies. While the frictions with Russia and China have been ironed out, as rightly predicted by the authors, India, by vetoing Jaap Ramaker text, has turned out very much to be the 'spoiler' as anticipated by them. Not only India's proposal for a linkage between CTBT and a specific time-bound procedure - which the authors admit is "a reasonable proposal which deserves support, and which was endorsed by the G-21 (the Non-Aligned group of Third World countries), but turned down by the P-5 (the NWSs)" - has been rejected but India's objections to 'entry into force' conditionality too has been overruled. As India's representative at the Conference, Arundhati Ghosh said that it was unprecedented in multilateral negotiations and international law that any sovereign country should be denied its right of voluntary consent on adherence to an international treaty.

Of course, the authors grant something on this score: "the US has a `mix of motives' behind its endorsement of a CTBT. No doubt, in this `mix', it is virtually certain that preventing horizontal proliferation has become a stronger sentiment than before". But, far from being a sentiment, the outcome of the CD talks show that stripping India of its nuclear option has come out, if not as the single most important agenda, at least as the single `unalloyed' motive of the US. However, the authors have an advice for India: "Indian decisions with regard to a CTBT, although informed by an assessment of the motives of the other States Parties, cannot be seriously determined by such an assessment. This is because in any multilateral treaty, different signatories will have different mixes of motives of signing. One's own decision to sign or not, cannot be based on something so intangible as someone else's motives. It must be based on an objective assessment of the treaty on one's presumed `national interests'." It is for the learned authors to explain whether the US, in its objections to a timetable on total disarmament is `informed' purely by the `objective assessment' of the disarmament process for its `presumed national interests' divorced from its assessment of others' national interests, if not `intangible' motives. The authors' smart jugglery of words have not stood the test of times. The western negotiators, having no need to resort to such jugglery, bluntly put it that the demand for linkage is `unrealistic'. Even forming a sub-committee to negotiate the process and timetable for total disarmament is `unrealistic'. The authors' verbal acrobatics is understandable in view of their own much-laboured critique of Political Realism, another abstraction premised in vacuous moralism in international relations. Underlying their onesided flight from their own category of Political Realism is their stubborn refusal to recognise `objective' conflict of interest between leading imperialist powers and Third World nations. Their inability to see that despite all their vacillations, despite their propensity to succumb under pressure, Third World powers like India, sometimes do stand up against imperialist pressure for one-sided treaties, whatever may be the reason for that. It may be for India's own nuclear ambitions for regional preeminence. Nevertheless it is very `unrealistic' to ignore this. Perhaps this is a hangover from the authors' Trotskyite past.

Whether it is CTBT or NPT, or whether it is other issues like human rights, Kashmir, social clause etc., when Americans put up pressure on Indian state, a section of otherwise well-meaning people lose their bearings. They begin to see an opportunity in this tussle and begin to echo the liberal voices heard in the West. True, on the nuclear question as well as on all these issues there are very serious problems with the Indian state. The Left in India should carry on unrelenting struggle on all these issue but with an independent position. Unilateral nuclear disarmament - as a concrete position, yet another Trotskyite relic - of course should be a basic objective. But it can be given another, politically more meaningful, expression like calling for 'No War Pact' with Pakistan and regional denuclearisation talks than merely adopting western stance on issues like CTBT. A CTBT in the hand is better than a 'total disarmament' in the bush - this kind of stand is akin to postmodern nuclear politics which abstracts negotiations on specific treaties from their overall context.

To say "New Delhi works against its own treaty" means missing the other side of the story. True, there is a turnaround in India's stand which had been supporting a test ban treaty from as early as 1954. So also there is a turnaround in US position. Since the beginning of the test ban debate America had been opposing tooth-and-nail any nuclear test ban and scuttled all efforts to bring about a treaty. With more than half the world's nuclear tests to its credit it has more than 6500 nuclear warheads even after entering into START II with Russia, which could blow the globe many times over, and advanced computer simulated testing procedures, which are outside the scope of the treaty, why should only Indian turnaround trouble the authors? America's claim for a universal zero-yield CTBT to be a genuine step towards disarmament holds little water when at the same time William Perry reassures the US Congress that US would require nuclear weapons for the next fifty years and more. Yesterday, the US ensured its imperialistic hegemony by pursuing aggressive policy of nuclear build up and today it could do the same with the `noble' cause of denuclearisation. The desperation and overzealousness of the Democrats in an election year are evident from their insistence that US would go to any extent to bring about a successful treaty. Putting it straight, an otherwise pro-Indian senator said, "it should be made very clear to India that this is a issue of profound concern to Congress as well as the executive branch. Any lack of cooperation would have ramifications across the whole spectrum of Indo-US relations."

In their all-out defense of CTBT the authors fall into such illusions: Among the positive fallouts of the CTBT would be the curbing of the 'fear factor', the fear of the adversaries concerning their rivals' intentions and objective - which the authors claim is a major impediment to arms control. CTBT will formalise the devaluation of nuclear weapons as a currency of power and open up a strategic debate on alternative approaches to security that go beyond traditional, cynical realpolitik and the logic of adversarial, competitive notions of security. It is alright for disarmament peaceniks in the West oblivious of the global poliical divide to harbour such fancies. But it is a sorry turnaround for left-wing intellectuals in India. On the whole, they have miserably failed in the test of times.



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