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Disarmament on unequal terms?

It seems but a matter of time before the Indian State makes the big surrender. Members of Vajpayee’s diplomatic fire fighting squad are globe trotting to contain the angry reactions against Pokhran II and at every stopover the team has expressed the government’s intention of signing the CTBT albeit with conditions. What the final conditions of signing the CTBT will be, one cannot say. But going by the secrecy shrouding the clandestine rendezvous in the German woods between Strobe Talbott and Vajpayee’s chief interlocutor, Jaswant Singh — the Planning Commission Chairman has assumed the full time job of striking secret deals behind closed doors (remember his pre-government formation, secret patch-up with Jayalalitha) — the final terms of a shameless surrender might have well been set. And it is highly improbable that the final terms would include the US conceding an inch of its ground of nuclear hegemony or allowing India’s entry to the nuclear club.

We now know more clearly the saffron gameplan behind crossing the nuclear Rubicon — whipping up ultra-nationalism to a high-pitch followed by abject, wholesale and shameless capitulation. So now, all the reasons are being furnished for opening the floodgates for unhindered entry of MNC funds and signing the dotted line of the CTBT. Now we hear the Pentagon (Who knows what Jaswant relinquished in the German woods!) is having a change of heart over imposing US sanctions on India. On more occasions than one, the Indian rulers have succumbed to this carrot-and-stick game of the US.

A post-Pokhran II or a post-Chagai I scenario has made CTBT no less discriminatory neither has the treaty suddenly revealed a new virtue that makes it more imperative than ever before for India to accede to it. Yet most strangely, history has today brought the friend and the foe on the same side of the fence. The hawks have watered down their opposition to the CTBT and the Indian peaceniks clamour even more passionately for India to accede to the treaty. Of course, while the two camps agree on accepting the discriminatory treaty, the arguments invoked arise from different standpoints.

The saffron brigade’s nuclear ambitions do not stop with the signing of the treaty. In fact, the defence establishment has been upping the ante in nuclearising India — military-industrial complex, development of delivery systems et al. As the hawks assure us, now with the Shakti blasts, a moratorium on tests would not dispossess us of a credible deterrent. Any such insidious approach at signing CTBT brings us nowhere closer to disarmament (which is undeniably a desired goal) and sacrifices national interests to a discriminatory treaty.

The Indian peace movement with otherwise well-meaning people has trivialised the question of true national interest and illegitimately equated it with narrow chauvinist nationalism. The main argument in their passionate defence of the CTBT has been that the CTBT works more against the P-5 rather than threshold nations like India and Pakistan and in no case perpetuates an unequal nuclear order. They argue that unlike the discriminatory NPT, CTBT is a genuine disarmament move and definitely more effective than the former in foreclosing the nuclear capability of all.

The CTBT is not a treaty with uniform implications for all signatories. For threshold states, this would imply halting all development of warheads. Howsoever might our defence establishment brag about crossing the threshold (i.e., production of warheads is now possible without further tests) and that we have caught up with China, the fact remains that explosive testing remains critical for confirming the effectivity of the warheads produced and that we are nowhere close to the intermediate nuclear powers. The implications of the CTBT for India in effect would thus mean a closure of the nuclear option. However, for the P-5 the same CTBT could only imply two things. Either it arrests the competitive vertical proliferation of warheads by the big two in the nuclear club or it puts a full stop for the other three to improvise their weapons to attain par with the big two.

Making a loss-gain calculation of the implications for these three groups of nations, where do we stand? The P-5 retain the warheads they have developed and already tested (hence the potency of the weapons remain at least for few more years to come) while the denuclearisation of the threshold states leaves the big powers without the fear of any possible nuclear threat from these nations. If disarmament was at all a genuine concern of the US, it could well have worked for a different CTBT among the P-5 themselves. After all, the P-5 posses almost all the nuclear warheads in the world and the technology to further improvise them.

The CTBT does not purport to cover the entire process of disarmament. In any agreement for a test ban between the nuclear powers and the threshold powers, a whole gamut of issues concerning universal disarmament and security concerns have to be addressed, as the proponents of the peace movement would agree. However, the CTBT is not exclusive to all these debates. Any attempt at isolating it from other treaties and accepting it as ‘something better than nothing’ will be falling for the US trap. Why else did the US and its allies find it unrealistic to accept India’s proposal at the Convention on Disarmament negotiations in Geneva two years back, for linking the CTBT with timebound disarmament?

The first priority of the US has been to divest India of all its nuclear potential. This has been further ensured by the ‘entry-into-force’ clause in the treaty. This blatantly unjustified conditionality violates all international norms by denying a nation’s voluntary consent to accept the treaty.

Now let us look behind the disarmament doctrines currently in currency. No one denies the hundred times more devastating effects that today’s bombs can create compared to the one dropped at Hiroshima. We do not need more horror stories to convince us of the goal of unilateral nuclear disarmament. However, any approach to this humanitarian goal cannot bypass the specific equations and objective conflicts over which today’s unequal nuclear order stands. It cannot also ignore the increasingly hostile relations in other spheres between the imperialist countries and the Third World. Universal disarmament cannot be achieved with one path set homogeneously for all nations. At least, the path India takes to disarmament cannot be dictated by the US, granting for once the latter’s bonafides for denuclearisation.

The evolution of the new ‘moral-political norm’ against nuclear weapons is welcome. People and organisations within the nuclear weapon states have raised demands for their governments for timebound disarmament. However, it will be mischievous to associate the imperialist state establishments with this norm. True there has been a gradual dismantling of warheads in the post cold-war era but does that convincingly prove that the great `American Dream’ (or the utterances of William Perry et al) for nuclear hegemony has been finally dismantled for all times to come? On the other hand, how can we be so sure that the insistence on signing the CTBT by US indicates a positive disarmament drive on its part? Because for all one might say, till date, there has been nothing in black and white on time-bound unilateral denuclearisation. The term of the NPT has been indefinitely extended. The US laws deny inspection of their nuclear sites by outside agencies on grounds of internal security but we just about avoided a major conflagration when the US bullied North Korea and Iraq to open their sites for inspection. Moreover, what is taking the US Congress so long to ratify CTBT itself when there is a majority agreement on it in principle? The very proposition that the nuclear club remains an exclusive zealously guarded fiefdom of the big five, makes their disarmament intentions suspect.

A recent piece of news comes as a rude shock to all ‘peace’ hopes attached to CTBT. A report of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research based in Washington has said that the US and France have embarked on a research which could result in new fusion weapons – with destructive capacities many more times than the presently existing fission devices — thus violating the CTBT (The Hindu, 17 July).

Bowled over by this postmodern disarmament doctrine (essentially a product of the West’s liberal intelligentsia which remains largely oblivious of the global political divide) of segregating the CTBT from the overall nuclear debate, the Indian peaceniks lose sight of the contradiction between imperialism and the Third World. Then naively buy into the discriminatory disarmament prescriptions of the West.

Some commentators consider that the balance of terror between nuclear opponents caught in an arms race deters them from fighting a nuclear war on the one hand and forces them purposeful negotiations to resolve differences on the other. Thus reducing the real worth of nuclear bombs to paper tigers. In the assessment of the peace movement itself, after a heightened arms race in the cold war era, a positive move has been made between Russia, China and US for diffusing nuclear tension. But was this move by the US imperialism based on any long-term objective assessment at disarming itself or guided more by its pragmatic geo-political calculations for maintaining its dominance in the world order? Strange as it may sound but it is very much possible for imperialism to make a smooth transition from an almost frenzied and jingoistic arms race in the cold war era to a ‘humanist’ pursuit of so-called denuclearisation. It is just a question of which strategic posture is more effective in the imperialist pursuits according to the requirement and convenience of the changed times and situations. But, as Lenin pointed out, ‘imperialism means war’ and it will continue to remain so. In fact, it could well be that nuclear apartheid deepens further with this facade of denuclearisation. For one, CTBT does not follow any capping of inter-imperialist rivalry. Neither will enforcement of CTBT devalue nuclear weapons as a currency of power. After all the imperialists are not even saying for sure: Goodbye war, hello peace!

In the chorus of the global peaceniks, the peace movement in India should not blindly pose the same set of demands here like signing the CTBT. There is no denying the fact that the Indian State harbours hegemonistic aspirations in the sub-continent and overt nuclearisation has been a tool to achieve it. The sub-continental threat perception that the government quotes as the reason behind the blasts is as illusory as George’s Chinese helipad in Arunachal. However, neither can we trivialise the question of succumbing to US pressures for signing the CTBT as merely an issue of ‘touchy’ and ‘confused’ national pride. In fact, this issue has provided a good opportunity to unmask the fraudulent variety of saffron nationalism hyped to its extreme after the blasts. Our peace activists would find it worthwhile to serve their own goals by turning their guns at the imperialist powers and expose their hypocrisy rather than voice hollow moral idolatry borrowed from the Western liberal intelligentsia.

The revolutionary Left has consistently opposed any compromise on CTBT and amply demonstrated it by waves of protests after Pokhran II, often hand in hand with the Indian peace movement. The disarmament move for India can be made more meaningful by sub-continental, multilateral disarmament talks and by following it with negotiations for a possible regional CTBT. At the same time we should press for sorting out the festering sores in Indo-Pak relations and call for a ‘No War Pact’. In the post- Pokhran II and Chagai I situation, avenues have indeed opened for discussing these peace moves between India and Pakistan. The revolutionary Left has offered a positive agenda of disarmament for India. This is the time for all those who stand for peace, democracy and the interests of the Indian people against imperialist coercion, to firmly call for disarmament on no unequal terms.

Home > Liberation Main Page > Index August 1998 > ARTICLE