Monterey: 17 August 1996
Test-Ban Treaty: Asian Concerns
(As this issue goes to press, the fate of the test-ban treaty and the future of the CD hang in the balance. Deadlocked over Indian and Iranian reservations to endorse the current draft treaty, achieved after over two years of negotiations, and rejection by the nuclear-weapons states to provide binding commitments on nuclear disarmament, the CD will meet in plenary on 23 August to decide upon its course of action.)
The 2,047th  nuclear test explosion since 1945 conducted on 29 July by China could well signify the ending of all nuclear testing, in all environments, for all time. With its 45th and smallest test (15 kilotons), China announced a moratorium on nuclear testing, thus joining the moratoria of the other four declared nuclear-weapons states (NWS). The test coincided with the opening of the final session of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD), that was meeting to seek consensus on transmitting the 28 June revised draft text (CD/NTB/WP.330.Rev.2) of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for approval and signature at its 51st session in September. However, as of mid-August, the ad hoc committee negotiating a nuclear test-ban remains stymied over critical differences between the NWS and India and Iran, on specific commitments to nuclear disarmament and the ratification formula for entry-into-force of a CTBT.
Achieving a CTBT has long been a goal of Canada and the international community since the 1950s. While primarily conceived as a means of ending the nuclear arms race and facilitating nuclear disarmament; a test-ban is now being promoted by the NWS mainly as a nonproliferation measure. The NWS which, in a half-century of nuclear weapons testing expended some 510 megatons  of explosive energy and built over 70,000 nuclear weapons, have for the first time in history agreed in principle to ban testing. This consensus became possible only after the development of simulation technologies to allow for limited development and maintenance of weapons without actual nuclear tests, and because of recently completed series of tests by France and China. The NWS interest in a CTBT text is mainly to foreclose nuclear weapons development and testing by the three threshold states India, Israel, and Pakistan rather than to facilitate nuclear disarmament. In effect, contrary to their commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), reiterated at last year's extension conference, the NWS (except perhaps for China) remain adamantly reluctant to give up their special nuclear weapons status and capabilities.
India which in 1954 first proposed a standstill agreement on nuclear testing is openly opposing the current draft of a CTBT, thus reversing its earlier position of not blocking consensus on the approval of a CTBT; but given crude Western pressure to compromise, India is now refusing to endorse the current version of a draft CTBT. The main thrust of India's dissatisfaction emanates from: a) the refusal of the NWS to give a specific commitment for a (10year) time-bound framework for nuclear disarmament; and b) the formula that would make a CTBT's entry-into-force (EIF) conditional upon India's signature and ratification (along with that of 43 other states, including the five NWS, and the three thresholds' ). India's proposed alternative EIF article, based on the Chemical Weapons Convention, would allow for treaty implementation following ratification by at least 65 states, is unacceptable to the NWS in particular Russia, the UK, and China, which refuse to join a CTBT that does not include all the threshold states at the very outset.
Until quite recently, China was holding firm on the right to conduct "peaceful nuclear explosions" (PNEs) under a CTBT regime, objecting to the use of national technical means (NTM) to trigger special on-site inspections (OSI), and preferred a two-thirds (34) over a simple majority (26 out of 51) in the Executive Council (EC) for special OSI. In early June, China compromised and accepted language calling for a review of PNEs in 10 years; and following intensive consultation with the US, on 7 August, agreement was reached on a compromise 30 votes (out of 51) in the EC for special OSI, in return for China's endorsement of the current CTBT draft.
On 7 August, in an attempt to bridge differences, 28 out of the 30member "G21" nonaligned states (excluding South Africa and Chile), tabled a "Proposal for a programme of action for the elimination of nuclear weapons" that calls for the establishment of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament at the CD and a three-phase plan for nuclear disarmament. This initiative though not formally "linked" to a CTBT seeks to delegitimize nuclear weapons in three phases: 1) 19962000, reducing the nuclear threat; 2) 20002010, reducing nuclear arsenals; and 3) 20102020, consolidating a nuclear-weapon-free world. The Asian sponsors include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam. This concept received added legitimacy with the release on 14 August of the "Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons" (CCENW), which proposes a number of steps including removing nuclear forces off alert status, further nuclear arms reductions, a test-ban, cessation of fissile material production for weapons, and verification measures for a nuclear-weapon-free world. Australia will submit the CCENW report to the 51st UN General Assembly in September and to the CD at its next session in January 1997.
The subtext underlying the CD negotiation indicates that nuclear weapon proponents in all five NWS remain uncomfortable with permanently ending nuclear weapon testing because of the impact on their weapons programs and designs for new types of weapons. Some analysts believe that China, Russia, and the UK, in pushing for an EIF formula, that is unacceptable to India, and the NWS in opposing specific nuclear disarmament commitments; would prefer that the CTBT negotiation fail, or that it is drawn out, thus eroding the current informal moratorium and eventually leading to a resumption of nuclear explosive testing within a decade. Similar sentiments are also attributed to the nuclear weapon labs and elements in the military and interagency process in the United States. British and French defence establishments and weapon makers apparently harbour similar aspirations. Reportedly, the UK is unwilling to sign on to a treaty that restricts its nuclear capability, while not imposing similar constraints on that of a former colony, i.e. India. Politically the United States and France, however, seem committed to a CTBT, with the US reportedly keeping the UK and France (and China) in line by agreeing to share nuclear simulation technology. The Russians reluctantly follow along. A CTBT is a major goal for the Clinton administration, and this being a presidential election year in the US, the Republican party has adopted a foreign policy platform that calls for "periodic testing" of nuclear weapons and regards a CTBT as "inconsistent with American security interests"thus bringing additional pressure on Washington not to make any concessions on nuclear disarmament.
India's position couched in the high moral principles of promoting nuclear weapons elimination and ending the division of the world into nuclear haves' and have-nots', nonetheless camouflages other intentions and factors. Since the end of 1994, India's nuclear weapons establishment as well as its Gandhian disarmers have joined in opposing a CTBT in the absence of a legally binding and time-specific framework for total nuclear disarmament a period during which India would maintain its own nuclear capabilities. Their thinking is that in the absence of such a condition, by signing a CTBT, India will be giving up its testing option while the NWS would retain their weapons and technology base and could make qualitative improvements using simulation technologies that are not banned under a CTBT. From a military perspective, India's ballistic missile programmes require the development and testing of miniaturized warheads, and given China's continuing military modernization, Indian planners find it difficult to renounce their nuclear option. Since Pakistan reportedly obtained and improvised on a proven Chinese nuclear warhead design, some believe that India lags behind Pakistan in nuclear weapons expertise even though it conducted a (partially-successful) test explosion in 1974 and thus needs to demonstrate a thermonuclear capability both to secure superiority over Pakistan and deterrence against China. On the other hand, India's power elite recognizes the futility and risks of conducting a "last series" of nuclear tests, in the vein of France and China, not only for political reasons but also out of fear that some Indian nuclear tests could well fail, thus revealing its technological weaknesses. Under these circumstances, only far-reaching commitments by the NWS on nuclear disarmament are likely to sway India's views to favour joining a CTBT.
India's stance paradoxically is reflective of its diplomatic weakness, relative isolation, and lack of wide support among the nonaligned countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nigeria, while sympathetic to India's concerns, still want a CTBT. This is reflected both at the CD and at last year's NPT Conference where the nonaligned hard-liners' neither backed India on its objections to a CTBT nor opposed indefinite extension.
Lately, Iran too is voicing last-minute objections perhaps out of pique against unrelenting US pressure on a variety of fronts. Iran's objections include: a) lack of nuclear disarmament pledges; b) undue reliance on NTM for special OSI, with the danger of misuse; and 3) including Israel in the Middle East/South Asia group, rather than the present Western group, in the EC.
Given Indian and Iranian reservations, the ad hoc NTB committee is unable to adopt the CTBT text and is preparing a "factual report" on its work for the UNGA without appending the draft CTBT. In an attempt to find a way around the absence of consensus, the Western group is considering procedural moves that will result in a group of states bypassing the CD and transmitting the draft CTBT to the UNGA for approval (without making any changes). This option risks a fatal unraveling of the text as, in the 185member UNGA, some nonaligned countries may try to seek "killer" amendments. Another Western-inspired stratagem is to hold a plenary meeting of the CD on 23 August, and to force India and Iran to publicly reject the CTBT and then to face international condemnation. Driving this polarization, in part, are the positions of the US and UK, that the NWS are giving the world a CTBT and hence do not also need to bend to the demands of the nonaligned on nuclear disarmament.
These strategies of bypassing established CD procedures are fraught with danger and could result in losing not only a CTBT but also undermining the CD itself. It is public knowledge that the NWS, with the possible exception of China, would not be unhappy to see the CD undermined or downgraded as the world's sole multilateral arms control negotiating forum. This is because the nonaligned are pushing to set up an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament and it is only a matter of time before the CD would have to consider this item. The NWS do not regard nuclear disarmament as an agenda item for a multilateral forum, and apparently the US would prefer to discuss this issue only within the NPT review process which is a deliberative but not a negotiating mechanism. Unless a CTBT is finalized by the end of September, the first post-NPT extension preparatory committee meeting scheduled for next April is bound to result in disaster.
The current CTBT draft (CD/NTB/WP330.Rev.2) clearly reflects compromises and though by no means a fully satisfactory treaty, it nonetheless is acceptable better an imperfect treaty than none at all, as it would create a norm against testing for both signatories and nonsignatories. Given the danger of opening the text to major renegotiation at the UNGA, and with time running out for concluding a treaty this year at the CD, there is a real risk that failure to nail down a CTBT now will result either in losing the treaty altogether or in prolonged or indefinite postponement, not to mention derailing the strengthened review of the NPT. Nonetheless, there is ample time for some fine tuning on EIF provisions as well as on preambular language on nuclear disarmament in order to conclude a treaty, but this requires deft political leadership and compromises of a type that have been lacking. It is ironic that the US could engage China in a compromise on OSI, but remains unwilling to do the same with India (and Iran), in the interests of achieving a CTBT.
The CTBT essentially is a treaty to permanently end all nuclear explosive tests, in all environments, for all time, and is not designed as a treaty for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, the NWS have not realistically addressed either Indian, or traditional nonnuclear-weapon states' concerns on nuclear disarmament, nor engaged in a meaningful dialogue on future nuclear arms reduction measures. There has always been, and there will always remain, a permanent and indissoluble link between ending nuclear explosive testing and moving down the path of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. In effect, 1996 offers the last best chance to get a CTBT and should this treaty fail then the auguries for nuclear disarmament and a fissile materials convention will become even more bleak, with the real possibility of resumed testing by the NWS and the consequent undermining of the NPT.
(Tariq Rauf is Director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Project at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.)