The Unites States has now a new President in Barack Obama. We do not know as yet whether India will have a new Prime Minister in place of Manmohan Singh after two months. Even if Singh manages another term by overcoming all the odds, the list of which is increasing by every passing day, it is certain that he (and this is equally true for his successor) will find dealing with the United States an increasingly complicated task now that his George W Bush, whom he had once described as ?most popular President in India?, is not there. There are at least four issues of concern in Indo-US relations, despite all the laudatory things that one hears these days in the transformation in India'sties with the United States, particularly after the passage of the vexed Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.
The issues are: Indo-US differences on the talks on the climate change; WTO negotiations, Kashmir issue, and the disarmament matters that include entailing the adoption of the controversial Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). And on all these issues, the stances of India and the Obama administration are quite different, although the Obama administration has responded to India'ssensitivities by not accepting as of now Pakistan'sattempts to establish a linkage between the terrorism in Kashmir and terrorism in Kabul.
Although each one of the issues is important, in this brief essay this writer intends to focus on the proposed CTBT since the matter has not drawn enough attention in our policy circles. Obama'scampaign position on the CTBT was unambiguous: ?I will work with the US Senate to secure ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date?, he had said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is equally keen on the ratification of the CTBT as for her it is the unfinished task of her husband Bill Clinton, who during his Presidency, had made the Treaty his most important foreign policy goal. It is in this context that the appointments of James B Steinberg as Assistant Secretary of State, Dr John Holdren as the Science Advisor to the President and Antony Blinken as the National Security Advisor to the Vice-President appear to be a clear indication that nuclear issues would be firmly back on the diplomatic agenda of the US and the new administration is likely to make a renewed push for the CTBT, abandoned by the Republican Bush Administration.
It may be noted here that during the debates in Parliament over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, Manmohan Singh had said that the deal had no linkage with signing the CTBT, something many American lawmakers had openly talked about when they signed the so-called 123 Agreement to facilitate the nuclear deal with India. Clearly, the Americans, particularly the Democrats, would like India to abandon once and for all its right to conduct another nuclear test. But, is India prepared for it? As of now, India has gone for a unilateral voluntary moratorium on underground nuclear test explosions.
Of course, there are quite a few in India who argue that the country no longer requires any nuclear explosion since the seven tests conducted in 1998 have provided adequate data to scientists to perfect our nuclear weapon programme. They therefore say that there is no problem in signing the CTBT, provided there is an escape clause in this commitment that India'smoratorium of nuclear tests is ?subject to its supreme national interests?. However, this is a dubious argument. Few would buy the logic about the so-called escape clause in the CTBT. After all, all the international treaties have a similar clause. Even the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has this clause. Does this mean that we should be a party to the NPT? Besides, it must be realised that no other nuclear weapon country has perfected the nuclear weaponisation by conducting less than 100 nuclear tests. If India has to have a credible nuclear deterrence, it should have at least 250 to 500 nuclear weapons and that goal cannot be achieved by foreclosing nuclear tests for all time to come. Of course, further tests could be avoided if our scientists get the required expertise and data by conducting what are called sub-critical tests. But that is an option, which should remain with India, not dictated by others.
In fact, more than anything else, the proposed CTBT that the Obama administration is keen to revive and conclude is an affront to India'ssovereignty. Because, the text of the CTBT is unprecedented in an international treaty making. Article XIV of the CTBT contains a peculiar entry-into-force clause, which says that the CTBT must get the approval of 42 countries, including India, Pakistan and Israel, even though they do not believe in it. As Arundhati Ghose, India'sformer permanent representative at Geneva, had once remarked, ?Which country would accept a situation after it has declared its dissatisfaction and, therefore, its decision not to sign, much less, ratify a particular treaty, finds that it is forced by other countries which accept the treaty to sign and ratify it despite being against national interest or else face unspecified ?measures???
If the present text of the CTBT is allowed to become a model then the entire concept of sovereignty of nation-states will require a re-look. It is horrifying to imagine a situation when, for instance, there will be an international treaty demanding India'sobedience to leave Kashmir! . But then, that could become a reality with the likes of the CTBT being around.
During our ongoing electioneering, all our major political parties must make it abundantly clear to the rest of the world, particularly the Obama administration, that India, come what may, will not tolerate any dilution of its sovereign power to take decision in its national interests. If the Obama administration thinks that the CTBT is very important, it is fine with us and we respect the American decision. The US, or for that matter any other country, could go ahead with the CTBT, provided its entry into force clause undergoes a change by delinking India from it. In fact, the CTBT could be patterned on the lines of Chemical Weapons Convention, which, for coming into force, required a minimum number of countries, not any group of countries in particular, being parties.
In fact, it is high time India developed a national consensus, as distinct from political consensus, on the CTBT. The two are not the same. A national consensus goes beyond the country'spolitical class. It involves the country'sintelligentsia, scientific community and the military leadership as well. The military of ?a nuclear-weapon power? like India should contribute their views to the debate on the CTBT, since ultimately it is the soldiers who will be using the nuclear weapons, if required.
(The author is a senior foreign affairs expert and has written many books.)