After refusing for years to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - an international agreement aimed at limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons - both Pakistan and India announced in late September that they were willing to do so. What anticipating a warm applause, announcements by the two prime ministers - Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and Atal Behari Vajpayee of India - during their respective addresses to the United Nation general assembly evoked only a lukewarm response. There was much disappointment among politicians and bureaucrats in both India and Pakistan. Expecting a favourable response leading to the lifting of economic sanctions, the two prime ministers took the plunge at the UN general assembly, only to realize that they had perhaps miscalculated the stakes in the nuke business.
Since May 1998, when the two South Asian States conducted nuclear tests, economic sanctions have been imposed restricting much-needed flow of capital to both. Pakistan’s economy suffered immediate and severe drag as it is more dependent on international aid and investment. The ruling elite in Pakistan believed that if they took the lead in announcing a willingness to sign the CTBT, the west and international lending institutions would consider their case more favourably for lifting sanctions.
In his address to the general assembly, Sharif alluded to this when he said, ‘In this regard, we expect that the arbitrary restrictions imposed on Pakistan by multilateral institutions will be speedily removed.’ International lending agencies and major donor States have expressed appreciation for a move towards CTBT but have remained non-committal about lifting sanctions. What India and Pakistan fail to realize is the fact that the CTBT was designed to prevent new members from entering the nuclear club through the back door. Since both Delhi and Islamabad are perceived to have gate-crashed, the CTBT has partially lost its appeal and mandate. The five confirmed nuclear States - the US, China, Russia, France and Great Britain - have been leading proponents of CTBT since it does not require them to eliminate or reduce their nuclear stockpiles. The treaty does not even prohibit them from producing more nuclear weapons. It only prevents non-nuclear States from attaining nuclear status. This explains why both India and Pakistan received a lukewarm response despite announcing their willingness to adhere to the CTBT.
It is widely known that after thousands of nuclear explosions, the five nuclear States have collected sufficient data and developed computer simulation techniques to reduce the need for further testing. Thus, these States have the ability to produce more nuclear weapons without conducting additional nuclear tests. For the three nuclear ‘threshold’ States - India, Pakistan, and Israel - plus North Korea, testing a self-engineered nuclear weapon is essential. Putting a ban on testing and thus forcing them to sign the treaty would have placed a cap on the number of nuclear States.
Since the tests in May, the nuclear paradigm has changed permanently. Although Pakistan and India have offered conditional restraint on nuclear testing, the fact remains that both possess nuclear weapons and perhaps the ability to deliver these weapons, using short-range missiles. The international lending agencies, which take their orders from the US, realize that CTBT has failed to prevent India and Pakistan from detonating, and there is no guarantee that the treaty would restrict other States from doing so in future.
Of the 44 countries that possess nuclear reactors, 41 have already signed the treaty. India, Pakistan and North Korea are the exceptions. In order for the treaty to come into effect, all 44 States must not only sign but also ratify the treaty. To date 10 countries, including Britain and France, have already ratified the treaty. The other three nuclear powers - the US, China, and Russia - have signed but are reluctant to ratify it.
To date the US has been one of the strongest proponents of CTBT. However, America’s domestic outlook on foreign policy is quite different from its international outlook. This dichotomy has proven to be the biggest drawback in CTBT becoming a reality. On the international front, the US has led the campaign to get CTBT ratified. Within the US, the Republican-dominated senate has refused to ratify the treaty. In the past few months, the balance of power has shifted in favour of the Republican Party, which now controls the US congress.
A witch-hunt initiated by the Republicans against Bill Clinton, a democrat, has weakened the president politically. It is very unlikely that Clinton will be able to influence congress to ratify CTBT before his term ends in 2000. With the US sidelined, Russia and China have no incentive to unilaterally ratify the treaty, indicating a slow demise for CTBT.
The shift in American foreign policy is thus evident in light of the change in political balance in domestic US politics. Once the cornerstone of American nuke-policy, the CTBT has suddenly been put on the backburner. This was reflected in the comments by US secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who while welcoming the CTBT initiative by India and Pakistan called it ‘small steps’ towards adhering to the treaty. It is ironic that before the May nuclear explosions, the decision to adhere to CTBT was considered a giant leap forward.
The west has given no indication of lifting sanctions even after compliance with the CTBT. The much-publicized announcements by India and Pakistan also failed to entice the US president to keep to his previously-announced schedule of visiting South Asia in November. Within a week of Pakistan’s announcement at the UN that it was willing to adhere to the CTBT, Clinton cancelled his previously scheduled trip to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
As last May’s tests in South Asia have raised the nuclear stakes by increasing the number of players to seven, it is evident that the west would shift its focus from CTBT to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The west’s next goal is to limit the strike range of delivery systems for weapons in South Asia. Both India and Pakistan have embarked upon developing strategic short- to mid-range missile systems.
While the Indian missile and nuclear advances might be considered as a latent deterrence against nuclear China, Pakistan’s advances in un-conventional military technology are always perceived as a threat to Israel. Limiting Pakistan’s ability, as well as that of Iran’s, to carry out a strike of over 1,000 kilometres is going to be the next most ‘crucial’ element of western policy objective. The lifting of economic sanctions may now be linked to Pakistan’s adherence to the MTCR.
The west is about to move the goal posts for Pakistan.
Muslimedia: October 16-31, 1998