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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
South Asian Nuclear Tests Cloud Prospect for CTBT Ratification
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Craig Cerniello

DESPITE THE Clinton administration's increased efforts to achieve Senate action on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the prospects for ratification this year have not improved in the aftermath of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in May. While the administration has pointed to the nuclear testing in South Asia as a reason why it is now even more important for the Senate to act on the CTBT, key Republican senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), have argued that the new testing makes the treaty irrelevant. India, for its part, appears to have taken a more conciliatory tone with respect to the CTBT, but it is not clear what conditions New Delhi places on its becoming a signatory. Throughout May, President Clinton repeatedly called on India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT "immediately and without conditions."

Earlier this year, the administration began a campaign to raise the visibility of the CTBT with the Senate and American public. (See ACT, January/February 1998.) Following India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests, the administration renewed its push for immediate Senate action on the test ban. In a May 16 radio address just days after the Indian nuclear tests, Clinton said, "Now it's all the more important that the Senate act quickly, this year, [on the CTB] so that we can increase the pressure on, and isolation of, other nations that may be considering their own nuclear test explosions." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during her May 20 commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said, "Now, more than ever, India should sign [the CTB Treaty]; and Pakistan, too. And it is doubly important for the Senate to act quickly to approve that treaty. American leadership on this issue should be unambiguous, decisive and strong."

Although the events in South Asia have not generated any new opposition to the CTBT on Capitol Hill, key critics show no sign of changing their views any time soon. In a strongly worded statement issued May 29, Lott said, "The nuclear spiral in Asia demonstrates the irrelevance of U.S. action on the [CTBT]. The CTBT will not enter into force unless 44 countries—including India and Pakistan—ratify it. That is not likely. Instead, it now appears likely that the Administration's push for the CTBT actually accelerated the greatest proliferation disaster in decades: two new nuclear powers emerging in the last few weeks."

In addition, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) still treats the treaty as a low priority, refusing to even schedule committee hearings until after it has considered and voted on the amendments to the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The administration, however, does not plan to submit the ABM agreements to the Senate until after Russia has ratified START II, a move that is not expected before this fall at the earliest. It also has no immediate plans to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate, due to the lack of participation by key developing countries.

Nevertheless, proponents of the test ban continue to show their unwavering support for the treaty. In his May 13 floor remarks, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) said, "[T]he nuclear detonation in India makes it more important than ever that the United States move ahead with leadership to try to defuse the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and that the Senate should act promptly to ratify the [CTBT]." In a May 19 dear colleague letter, Senators Specter and Joseph Biden (D-DE) asked for co-sponsorship of a non-binding sense of the Senate resolution calling on the Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing or hearings on the CTBT and the full Senate to debate and vote on its ratification "as expeditiously as possible." The Specter-Biden resolution, which had not been formally introduced at the end of May, currently has 32 co-sponsors. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Carl Levin (D-MI) also urged the Armed Services Committee to promptly hold hearings on the CTBT in a June 3 letter to committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-SC).

 

Damage Control

After announcing that it had conducted three nuclear tests at the Pokhran range on May 11, India immediately showed some apparent flexibility on the CTBT—an agreement that it had vowed never to sign during the final phases of the treaty negotiations in 1996. According to its press statement, "India would be prepared to consider being an adherent to some of the undertakings in the [CTB] Treaty. But this cannot obviously be done in a vacuum. It would necessarily be an evolutionary process from concept to commitment and would depend on a number of reciprocal activities."

After announcing two more sub-kiloton nuclear tests on May 13, India reiterated its offer to adhere to the CTBT and declared that it had completed its planned series of tests. Furthermore, on May 19, India's ambassador to the United States, Naresh Chandra, said, "India is willing to engage with key interlocutors from the nuclear weapons states and other countries to reach as soon as possible a position where we undertake the substantive undertakings contained in the [CTB] treaty." Two days later, a senior Indian official said New Delhi would like to "formalize" its moratorium on nuclear testing.

Pakistan, which announced that it had conducted five tests of its own on May 28 and an additional test on May 30, has maintained that it is willing to sign the CTBT if India does. In assessing its position on the test ban, Pakistani Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Munir Akram stated on June 2 that Islamabad needs to know whether India plans to conduct additional nuclear tests and whether New Delhi will be recognized as a nuclear- or non-nuclear-weapon state under the CTBT (although the treaty, unlike the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, makes no such distinction).

Given China's strong denunciation of the Indian tests, some observers had initially feared that Beijing might decide to re-evaluate its status under the CTBT, which it signed in 1996. Chinese President Jiang Zemin put these fears to rest on June 3, however, when he said, "China will not resume nuclear testing."