India's NSA: nuclear testing is not needed; time for a "full-fledged discussion on the CTBT"

Last week, a retired Indian defense scientist, K. Santhanam, claimed 10 years after the fact, that one of India's nuclear tests in 1998 was a fizzle. He said in a press interview that the yield in the thermonuclear device test was much lower than what was claimed. Mr. Santhanam, who only cited unspecified seismic measurements and expert opinion from world over, said that due to the failed test, India should not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The Indian government has strongly refuted Santhanam's charges.Principal Scientific Adviser R. Chidambaram told The Hindu that those questioning the tests' yield had an obligation to back up their charge with scientific evidence.

Further, India's National Security Advisor M. K. Naranyanan said in an interview published in The Hindu on August 30, "As of now, we are steadfast in our commitment to the moratorium. At least there is no debate in the internal circles about this.

Asked if India would have no problem signing the treaty if the others whose ratification is required for CTBT entry into force (especially the U.S. and China) did so, Mr. Narayanan remarked that, "I think we need to now have a full-fledged discussion on the CTBT. We'll cross that hurdle when we come to it"Mr. Narayanan's statement is a clear sign that other Annex II states are thinking afresh about the Treaty. It has been ten years since India has seriously considered the CTBT. In September 1999, then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told the 53rd UN General Assembly that India would not be among the last states standing in the way of the treaty's entry into force. Unfortunately, over the past decade, neither India nor Pakistan have transformed their de facto nuclear test moratoria into a legally-binding commitments not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

It is past time for India's current leaders to make good on Prime Minister Vajpayee's promise to the General Assembly and move toward joining the near-consensus on the CTBT. U.S. Representative Edward Markey sent a letter this week to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing his concern over the nuclear arms race in South Asia and asking the Obama administration to "encourage" India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT and halt production of nuclear-weapon fissile material.

"The United States should encourage both countries (India and Pakistan) to abide by their current nuclear test moratorium and to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban. The United States should encourage both countries to halt the production of nuclear weapons-usable fissile material, pending the entry into force of a globally binding Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty," he urged Clinton.