"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

India, Pakistan May Be Moving Toward CTBT

Recent moves by Indian and Pakistani leaders suggest that the two South Asian nations, which conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May, are edging toward signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told the BBC Hindi service on September 7 that India would sign the treaty if it were recognized as a nuclear power. A senior official in the prime minister's office was cited by The Times of India on September 9 as saying, "We believe that adhering to the CTBT will not jeopardize our security concerns." In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government on September 11 called a joint session of parliament to debate signing the CTBT, a move that may reflect a government decision to sign the test ban.

Driving the Indian and Pakistani governments is the weight of international sanctions imposed following the two countries' nuclear tests of May 11 and 13 and May 28 and 30, respectively. Indian officials have told reporters that in return for signing the CTBT, New Delhi expects the removal of these sanctions, as well as the lifting of Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime restrictions on India's purchases of nuclear and missile technology. Islamabad's signature of the test ban may come more easily, as Pakistan is in desperate need of international economic assistance that is being withheld as a consequence of the May tests.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has led U.S. efforts to persuade the two South Asian states to adhere to an international arms control agenda that includes signing the test ban. The Clinton administration, which imposed sanctions required by U.S. law after the two sets of tests, has been supporting congressional efforts to provide presidential waiver authority for the sanctions in order to enhance the administration's negotiating flexibility.

Brazil Moves to Join CTBT, NPT

June/July 1998

Brazil deposited its instrument of ratification for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on July 24 and the Brazilian legislature ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on July 13. Brazil is expected to formally deposit its instrument of accession for the NPT in the next few weeks.

Brazil is among the 44 states whose ratification is required for the CTBT's entry into force. Eight other such states (Australia, Austria, Britain, France, Japan, Peru, Slovakia and Spain) have already deposited their instruments of ratification. As of the end of July, the CTBT has been signed by 150 states and ratified by 17.

Brazil will become the 186th state to accede to the NPT, leaving only four states (Cuba, India, Israel and Pakistan) outside of the regime.

Brazil Moves to Join CTBT, NPT 

Holding the CTBT Hostage in the Senate: The 'Stealth' Strategy of Helms and Lott

June/July 1998

By Daryl G. Kimball

In the present climate of partisan political conflict that seems to pervade every foreign and security policy issue before Congress, two powerful Senate leaders are actively blocking consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—the longest-sought nuclear arms control goal since the dawn of the nuclear age. In the months following President Bill Clinton's September 1997 transmittal of the agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R NC), with the full support of Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), has refused to hold a single formal committee hearing on the pact. Although their opposition to the CTBT is out of step with the vast majority of the American people and a growing majority of senators, including all Democrats as well as other Republicans, their blocking actions will almost certainly push the CTBT debate into 1999 and perhaps beyond. Further delay carries high risks.

Senate inaction on the CTBT threatens to undermine the U.S. leadership role in ending nuclear testing and curbing nuclear proliferation around the globe, especially in South Asia. The May test explosions by India and Pakistan have shaken the non-proliferation regime and threaten a nuclear arms race on the subcontinent unless both nations accede—at the earliest possible time—to a de jure ban on further tests and agree to freeze their nuclear weapons programs. The already difficult effort to secure India's and Pakistan's accession to the test ban, which has now been signed by 150 states, will be undermined as long as Lott and Helms hold the CTBT hostage.

At the end of July, only 17 countries have ratified the treaty, including nine of the 44 states which must ratify the accord to trigger its entry into force. U.S. ratification and leadership on the CTBT is needed to secure ratification by other key nations, including Russia, China, Israel as well as India and Pakistan. Many signatories are no doubt waiting for the United States, Russia and China to act on the treaty (Britain and France ratified in April), as the accord's provisions are primarily intended to halt further improvements and developments in the programs of the five nuclear-weapon states.

Moreover, failure on the part of the Senate to promptly approve the CTBT risks the possibility that the United States will not be a state-party to the treaty when the first significant CTBT "deadline" arrives next year, possibly as early as September. Under the provisions of the treaty, if the test ban has not entered into force three years after it opened for signature, a special conference of states-parties could be convened to help expedite entry into force.

As a signatory, the United States would be able to attend the conference as an observer, but it could be limited in its ability to influence the necessary consensus decision.

Finally, if the United States, Russia and China have not ratified the CTBT by 2000, the next review conference on the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) scheduled for that year may produce further challenges to that treaty's credibility and authority. Indeed, the commitment by the nuclear-weapon states to achieve a comprehensive test ban in 1996 was a major reason why the non-nuclear-weapon states agreed to the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995.


Ingredients for Success

Presidents and congressional leaders can act on major legislation and treaties expeditiously—when they choose to do so. Thirty five years ago this September, President John F. Kennedy, backed by strong anti nuclear sentiment, secured Senate approval of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) only seven weeks after it was signed in Moscow, and a mere three weeks after he transmitted the treaty to the Senate for its approval. In 1972, only 10 weeks after President Richard Nixon signed the ABM Treaty, the Senate approved it by an overwhelming vote of 88-2.

The records of the 1963 LTBT ratification debate and other Senate arms control treaty debates, including the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which was approved only last year, demonstrate that securing the support of two thirds of the Senate requires several key ingredients and some fortuitous timing. Among the factors are strong leadership from the executive branch and skill in working with Congress; broad support among the public and opinion-makers and the ability to harness that into Senate support; support from key Senate leaders and other influential senators (particularly Republicans); favorable international events; and, given that elected officials rarely take action on even the most urgent of issues unless they are forced to, the presence of a deadline for consideration of a treaty.


A Promising Start

At the time of the president's State of the Union address in January 1998, in which he called for approval of the treaty by the end of the year, the prospects for Senate action on the CTBT appeared to be improving. The president and his point-man for the treaty, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Robert Bell, kicked off efforts with the powerful endorsement for Senate approval of the CTBT from four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—General John Shalikashvili (1993–1997); General Colin Powell (1989–1993); Admiral William Crowe (1985–1989); and General David Jones (1978–1982).

The Joint Chiefs' statement was quickly followed by important votes of confidence from other key constituencies. During Clinton's tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory in February, the directors of the nation's three major nuclear weapons laboratories announced: "We are confident that the [Department of Energy's] Stockpile Stewardship program will enable us to maintain America's nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing." Only days later, the American Association for the Advancement of Science added its voice, urging the Senate to approve the treaty "as soon as possible."

In major speeches and op eds, cabinet officials and treaty proponents in the Senate made the case for U.S. leadership on the test ban. Recalling that the negotiation and implementation of a CTBT has been a goal of Democratic and Republican presidents beginning with Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February:

An essential part of our strategy to reduce the nuclear danger is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty now pending before the Senate. By ending testing, we can hinder both the development and spread of new and more dangerous weapons. The CTBT…has the support of 70 percent of the American people. And it holds the promise of a world forever free of nuclear explosions. But if we are to fulfill this promise, America must lead the way this year in ratifying the Treaty, just as we did in negotiating and signing it. Mr. Chairman, I respectfully seek an early opportunity to testify before this Committee on a treaty that our citizens want and our interests demand.(1)


Helms' 'Stealth Campaign'

By January, however, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee had already staked out his position. In a January 21 letter to Clinton, Helms stated that the committee would only consider the CTBT after the panel and the Senate dealt with recently signed agreements related to the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Convention on Climate Change—neither of which have been transmitted to the Senate:

Mr. President, I feel obliged to make clear to you my concern that your Administration has been unwisely and unnecessarily engaged in delay in submitting these treaties to the Senate for its advice and consent. Despite your commitment, made nearly eight months ago, to submit the amendments to the ABM Treaty to the Senate, we have yet to see them. Ironically, while the Administration has delayed in submitting these vital treaties to the Senate, some in your Administration have indicated that the White House will press the Senate for swift ratification of the [CTBT], immediately following the vote on NATO expansion. Such a deliberate confrontation would be exceedingly unwise because, Mr. President, the CTBT is very low on the Committee's list of priorities. The treaty has no chance of entering into force for a decade or more.

Of course, Helms' accusation of Clinton administration foot dragging on submitting the ABM protocols conveniently ignores the fact that the administration negotiated and signed the agreements (to multilateralize the treaty and codify restraints on theater missile defense systems) to help induce the Russian Duma to ratify the long delayed START II accord. Senate action on the ABM protocols prior to Duma ratification of START II could unravel the already uncertain U.S. Russian strategic arms control process, especially if the Senate rejected the agreements.

Nevertheless, Helms' refusal to allow his committee to consider the CTBT serves at least two purposes. First, by holding the treaty hostage to the ballistic missile defense goals of right wing critics of the administration's programs, Helms is seeking to shift blame for inaction on nuclear security matters from the Senate leadership to the executive branch. His stalling on the CTBT is a thinly veiled attempt to force early Senate consideration and rejection of the ABM protocols that, in Helms' view, might result in the abrogation of the ABM Treaty itself. Such developments would, at the very least, further reduce prospects for Russian ratification of START II and the pursuit of other nuclear risk reduction initiatives. Second, Helms' strenuous opposition serves to intimidate many Senate Republicans—who are now characterized as undecided on the treaty—from openly expressing support for the test ban. Loathe to expend their political capital fighting the powerful chairman over a treaty for which there is no clear deadline for action, only a handful of Republicans have publicly called for prompt Senate consideration or approval of the treaty.

Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has argued that the Republican leaders "do not even want to debate us on the merits. Tangentially, legitimate questions are raised, but [CTBT opponents] refuse to raise them in…either the committee and/or on the Senate floor. And so what you have is a stealth campaign here to kill this treaty by not allowing it to come up." In Biden's opinion, "[I]f we had a hearing and had a vote on the CTBT, we would win overwhelmingly."(2)

Yet, despite the Clinton administration's high profile call to action and overwhelming support for the treaty from editorial writers across the country,(3) undecided senators have refrained from publicly declaring their support for the CTBT even though no new opposition to the treaty materialized through the first several months of the year. As long as this political stalemate continues, Helms' strategy of avoiding hearings and a floor vote on the popular treaty may continue to work.


South Asia's Nuclear Wake-Up Call

Since the 1950s, world leaders have sought a test ban treaty to help curb nuclear arms races through a prohibition on nuclear testing, which is important for the development of new and more advanced bomb types. The basic obligation of the CTBT, which commits states-parties not to undertake "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion," will help end the qualitative improvement of nuclear arsenals. Although first conceived to deal with the U.S. Soviet nuclear rivalry, more recently the treaty is also considered vital to putting the brakes on regional nuclear arms competition. The May 1998 nuclear blasts by India and Pakistan certainly made many policy makers, including several senators, reconsider the political and security benefits of the CTBT.

In a May 13 statement, Senator Tom Harkin (D IA) conveyed the views of many Senate test ban advocates:

I believe we need to press ahead with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty…. In fact, we thought we were going to get it all done in August of 1996, except one nation walked out and refused to sign it—India. And now we know why. Is it too late for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? I don't believe so. In fact, I believe what has happened in India more than anything indicates that we have to act now in the U.S. Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.(4)

In the days and weeks following the tests, administration officials reiterated that message. In his May 16 radio address from the Group of Eight (G 8) summit in Birmingham, England, Clinton said, "Now it's all the more important that the Senate act quickly [on the CTBT], this year, so that we can increase the pressure on, and the isolation of, other nations that may be considering their own nuclear test explosions."

Most significantly, however, the South Asian nuclear crisis re engaged many senators on nuclear weapons issues, which recently had been overshadowed by other foreign policy concerns such as NATO expansion and the military conflict in Kosovo. Senator Arlen Specter (R PA) was prompted to express his support for Senate approval of the CTBT for the first time. Together with Biden, Specter circulated a non-binding "Sense of the Senate" resolution that calls on the Foreign Relations Committee to hold hearings and calls on the Senate to debate and vote on the issue "as expeditiously as possible."

In a May 19 letter to other senators seeking co sponsors, Specter and Biden warned that "failure by the United States Senate to ratify the treaty may give rise to an inference that the United States government is not serious about banning nuclear testing and may, in effect, encourage or at least not discourage such testing."

Other Republican senators joined the call for prompt CTBT hearings, including Judd Gregg (NH), Jim Jeffords (NH) and Olympia Snowe (ME). On May 28, Snowe spoke out for the first time on the test ban: "I strongly believe that the appropriate committees of Congress…must hold hearings and consider the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty before both legislative bodies adjourn for the year in October."(5)

While the South Asian tests injected a new sense of urgency among treaty proponents and led additional senators to express support for the test ban, they also prompted Helms and Lott, at least initially, to dig in, repeating their standard concerns about the CTBT's verifiability and the ability of the U.S. weapons laboratories to maintain a safe and reliable deterrent force without test explosions. But the two senators have since moved even further away from the views of the vast majority of American voters as to how to deal with the crisis. In the majority leader's first significant statement on the treaty, Lott suggested that the CTBT had actually prompted India to conduct the tests: "[I]t now appears 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."(6) The assertion is false.

Since the 1960s, India has pursued and preserved its "nuclear option" and now, with the ascendancy of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has long advocated that India "induct" nuclear weapons into its military arsenal, that option has been exercised and demonstrated. The reality is that India has so far refused to sign the CTBT because it wants to retain the nuclear option, not because the United States (and 149 other countries) are pressing for a test ban. As Biden has argued: "…India and Pakistan refused to sign that treaty precisely because they did not want to sign it and then violate it. International norms do matter. That's why we should consider the treaty as soon as possible."(7) And despite the fact that India's and Pakistan's tests did not violate international law because neither country is a state-party to the CTBT or the NPT, Lott claims the May tests make the CTBT "irrelevant." Helms argues, somewhat differently, that the United States should "refuse to allow India to paper over its actions by signing the CTBT," even as he criticizes India and Pakistan for their nuclear blasts.

Such approaches are illogical and counterproductive to the goal of reducing the danger of a regional nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan or India and China. The day after India completed its second test series, Ambassador Paul Warnke warned that "to back off our own commitment to global adherence to the [test ban] treaty would only give aid and comfort to nuclear adventurism in South Asia."(8) It is naive to think that additional nuclear explosions by New Delhi or Islamabad would be of no significance. Such tests would allow additional refinement of nuclear warhead designs—including miniaturization and reliability improvements—and would further escalate tensions and increase the risk of a nuclear conflict.

While Lott and Helms dismiss the CTBT as a key component of the strategy to curb the arms race in South Asia, they fail to offer meaningful alternatives. In a May 29 press statement, Lott suggested that U.S. policy "should shift [to] multilateral sanctions and a reappraisal of U.S. export control, proliferation and arms control policies" as a consequence of the "nuclear spiral in Asia."

The sanctions imposed by the United States and other governments do help send a message to India, Pakistan and others that nuclear testing is contrary to the will of the international community. But sanctions are only useful if they are combined with efforts to encourage the offending states to abandon the policies and behaviors that triggered sanctions and prod them to adopt policies that contribute to international stability and security. In the case of India and Pakistan, the international community must encourage both states to join the CTBT without conditions; refrain from nuclear weapons deployment; end fissile material production for weapons purposes; and resolve their dispute over Kashmir, perhaps the key for heading off a future conflict on the subcontinent. Sanctions and policy reappraisals alone will do nothing to reverse the dangerous course of events in South Asia.

Lott also suggests that U.S. policy should shift from pressing for implementation of the CTBT—the very treaty that would prohibit the tests that set off the recent crisis—to the construction of "effective" missile defenses. Not only are such defenses not cost effective, but to date there is no evidence that such systems can work. While missile defenses may play some future role in protecting forward deployed U.S. military personnel from very limited attack, ballistic missile defenses have no practical bearing on the nuclear arms crisis that exists today in South Asia.

The CTBT critics' argument of last resort is that the accord's entry-into-force provision means that the treaty is unlikely to take effect for several years, and that the South Asian tests underscore the non-support of two of the 44 named states. In fact, the May tests have shaken the Indian government's previously firm position against participation in the CTBT. U.S. diplomacy, led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, combined with global criticism and economic and financial sanctions have led both India's and Pakistan's political leadership to reconsider joining the test ban regime. While an affront to the global non testing norm, India's and Pakistan's tests may in the long run help expedite the CTBT's entry into force. However, leadership on the test ban by the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states will be necessary to realize that goal.

Reaction to the Indian and Pakistani tests and the CTBT from American opinion-makers outside the capital contrasts sharply with that of the treaty's opponents in the Senate. Since India's tests on May 11, nearly every major newspaper editorial on the subject expressed strong condemnation of the decision of both Indian and Pakistani leaders to conduct the tests and the need for U.S. leadership on the CTBT. Over 40 newspaper editorials have advocated prompt Senate consideration or approval of the CTBT; only two editorials appeared opposing the treaty. Even Denver's conservative Rocky Mountain News blasted Helms for his delaying tactics:

Because of its Helms inspired lollygagging, the United States has sacrificed moral authority as well as leadership on the issue. U.S. action on the treaty could prompt action by other nations. Once it is in force, there would be enormous political pressure on all nations to live up to its terms. Because it takes testing to further develop weapons, current U.S. advantages would be locked in. The best way for Helms to serve America's national security interests is not to keep thwarting a vote by the full Senate, but to allow one.(9)


Vox Populi

Perhaps the most powerful factor working in favor of Senate approval of the CTBT is the American public's decades-long call for a comprehensive test ban treaty. While some treaty opponents believed that the Indian and Pakistani explosions would severely test the public's support for the CTBT, the results of new bipartisan opinion polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of American voters want the Senate to approve the CTBT and that voters strongly disagree with the arguments put forth by Helms and Lott. Moreover, support for the treaty is strong among Republicans, Democrats and independents, and among all demographic and geographic groups in six states considered pivotal to the outcome of the ratification debate.

On July 29, during a press briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by CTBT supporters, Senators Biden and Specter released the results of new public opinion survey data on the CTBT, the South Asian tests and appropriate U.S. responses to the crisis. The opinion surveys were conducted jointly by Wirthlin Worldwide, a Republican firm, and The Mellman Group, Inc., a Democratic polling firm, for the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers. The findings are based on surveys conducted jointly by the two companies in June 1998 in six states where there are one or more undecided senators (Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah), and a national survey conducted days after India's May 11 and 13 nuclear blasts.(10)

When asked: "Do you think the U.S. Senate should approve a Treaty with 140 other countries that would prohibit underground nuclear weapons explosions worldwide?", approximately three out of every four voters say the treaty should be approved. In the aftermath of the Indian and Pakistani tests, public support for a treaty in the six states is stronger than that found in the nationwide poll conducted in May. (See Figure 1.) In no state does support for the test ban from Republican, Democratic, or independent voters drop below 70 percent. (See Figure 2.) Support for the CTBT is also strong among all demographic groups, including veterans and voters with family members who have served in the military.

The results of the new surveys are consistent with those from 11 nationwide polls on the test ban conducted since 1957, when President Eisenhower first sought a nuclear test ban. While poll questions have varied somewhat over the years, the public has steadily and strongly supported an end to nuclear weapons testing at levels ranging from 61 percent to 85 percent.(11)(See Figure 3.)

The Indian and Pakistani tests have penetrated the public's consciousness: at least eight out of every 10 voters in each state surveyed say they have heard about the tests, and equal numbers say the tests pose a "serious threat to international security." In several states, the more voters have heard about the tests, the greater their support for the CTBT.

CTBT Not 'Irrelevant'

The arguments offered by Lott and Helms suggesting that the South Asian tests make the CTBT "irrelevant" and make early deployment of national missile defense all the more important are clearly at odds with the views of the voting public in the six key states. According to the bipartisan polls, approximately seven out of 10 voters in each state believe the recent tests by India and Pakistan "demonstrate how important it is for the U.S. to ratify and encourage global implementation of the CTBT." (See Figure 4.)

Voters in five of the states were asked whether they "favor" or "oppose" seven possible responses to the Indian and Pakistani tests, and again, their views are at odds with those of Helms and Lott. The policy options include:


  • Urging India and Pakistan to approve the test ban treaty: 84 percent to 91 percent favor; 6 percent to 9 percent oppose;


  • Utilizing the United Nations to mediate: 79 percent to 86 percent favor; 11 percent to 16 percent oppose;


  • Senate ratification of the CTBT: 70 percent to 79 percent in favor; 13 percent to 18 percent oppose;


  • Imposing strong economic and political sanctions: 58 percent to 70 percent favor; 22 percent to 31 percent oppose; and


  • Increasing military spending to develop and deploy a nuclear missile defense: 23 percent to 39 percent favor; 55 percent to 73 percent oppose.


The voters' staunch support for the CTBT may be attributed to their belief that the test ban affords the United States more protection than would the resumption of nuclear tests. By a wide margin (with 71 to 85 percent in favor), voters in the five states believe that "having an international treaty that prohibits all tests" is a better way to protect the United States from the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries than "having the U.S. resume conducting nuclear tests" (favored by 8 to 18 percent).

Deadlock Remains

In the absence of hearings and a scheduled vote on the treaty, most Republican senators who are likely to vote for CTBT ratification have thus far chosen not to openly disagree with their party's leaders and risk political retribution on other matters. This factor, combined with the view of many observers that the executive branch has still not committed sufficient political capital on the treaty to make action in 1998 likely, has led several key senators to withhold their support of the Specter Biden "Sense of the Senate" resolution. One Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he believes that the Senate should consider the CTBT "more quickly," but he does not believe that the Specter-Biden resolution is "the appropriate way" to pursue committee consideration of the treaty.(12)

Specter and Biden have suggested that they might try to remind the Senate of its test ban responsibilities in other, if less direct, ways. Despite concerns about verifying compliance with the treaty, some CTBT critics on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations seek to eliminate $28.9 million in fiscal year 1999 funding for the CTBT Preparatory Commission (PrepCom). The PrepCom is responsible for establishing the treaty's International Monitoring System (IMS), the global network of over 320 official monitoring stations, and the International Data Center (IDC), which collects and disseminates monitoring data for test ban verification. Specter and Biden seek to restore full funding, arguing that the matter illustrates the hypocrisy of those who question the verifiability of the CTBT but fail to support global test ban monitoring and verification systems that would improve U.S. intelligence capabilities—whether the CTBT is ratified or not.


Into 1999

Not unlike the circumstances that delayed consideration of the CWC in 1996 and pushed debate and final approval into 1997 (only days before the convention was to enter into force), Helms, in his role as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is again blocking Senate consideration of an important treaty that would serve U.S. security interests. Helms' strident opposition to the CWC and his linkage of the treaty's consideration by his committee to unrelated "Republican priorities"—including the same ABM Treaty and missile defense issues—prevented the committee from ever "reporting out" the accord. It was only after Lott, as Senate majority leader, reached a unanimous consent agreement with the Democratic leadership and the White House that the CWC was released from Helms' committee and scheduled for a vote. Following Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole's last minute announcement that he was dropping his opposition to the treaty and now favored its approval—the day before the floor vote—the Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification in a 74-26 vote. In the end, even Lott supported the treaty, citing the "real and lasting consequences" of a U.S. failure to ratify and that "the credibility of commitments made by two presidents, one Republican and one Democrat, is at stake."

While it appears the final vote on the CTBT has been pushed back another year, the recent debate on the treaty and the results of the bipartisan public opinion surveys confirm that the political elements essential to winning Senate approval are present today. These key ingredients, however, have not yet been combined to reach the critical mass necessary to overcome the Senate leadership's ability to block hearings and the floor vote that would likely result in Senate approval.

But several factors and potential new developments may alter the political dynamics in the Senate in a manner that improves prospects for U.S. ratification of the CTBT. The new political and military dynamics created by the recent Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests raise the stakes for U.S. ratification and global entry into force of the CTBT.

Ironically, the tests may also create the conditions for Indian and Pakistani participation in the test ban regime, which would vastly improve the prospects for global entry into force. Substantive progress toward Indian and/or Pakistani signature of the CTBT within the next several months would substantially increase pressure on the Senate to approve the treaty. And while the absence of a clear deadline for action on the CTBT hindered efforts to secure Senate hearings and a vote, the convening of a special conference by states-parties to the CTBT as soon as September 1999 may provide the impetus necessary to force Senate action on the treaty.

Helms and Lott may be persuaded to relent in other ways. According to Helms' spokesman, Marc Thiessen, "Chairman Helms hasn't said he was opposed under all circumstances to the CTBT."(13) Though its chances in the Duma look remote now, if Russia finally approves START II the Clinton administration will likely transmit the ABM Treaty protocols to the Senate, meeting Helms' key prerequisite for CTBT consideration. Failing Foreign Relations Committee hearings and a commitment to a vote on the CTBT, senators supportive of the test ban could, at some point, hold up Senate business until the Senate agrees to schedule a vote on the CTBT. It was in such a manner that the Senate leadership finally agreed to debate and vote on START II ratification in January 1996.

Public support for the CTBT is overwhelming, and U.S. opinion-makers seem clearly behind the treaty. However, test ban supporters must more effectively translate this support into political leadership for the treaty, especially from influential Republican senators. Of course, the most important factor affecting the course of the CTBT debate will be the ability of the executive branch to focus its energy and commit the significant political resources necessary to mount an all out effort, at the right time, even as it addresses other foreign policy priorities and political crises.



1. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Opening Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 10, 1998. [Back]

2. Transcript of July 29, 1998 press briefing: "National Security Merits of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, Washington, DC. Available from the Coalition web site: http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/comb0729.htm[Back]

3. In the period following the transmittal of the CTBT to the Senate on September 22, 1997, and India's first nuclear test series on May 11, 1998, 33 major newspaper editorials expressed support for Senate approval of the treaty while none were written in opposition to the CTBT. [Back]

4. "Nuclear Detonations in India," The Congressional Record, May 13, 1998, page S4817. [Back]

5. "Statement by Senator Snowe on Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," Office of Senator Olympia Snowe, May 28, 1998. [Back]

6. "Nuclear arms race in Asia makes test ban treaty irrelevant, Lott says," Office of Senator Trent Lott, May 29, 1998. [Back]

7. Laura Meyers, "Test Ban Treaty Faces Uphill Battle," Associated Press, May 30, 1998. [Back]

8. Paul Warnke, "The Unratified Treaty," The New York Times, May 14, 1998. [Back]

9. "Approve Test Ban Treaty," Rocky Mountain News, May 18, 1998, page 36A. [Back]

10. "Presentation of Findings from Statewide Surveys in Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah," by The Mellman Group, Inc. and Wirthlin Worldwide, July 1998. Interviews of registered voters in Nebraska (n=400), Oregon (n=400), Tennessee (n=503) and Utah (n=400) were conducted June 20–23, 1998. Interviews in Kansas (n=500) were conducted June 20–24, 1998. The statistical margin of error for these surveys ranged from plus or minus 4.4 percent to 4.9 percent. A subset of questions was asked on surveys in Ohio (n=800 with a margin of error of 3.5 percent) from June 8–13, 1998; Colorado (n=400 with a margin of error of 4.9 percent) from December 15–17, 1997; and a national survey of adults (n=1,000 with a margin of error of 3.1 percent) from May 15–17, 1998. All surveys were commissioned by the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers. This analysis, as well as the analysis for each state survey and the survey questions are available at the Coalition web site. [Back]

11. Based on information compiled from: Gallup Organization; Louis Harris and Associates; The Daniel Yankelovich Group, Inc.; ICR Survey Research Group; and The Mellman Group, Inc. [Back]

12. Private conversation with author, July 22, 1998. [Back]

13. "U.S. Senators See Test Ban Treaty Approval Next Year," Bloomberg News, July 29, 1998. [Back]


Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, an alliance of 17 national arms control and non-proliferation organizations.

Holding the CTBT Hostage in the Senate: The 'Stealth' Strategy of Helms and Lott

India, Pakistan Respond to Arms Control Initiatives

Howard Diamond

IN THE WEEKS following their May nuclear tests, India and Pakistan appear to be responding positively to international calls that both countries participate more fully in global non-proliferation efforts and move to diffuse South Asia's most dangerous nuclear crisis to date. The United States, which took the lead in galvanizing international condemnation of the tests and imposed the harshest economic sanctions, has initiated new bilateral talks with both countries and has sought to soften the application of U.S. sanctions to induce New Delhi and Islamabad to move quickly.

Insistent that India and Pakistan not be allowed to "test their way" to nuclear-weapon-state status, the Clinton administration has said that sanctions will not be lifted unless India and Pakistan make progress on the international arms control agenda agreed to by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the five recognized nuclear-weapon states) and the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries. (See ACT, May 1998.) Included on that agenda are India's and Pakistan's immediate and unconditional signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); their participation in negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for weapons purposes; their renewal of bilateral talks, including the issue of Kashmir; and steps to de-escalate their nuclear weapon and ballistic missile rivalry, particularly the non-deployment of nuclear weapons and a halt to missile testing.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott completed a third round of separate talks with Indian and Pakistani officials July 19 to 23, spending two and a half days in New Delhi before going to Islamabad on July 21. On July 30, Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament announced that during Talbott's July 21–23 meetings, Islamabad agreed to support the commencement of cutoff talks at the CD. (See p. 27.) Negotiating principally with Jaswant Singh, the Indian prime minister's special envoy, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed, Talbott held earlier meetings in India on June 12 and July 9-10 with Singh, and on June 29 with Ahmed and on July 6 with Pakistani special envoy Sahabzada Yaqub Khan. On July 11, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that a decision to sign the CTBT would be made independently of what India does—a significant departure from past Pakistani policy.

India is intent on deploying a "minimum deterrent" and, according to a July 7 New York Times report, an official of the prime minister's office said New Delhi will reject proposals that it not test ballistic missiles or develop a nuclear force. India has already declared a unilateral moratorium on further nuclear testing (as has Pakistan). The official said India would sign the CTBT without demanding the treaty be rewritten once it had determined "what we can get," and that New Delhi is ready to make a binding international pledge not to transfer nuclear technology and is willing to participate in cutoff talks at the CD. On July 21, The Washington Times reported that India will continue to insist that the United States recognize India as a nuclear power, support its campaign to win a permanent seat on the Security Council, lift all proliferation-related sanctions and end the prohibition on civil nuclear commerce with India.


Moderating Sanctions

New Delhi and Islamabad are not only seeking to mend relations damaged by their nuclear tests, but are trying to expedite the lifting of international economic sanctions, whose total cost has been estimated by Washington at $4 billion for Pakistan and $20 billion for India.

Under U.S. law, any state other than a nuclear-weapon state (as defined by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) that tests a nuclear explosive device must be cut off indefinitely from all U.S. government assistance, including all military assistance, trade subsidies and non-humanitarian types of foreign aid; to be excluded from U.S. military sales and purchases of dual-use or Munitions List items; to be blocked from borrowing from U.S. commercial banks; and to face mandatory U.S. opposition to loans from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In determining how the never-before-implemented legislation would be put into effect, the Clinton administration has made a number of decisions to moderate the sanctions' effect. First, while the G-8 decided in June to oppose lending to India and Pakistan by international financial institutions, an exception was made for loans to address "basic human needs." Although most World Bank loans fall into this category, Treasury Undersecretary David Lipton said June 18 that India would lose roughly $2.5 billion in World Bank loans while Pakistan would be blocked from about $1.5 billion in assistance. On June 25, the World Bank resumed lending to India with a $543 million package of loans for humanitarian projects.

Second, while U.S. banks are prohibited from lending to the Indian or Pakistani governments, the Clinton administration will allow them to continue doing business in India despite New Delhi's requirement that foreign banks hold part of their reserves in Indian government bonds. Third, the Commerce Department will continue to give favorable consideration for exports of high-technology dual-use items (such as advanced machine tools or supercomputers) on a case-by-case basis for public and private entities not involved in "nuclear, missile or inappropriate military activities."

Finally, on July 21, State Department spokesman James Rubin announced that Washington's opposition to IMF lending to Pakistan would be implemented by abstaining from votes; in effect authorizing the rest of the G-8 countries to support loans to Islamabad. "We have not softened or somehow waived sanctions," Rubin said. "We are abstaining and using the flexibility that the law currently allows." According to Rubin, "India neither seeks nor receives support from the IMF."

The Clinton administration has also sought congressional support in adjusting the sanctions. On July 14, the House of Representatives and the Senate rushed through legislation modifying U.S. sanctions legislation to exempt U.S. government agricultural credits for one year, just in time to allow U.S. wheat farmers to bid on a $250 million Pakistani wheat tender. President Clinton signed the bill into law the same evening, saying, "We need to make sure our sanctions policy furthers our foreign policy goals without imposing undue burdens on our farmers."

The next day the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the fiscal year 1998 agriculture appropriations bill that would provide the president with waiver authority for all sanctions (with the exception of military sales and exports of dual-use and Munitions List items) for one year. The measure now awaits action by a House-Senate conference committee, as the version of the agriculture appropriations bill passed by the House doesn't include the waiver provision.

India, Pakistan Respond to Arms Control Initiatives

Indian, Pakistani Nuclear Tests Elicit Condemnation at CD

Wade Boese

THE MAY nuclear tests of India and Pakistan elicited widespread condemnation and regret during the second session of the 61-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, which opened the day after India completed its second set of tests. India's subsequent pledge to participate in future negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty removed a leading obstacle to starting talks in the CD, but Pakistan and Egypt must still be won over before work can begin on this initiative, a priority of the nuclear-weapon states and Western group at the conference. Non-aligned members, including India, continued to press for negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

During the opening plenary meeting on May 14, more than 40 states rose to criticize and express concern over India's tests on May 11 and 13. Members from both the Western group and the non-aligned condemned New Delhi's actions as violating the international norm against testing established by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, not all the criticism was directed at India and Pakistan. Colombia, for example, accused the nuclear-weapon states of failing to show a commitment to nuclear disarmament. Egypt reiterated the same point May 28, the day Pakistan first tested, when it charged that the nuclear-weapon states "have not convinced countries with nuclear capabilities to adhere to the nuclear non-proliferation regime."

Following Pakistan's tests on May 28 and 30, the CD convened a special plenary on June 2. New Zealand and 46 other states, including all five nuclear-weapon states, issued a statement accusing India and Pakistan of "blatantly" undermining the international non-proliferation regime. The statement demanded that both states renounce their nuclear weapons programs, accede unconditionally to the CTBT and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty. While seven non-aligned members signed the statement, others, including Egypt and Iran, opted not to because the statement did not call for negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

In announcing its first set of tests on May 11, India declared that it would be "happy to participate" in fissile material cutoff negotiations. The CD agreed in March 1995 on a mandate to negotiate a ban on fissile material production for weapons purposes, but India has led a number of non-aligned members in refusing to take part unless the talks were subsumed within or conducted in parallel with negotiations on a timebound framework for nuclear disarmament. However, India made no such linkage in the May 11 statement or in a May 30 statement on its willingness to participate in the talks.

According to Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute in London, the non-aligned statement at the second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the NPT review conference in 2000, held from April 27 to May 8, also did not condition the start of fissile cutoff talks on the negotiation of a timebound framework for nuclear disarmament.

In a May 19 statement, Islamabad criticized a fissile cutoff as "entirely irrelevant" and called the establishment of an ad hoc committee at the CD a "waste of time." At the June 2 plenary, the Pakistani CD ambassador, Munir Akram, explained that Islamabad's position on a fissile cutoff depended on "India's nuclear status, its degree of weaponization and size and quality of its fissile material stockpiles." In the past, Pakistan, along with Egypt, has called for a cutoff treaty that accounts for past production rather than one that is limited to a ban on future production that would freeze in place existing stockpiles of fissile materials, which heavily favors India in terms of producable weapons.

Addressing the conference on May 28, Egypt's CD ambassador, Mounir Zahran, said that cutoff talks should be held within an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament and that such talks should be based on the CD's 1995 mandate, which many members interpret as allowing for discussion of existing stockpiles. Zahran said a cutoff treaty that ignored current stockpiles would be a "limited non-proliferation measure with no real disarmament value." All five nuclear-weapon states reportedly have ceased production of fissile materials for weapons purposes, although China has not made an official declaration.

Despite its nuclear tests, India insisted that it remains committed to the "complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time" and called on all states to join in a nuclear weapons convention. In a May 15 press release, New Delhi warned that the nuclear-weapon states were trying to deflect attention away from their own nuclear doctrines, which according to India are being altered "to justify the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states."

Non-aligned members and observers at the CD asserted that the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests demonstrated the need for establishing an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament. Iran and Malaysia called for a timebound framework, while Egypt and Syria warned the conference against confining its attention to only India and Pakistan, but to include Israel as well.

The 113-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), of which 29 are CD members, declared at the Cartagena Summit meeting of the NAM Coordinating Bureau, May 19-20, that its highest priority at the CD continues to be a phased program for nuclear disarmament within a timebound framework. In the final summit document, the NAM expressed "concern over the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to demonstrate a genuine commitment with regard to complete nuclear disarmament."

While nuclear testing seized the attention of the CD, the conference did name Antonio de Icaza of Mexico as chairman of the negative security assurances ad hoc committee and filled the six special coordinator positions, including reappointment of Australian Ambassador John Campbell on anti-personnel landmines. The special coordinators are expected to provide interim reports on their consultations with member-states before this session concludes on June 26 in order to assess what work can be accomplished during the third and final session for 1998, scheduled from July 27 to September 9.

Indian, Pakistani Nuclear Tests Elicit Condemnation at CD

False Accusations, Undetected Tests and Implications for the CTB Treaty

May 1998

By Gregory van der Vink, Jeffrey Park, Richard Allen, Terry Wallace and Christel Hennet

Please note, orginial publication of this article was accompanied by 4 figures referenced in the text that will not be reproduced on the internet at this time. For a complete copy of the May 1998 issue, please contact [email protected] or call 202.463.8270. Single issues/back issues cost $6 a piece.


Recent events have raised concerns about the ability of the United States to monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The false accusation by the Clinton administration last year of a Russian underground nuclear weapons test at Novaya Zemlya, the surprise resumption of nuclear testing in May by India, and the lack of seismic signals from some of the announced Indian and Pakistani tests have been attributed to failures of the U.S. intelligence community, and have been presented as evidence that the CTBT cannot be verified and should not be ratified by the United States. An analysis of these events reveals, however, that while there may be deficiencies in intelligence procedures, the technical capability of the United States to detect underground nuclear weapons tests is remarkably good. Given that the objective of the CTBT is to deter proliferation by preventing the development of more advanced nuclear weapons, recent events demonstrate that the evolving verification regime can effectively monitor compliance with that goal.

While the treaty's International Monitoring System (IMS) is preparing to meet the routine requirements for CTBT verification, it is onl one source of data that can be used to detect clandestine underground nuclear weapons tests. In addition to the global network used by the United States for national monitoring purposes (which shares some IMS stations), in many areas of the world seismic stations installed for scientific purposes such as studying earthquakes provide a capability that far exceeds that of the treaty's monitoring system. The intelligence community could take advantage of these resources to further improve U.S. monitoring capabilities. As more such data becomes available and global communications continue to improve, it now appears that the basic tenets of "good science"—consideration of all data, independent review and open access—may also, in many cases of relevance, be the new basic tenets for good treaty monitoring.


Monitoring the Test Ban

Since 1963, the United States has been monitoring the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space and underwater. With the possible exception of one ambiguous event in 1979, we have high confidence in the global accounting of all above-ground tests. The monitoring of testing underground has been the greatest technical challenge, and one that has consumed, either sincerely or disingenuously, most of the negotiations during the four decades the world has pursued a comprehensive test ban.

For underground explosions, the principal monitoring burden falls upon seismology. The seismic signal from an explosion must be detected, the source of the resulting seismic waves must be located by combining data from several seismic stations, and the seismic signal must be recognized as originating from an explosion rather than a naturally occurring earthquake. It is therefore the capability of the seismic monitoring system that defines the baseline capability of the CTBT verification system.

The IMS and its associated International Data Center (IDC) began prototype operations in January 1995. When fully operational, the system's seismic monitoring network will consist of 50 primary stations and 120 auxiliary stations. The primary stations are used to detect seismic events, and the auxiliary stations are used to help determine an event's location, magnitude and seismic characteristics. The network is expected to detect all seismic events anywhere in the world of magnitude 4 or larger on the Richter scale, and to locate those events within a 1,000-square-kilometer error ellipse, the maximum area permitted for an on-site inspection under the terms of the treaty. In addition, the IMS is supplemented with a radionuclide monitoring network, a hydroacoustic network to monitor underwater disturbances, an atmospheric infrasound network, and an on-site inspection mechanism. More than three-quarters of the seismic stations are already operational, and the prototype IDC is currently detecting and locating nearly 100 seismic events each day. Hence, the worldwide monitoring regime is already partly in place and provides a means for assessing future performance.

Verification, of course, can never be achieved with 100-percent confidence. There will always be some level of nuclear testing below which the United States will not be able to monitor with high confidence using seismic means alone. Discovery of very small tests below the seismic threshold would depend on unquantifiable information from human or signal intelligence or photo reconnaissance. Although, the possibility of such information provides a further deterrent to the clandestine testing of low-yield nuclear devices, our ability to enforce the objectives of the treaty is measured by the efficacy of the monitoring system. In the case of the CTBT, the objective of the treaty is to deter proliferation. The approach is both technicaland political: The technical approach is to limit the arms race by restricting the development of more advanced nuclear weapons that require testing, specifically, thermonuclear weapons. The political approach is to remove nuclear testing as an emblem of power and prestige, and as a potent, albeit casualty-free, gesture of intimidation.

From the technical perspective, it is generally accepted that a first-generation nuclear weapon of simple design and modest yield can be developed without testing. For weapons that are readily deployable on ballistic missiles or on the battlefield, as well as more powerful thermonuclear weapons, testing would almost certainly be necessary to attain confidence in their capability. For effective deterrence of such weapons development, the baseline goal for the seismic monitoring system has been detection and characterization of explosions corresponding to a magnitude of about 4 and larger. This threshold roughly translates to an equivalent yield of 1 kiloton (1,000 tons) of high explosives, if the energy of the explosion is efficiently transmitted, or "coupled well," to the surrounding rock. In many places around the globe, including the locations discussed in this article, the monitoring threshold is significantly better than the IMS baseline.

The Austrian statesman Prince von Metternich wrote that "war is diplomacy by other means." The same can be said for underground nuclear testing. Some policy-makers look back at the Reagan military buildup as the final "offensive" that helped win the Cold War. A vigorous U.S. nuclear weapon testing program, with explosions chattering unmistakably on seismometers in the Soviet Union, was viewed as an essential component of U.S. resolve in the face of the perceived Communist threat. In May 1992, China reminded the world of its thermonuclear capabilities with a magnitude 6.6 explosion at its Lop Nor test site.

In May 1998, India added a twist to these tactics: Indian officials held a news conference and announced a test series that enabled New Delhi to claim a thermonuclear capability. India's move also provided Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with the political opportunity to self-proclaim: "India is now a nuclear-weapons state." The predictable outcome was a regional arms race on the subcontinent. Less than three weeks later, on May 28, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced, "[W]e have settled a score and have carried out five successful nuclear tests." Islamabad upped the ante two days later with another test.

The CTBT regime is responsible for confirming that all signatory states forgo the technical benefits of nuclear testing. Allegations of a clandestine Russian test at the Novaya Zemlya test site in August 1997 provide a useful test of the regime's monitoring efficacy in this regard. And, the recent testing by India and Pakistan—both non-signatories of the CTBT and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which, for non-nuclear- weapon states, contains an implicit ban on testing by its prohibtion against the production or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices—provides a perspective on the political utility of the CTBT.


Novaya Zemlya

On August 20, 1997, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright issued a demarche to the Russian government, asserting that a probable underground nuclear explosion had taken place on August 16 at the Russian test site on the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya. Such an explosion would violate international law by defeating the "object and purpose" of the CTBT (which Russia, the United States and nearly 70 other countries signed in September 1996), and would constitute a violation of the announcement requirements for the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty. At the same time that the U.S. government was claiming that a "probable explosion" had occurred, independent seismologists were publishing analyse demonstrating that the August 16 event was a naturally occurring earthquake in the Kara Sea, more than 130 kilometers from the test site. How could the administration have mistaken such an earthquake for an underground nuclear explosion?

According to press reports, the United States had observed, via satellite imagery, activities at the Novaya Zemlya test site on August 14 and August 16 that were "a dead ringer" for preparations for a nuclear test. Although such activities could indicate a nuclear weapons test, they could also have a more innocent explanation: they could have been associated with subcritical or hydrodynamic experiments at the test site. Such experiments use conventional high explosives to create high pressures on nuclear weapons materials, such as plutonium, in a configuration where no self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction takes place. Because there is no nuclear yield, these experiments are not prohibited under the CTBT.

The United States conducts such experiments at the Nevada Test Site, and Russia has stated that it conducts similar experiments at its test site on Novaya Zemlya. The on-site preparations and safety procedures for these types of tests are nearly identical to those followed for the detonation of a nuclear device and, presumably, would appear to satellite surveillance as "a dead ringer" for an actual test. Because they release a relatively small amount of energy from the conventional explosives, these experiments do not produce significant seismic signals and would not normally be detected by seismic networks. But on the morning of August 16, a magnitude 3.5 seismic event was, in fact, detected.

The standard procedure for locating seismic events uses the difference in arrival times between the compressional waves (P waves) and slower shear waves (S waves), much as one can deduce the distance to a thunderstorm by timing the interval between the lightning flash and the thunder that follows. Although they are generated simultaneously, S waves travel through the Earth at approximately one-half the speed of P waves. The difference between the arrival times, called the S-minus-P arrival time, is a measure of the distance to the seismic event. The general rule of thumb is that the seismic event occurred about 8 kilometers away for each second that separates the P waves and S waves.

By coincidence, the Russian test site and the epicenter of the August 16 earthquake are almost exactly the same distance from a seismic station in Lahti, Finland (known by its code name FINES), which the United States uses to monitor the Russian test site and which is part of the IMS primary network. (See Figure 1.) According to one report, "Analysts suspected the seismic activity was a test, based on comparisons with seismic signatures detected during nuclear tests carried out by the Russians in 1990."[1] The only known Soviet test in 1990 was the October 24 test at Novaya Zemlya. Figure 1 shows the recording at FINES for both of these events. As expected, the S-minus-P arrival times appear nearly identical, thus leading analysts to infer that the seismic signals came from the test site.

By relying on only stations that are part of the U.S. monitoring system and ignoring data from other stations, the initial analysis resulted in an error ellipse that included both the earthquake's epicenter and the Russian test site. (See Figure 2, left.) The coincidence of a seismic event located at the same time and in the same place as observed activity that resembled preparations for a nuclear test would have led a community, trained to be suspicious of coincidences, to assume that the Russians had detonated a nuclear explosion.

In many ways, the occurrence of an earthquake in such a place and at such a time seems simply the random occurrence of bad luck. This bad luck, however, was self-inflicted by the intelligence community. If the analysis had included other available data, as was done by the prototype IDC, the location would have demonstrated that the seismic event did not correspond to the observed activity at the test site. For example, using data from another sismic station in Kevo, Finland (known by its code name KEV), the S-minus-P arrival time differences between the known nuclear explosion at Novaya Zemlya on October 24, 1990, and the August 16 event show that the August 16 event must have occurred at least 80 kilometers away from the Russian test site. (See Figure 3.)

Despite the relatively small magnitude of the August 16 event (3.5), it was detected at six stations used by the prototype IDC. Figure 2 (right) illustrates the prototype IDC location estimate one hour after the event (using three stations), four hours after the event (using four stations), 10 hours after the event (using five stations), and the final location (using six stations). If the U.S. intelligence community had followed procedures similar to the prototype IDC and not excluded much of the available data, it would have been known within the first few hours that the event was located offshore and away from the Russian test site. The August 16, 1997 miscall was more the result of flawed methodology than bad luck.

In retrospect, location was not the only discriminant available to identify the August 1997 event as an earthquake. Explosions and earthquakes impact the surrounding rock differently, and so create P waves and S waves differently. P waves, which resemble sound waves, are created by compression. They are generated by explosions, in either rock or water, more strongly than S waves. S waves are created by shearing motions. Earthquakes, in which rock slides along a fault surface, can generate large S waves relative to P waves. The open seismic station at Kevo, Finland, which had recorded several small explosions at the Russian test site, was closer to Novaya Zemlya than the station in Hamar, Norway (NORESS) and FINES. Comparison of these archived seismic records with the KEV record of the August 1997 event demonstrates clearly that the S wave of the latter is large relative to the S wave of the nuclear tests. (See Figure 3.) This confirmed the conclusion that the event was an earthquake.

The Novaya Zemlya incident demonstrates that monitoring requires the use of all available resources. As more seismic stations are installed and as nations continue to use test sites for hydrodynamic experiments, there will be more coincidences like August 16. Areas, such as Novaya Zemlya, that are generally considered seismically inactive at thresholds of magnitude 4.0 to 4.5, will appear seismically active at the lower magnitude levels of 2.5 and below that are detectable with regional coverage (that is, within a few hundred kilometers). Open networks in the western United States, where the seismicity is even greater and the coverage more extensive, provide a detection threshold below magnitude 2.2 for the U.S. nuclear test site in Nevada (equivalent to a yield of 0.02 kilotons (20 tons) of high explosive). In fact, on the day the United States conducted its second hydrodynamic test, four earthquakes were recorded at the Nevada Test Site.


Nuclear Testing in South Asia

As previously discussed, the CTBT monitoring system must meet not only the technical objectives of the treaty, but also the political objectives. The capability of the monitoring system to perform in this role has been recently demonstrated during the resumption of testing by India and Pakistan.

On May 11, 1998, India announced the detonation of three underground nuclear explosions. After two more tests on May 13, Indian scientists provided some specifics about the explosions. They described the purpose of the tests as being to refine the design of a fission bomb and to develop a thermonuclear weapon. According to the scientists, the May 11 tests included a 43- kiloton thermonuclear explosion, a 12-kiloton fission explosion and a 0.2-kiloton fission explosion. The nuclear devices were detonated simultaneously in two deep holes, drilled roughly 1,100 yards apart. The May 13 tests were reported to have had yields in the range of 0.2 to 0.6 kilotons, and were intended to develop capability for future hydrodynamic experiments. The May 13 devices were also detonated simultaneously.

Although India's tests reportedly took the U.S. intelligence community by surprise, the seismic waves that they created were recorded by 62 stations used by the prototype IDC. Indian officials could not hope that a seismic signal with magnitude 5.2 would evade detection, and the seismic waveforms were unmistakably explosive in nature. (See Figure 4.) In addition to confirming that a nuclear explosion had occurred at the Indian test site, the seismic data allows independent evaluation of the validity of India's claims.

Most of the energy released in an underground explosion (as is the case with an earthquake) is lost as heat or is expended to fracture rock close to the shot point. Less than 1 percent of the energy goes into seismic waves that travel long distances. The effectiveness with which explosions generate seismic waves strongly depends on how well the explosions are coupled to the surrounding rock, and how efficiently the region transmits seismic waves. Extrapolating from U.S. explosions at the Nevada Test Site and from measuring yields of Russian tests in Kazakhstan and Novaya Zemlya, French tests in Algeria and Chinese tests at Lop Nor, a magnitude 5.2 seismic event at the Indian test site should correspond to an underground nuclear explosion with an equivalent yield of approximately 12 kilotons of high explosives. Without explosions of known size with which to calibrate the relationship between seismic magnitude and explosive yield at this particular site, the 12-kiloton estimate has significant uncertainty. The true yield could be as low as 5 kilotons or as high as 25 kilotons because of the previously described geological factors.

The absence of any other seismic signals, either before or after the magnitude 5.2 signal, confirms that if India did conduct three separate tests on May 11, all three devices must have been detonated within a fraction of a second and in close proximity. Simultaneous detonations were common in the testing programs of both the United States and the former Soviet Union, primarily for economic reasons. However, the size of the seismic signal is inconsistent with India's claims about the yield of its explosions. From lndian announcements, the May 11 seismic signal was created by the cumulative release of 43-, 12- and 0.2-kiloton explosions. In other words, we would expect to see a seismic signal produced by about 55 kilotons. The seismic measurements, however, indicate a yield (12 kilotons) less than a quarter of that. In fact, 5.2 is among the largest of several estimates of Richter magnitude for the Indian tests obtained from open seismic data, other estimates have been as low as 4.7.[2] Assertions by Indian officials that interference effects would lower the combined yield do not hold up to scrutiny, owing to the wide distribution of recording stations and the broad range of oscillation periods in the recorded data.

Geological explanations for the discrepancy between announced yield and the recorded seismic signals could include the possibilities that the explosion was poorly coupled to the surrounding rock, or the region surrounding the test site does not transmit seismic waves efficiently. Recordings of earthquakes and other seismic evidence indicates that the region of the Indian test site transmits seismic waves quite well, ruling out the latter explanation. Poor coupling to surrounding rock could occur if the seismic signals were muffled by detonating the explosion in a large underground cavity. Such a scenario does not make much sense in this case, however, as the Indian test was meant to be seen by the world.

The only other test that occurred in the Rajasthan desert was the 1974 Indian test, which produced a seismic signal of magnitude 4.9. Although India initially announced the yield as 12 kilotons, later reports suggested that the yield was only 8 kilotons, or perhaps even smaller. The yield determined from the seismic magnitude is roughly 5 kilotons. The collapse crater formed by the 1974 Indian test is also consistent with an explosive yield of 3 to 5 kiltons. Close examination of seismograms from a seismic monitoring array in Canada that recorded both Indian tests suggests that the yield ratio of the 1998 and 1974 tests is close to two. Even if the 12-kiloton announced yield for the 1974 test is taken as correct, the May 11, 1998 test series scales to only half that claimed.

India's claims for May 13 tests appear even less plausible than those for May 11. Even though their announced yields of 0.2 and 0.6 kilotons are below the targeted global threshold of the CTBT monitoring system, one would still expect to see the seismic signal from these explosions at stations close to the test site. The IMS does not yet have stations operating in either India or Pakistan, but there are other stations, not part of the official monitoring system, from which data are available. One of these stations, in Nilore, Pakistan, is only 750 kilometers from the Indian test site. The station, which is part of the IRIS Global Seismographic Network, was installed by the University of California, San Diego, and is operated in cooperation with the Pakistani Nuclear Centre. The data from Nilore are available in near real-time via the Internet. For May 13, there is no seismic signal recorded at Nilore corresponding to India's announced nuclear tests.

Judging from the signal-to-noise ratio at Nilore for the May 11 test (600:1 overall, and 250:1 at the higher frequencies one expects for small nuclear tests), we would expect to see any seismic event at the Indian test site with magnitude larger than 2.5. An explosion of about 0.01 kilotons (10 tons) or larger should be evident in the Nilore data. Later Indian press releases said that detonation occurred in "a sand dune." If the device was poorly coupled to the surrounding rock, either because it was detonated in loose sediment or for similar reasons, it is possible for a somewhat larger blast to escape detection. In a rather generous estimate of possible geological factors, a magnitude 2.5 event could correspond to an explosion of up to 0.1 kilotons, well short of the 0.8-kiloton total yield claimed. Larger amounts of muffling have been achieved in the U.S. and Russian nuclear testing programs by exploding a device in a large cavity, but there is no indication that India had attempted this type of evasion scenario. India's claim for May 13 has either been misinterpreted or New Delhi has overstated what occurred.


Pakistan Responds

In response to India's announcement of five nuclear tests, the prime minister of Pakistan announced six nuclear tests, five on May 28 and one on May 30. Pakistan's intentions were signaled in advance when data from the Nilore stations stopped being transmitted two hours before its first test.

Seismic waves, however, are not hindered by political boundaries, and the Pakistani tests were well recorded by other seismic stations throughout the region. The magnitude 4.6 seismic event on May 28 was recorded by 65 stations used by the prototype IDC, and the magnitude 4.3 seismic event on May 30 was recorded by 51 stations.

The magnitude 4.6 signal would indicate an explosion with an equivalent yield of about 10 kilotons of high explosives. The size is either the largest individual test or the sum of the yields of the simultaneous tests. The May 30 Pakistani test is 0.3 magnitude units smaller than the May 28 tests, indicating an explosive yield for May 30 that is half of May 28, or around 5 kilotons. Pakistan announced the yield of its first day of tests as having a total yield of 40 to 45 kilotons, including a large explosion of 30-35 kilotons. For the second day of tests, Pakistan announced a yield of 15-18 kilotons. As with India, the seismically estimated yields are significantly lower thn what has been announced.

It must be remembered that both India and Pakistan are motivated strongly by domestic politics. India's ruling coalition led by the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Parliament has a thin majority that was in danger of collapsing from the moment it acceded to power in March 1998. Commentators on Indian politics note that a nuclear test was one of the few policy initiatives in the BJP election platform that would not splinter the voter base of its coalition. Middle-class Indians, especially, expressed strong support for the tests, and for the BJP as a result.

Once India tested, the Pakistani government concluded it had no alternative but follow suit. Since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, Pakistan has lost three wars to India over disputed territory in the Kashmir, including a humiliating two-week war in 1971 when Pakistan lost what is now Bangledesh.

When India announced its nuclear capability in 1974 with what they termed a "peaceful" nuclear explosion, Pakistan began its own nuclear weapons development program.


Implications for the CTBT

The advent of digital data, global communication networks, global positioning systems, geosynchronous time and other technologies have irrevocably changed the environment for gathering intelligence and monitoring arms control agreements. Thousands of openly accessible resources now produce data that can be used to detect a clandestine nuclear explosion. Internet sites containing such data are likely to appear before intelligence information can be digested by governments or before memos can work their way through bureaucratic channels. In this new environment, the technological challenge may no longer be the acquisition of data, but rather the coherent integration of the vast and continually evolving network of global information sources. In many cases, some of the expertise required for making such assessments will lie outside of the federal government.

These recent incidents involving false accusations and allegedly missed violations are not a failure of the CTBT monitoring system, but rather a symptom of the transition from the past procedures of the Cold War to the new environment of open multi-use resources. In the case of the August 1997 event near Novaya Zemlya, intelligence analysts neglected to use openly available data that was outside of their official monitoring system. A false alarm resulted. In the case of India's and Pakistan's tests, the variety of independent assessments of explosive yield, from widely differing sources of open data, lends weight to the suspicion that the South Asian nuclear blasts were not as large as claimed, with possible implications as to how advanced their respective programs truly are.

In each incident, some of the most important data were provided by resources that are not part of the official monitoring system. There are thousands of seismic stations deployed around the world as part of regional networks designed to study seismicity and assess earthquake hazards. For many areas, the dense coverage of these regional networks provides a detection capability that is better than that of the official systems. All of these resources provide a strong additional deterrent to any country considering violating the CTBT. With time, this capability will continue to improve as more seismic stations are installed, more research is performed and more data become available directly through global computer communication networks.

The discrepancies between the seismic data an the announcements made by India and Pakistan have been taken by some as evidence that the CTBT monitoring network is not up to the task. A careful review of the facts, however, indicates that such an assessment is inaccurate. Not only has the CTBT monitoring system demonstrated the capability to detect testing by both nations, it has provided an independent means to assess their claims. By performing an announced nuclear test, a nation makes a diplomatic show of strength. Unlike the appearance of an aircraft carrier battle group or even a May Day parade, nuclear testing is an international gesture that can be evaluated by other nations only with wide bounds of uncertainty. The nation that performs such a show of strength cannot be relied upon to present an objective assessment of its own technical abilities.

Despite the accumulation of seismic data and scientific interpretation, with all evidence pointing unambiguously toward skepticism of governmental claims, many policy-makers would want corroboration from other data sources before pronouncing a final verdict on the Indian and Pakistani tests. Any lingering doubts about the conclusions drawn from the monitoring data are difficult to resolve without access to the testing site. There is no current prospect of this. In a future without a CTBT, the international community would have little hope of inspecting the site of a rogue explosion.

While the world may never know the extent to which India and Pakistan overstated their nuclear tests, the lessons offered by the May events are clear. Without the global norm against nuclear testing provided by the CTBT, the United States could find itself again in an environment where genuine threats and high-stakes bluffs are communicated through nuclear testing. A ratified CTBT is the best tool to restrain this type of dialogue.



1. Bill Gertz. "Russia suspected of nuclear testing," The Washington Times, August 28, 1997, p. A1.


2. Richter-magnitude estimates can vary owing to geographic differences in the propogation efficiency of seismic waves. Magnitude 5.2 is a revised estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), based on a large body of seismic data accumulated in the weeks following the explosion. The initial USGS estimate, based on less data and widely reported in the media, was 5.4. The prototype International Data Center estimated the Indian test to have magnitude 4.7. An estimate of 5.1 can be made based solely on data from the Nilore, Pakistan observatory. All estimates of nuclear yield in this article are based on the largest Richter magnitude that has not been revised, namely 5.2.



Gregory van der Vink is director of planning at the IRIS Consortium. Jeffrey park is associate professor of geology and geophysics at Yale University. Richard Allen is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. Terry Wallace is professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona. Christel Hennet is a consultant at the IRIS Consortium. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represents the views of any institution with which the authors are associated.

False Accusations, Undetected Tests and Implications for the CTB Treaty

Indian Ambitions and the Limits of American Influence

May 1998

By Aaron Karp

The nuclear detonations in May by India and Pakistan have provoked a new rush for tidy solutions to South Asia's long-simmering nuclear stalemate. Some would rely on draconian sanctions to force both self-declared nuclear-weapon states to comply with international nuclear non-proliferation norms. Others view the tests as a warning to get on with global nuclear disarmament immediately. Such thinking should remind one of H. L. Mencken's quip that for every difficult problem there is a solution that is simple, easy and wrong. Sanctions are unavoidable and global disarmament may be an essential goal, but neither will solve South Asia's nuclear dilemmas.

The greatest hurdle to be overcome now in South Asia is to distinguish between what can be accomplished in the short term without ceasing to emphasize what must be accomplished in the long term. It is tempting to agree with Indian spokesmen who insist that South Asian nuclear disarmament only makes sense in the context of global denuclearization. But the dangers of nuclear competition in South Asia leave no time for wishful thinking; South Asia is the only place on Earth where war between nuclear-armed states is a real possibility today.

For the United States, the short-term agena is dominated by the need to restore outside influence to avoid nuclear war and any further escalation of the strategic competition in the region. Winning Indian and Pakistani accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the proposed fissile material cutoff treaty would be invaluable, as would any restraint with regard to ballistic missiles. Globally, there is no substitute for a no-first-use treaty to minimize the dangers of nuclear weapons. Modest though they are, even these steps may not be fast in coming. Such steps would require a regional dialogue encouraging India and Pakistan to settle their disputes and India and China to mend their relations.

Before any of these objectives can be accomplished, the United States must find an effective relationship with New Delhi, something that has yet to happen despite a half-century of experience since India's independence. Above all, American diplomacy must appreciate the domestic forces that compelled India to make the leap to become an acknowledged nuclear weapons power. It is these domestic forces—not orthodox assumptions about regional security or global disarmament—which will determine what can and cannot be achieved in the years ahead.


India First

The weapons tested on May 11 and 13 by India and on May 28 and 30 by Pakistan were the result of over 50 years of conflict in South Asia that has defied the best intentions of global diplomacy. These conflicts are bitter ones which must be managed now with more care than ever. Having taken years to get into the current situation, neither India nor Pakistan will retreat in haste. Policy-makers in Washington and elsewhere cannot influence nuclear issues in Islamabad or New Delhi until they first accept that the status quo will only yield gradually.

Although both India and Pakistan have tested, resolving their nuclear tensions will require the biggest steps to come from India. Not only did it go first with nuclear testing in 1974 and 1998, but India alone insists that its security requires nuclear weapons. Pakistan is an inherent part of the regional problem, but it is a derivative part with an explicitly reactive nuclear weapons policy. Whereas India absolutely refuses to join the existing nuclear non-proliferation system, Pakistan holds compliance with international treaties as being conditional on what India does. While this does not excuse Pakistan's testing or lessen its obligations, it leaves India the key to unraveling their nuclear confrontation. In the short run, India and Pakistan must be dealt with now more than ever as equals, if only because of their comparable nuclear weapon capabilities. In the long term, however, international diplomacy must emphasize India as the linchpin to hopes for regional nuclear restraint.

If India is at the center of regional nuclear issues and Pakistan its unpredictable challenger, China remains the most elusive element in regional disarmament hopes. The short-run arms control agenda may be dominated by bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, but nuclear disarmament in South Asia ultimately will have to be pursued through a regional formula that includes China.

Although relations between India and China have warmed in recent years, especially since Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin visited New Delhi in 1996, Indian opinion-leaders still are acutely suspicious. Memories of the Indo-China war in 1962, when China crushed Indian resistance, have lost none of their sting in New Delhi. Nor is it forgotten that China introduced nuclear weapons into he region in 1964 and still aids Pakistan as a strategic partner. Indian observers were quick to note that the Chinese government reacted to India's May tests by declaring that it was "deeply shocked" and calling the tests acts of "outrageous contempt." After Pakistan tested, China expressed only its "deep regret."[1]

There is a long-standing debate over the threat—if any—that China presents to India today. Most informed observers agree that Indian fears of Beijing's military capabilities are exaggerated, and that if there is a Chinese challenge it lies mostly in China's much faster economic growth and greater foreign investment. Even if Indian anxieties are exaggerated, they are not groundless. The very existence of those fears and sensitivities means that sooner or later they too must be taken seriously.


India's Decision to Test

A productive U.S. relationship with New Delhi—one strong enough to sustain a nuclear dialogue—starts with an understanding of how the Indian government made the decision to become a self-declared nuclear-weapon state. The seed of India's nuclear program was planted by Homi J. Bhabha, its visionary creator who died in 1966. Even more than his counterparts in the United States and the former Soviet Union—Robert Oppenheimer and Igor Kurchatov—Bhabha was personally responsible far every major aspect of India's nuclear program. Although he himself was ambivalent about the nuclear weapons potential of his work, leaning toward advocacy after China tested in 1964, it was the people he trained and the facilities he created that would allow India after his death to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Even after testing in 1974, however, India remained profoundly ambivalent about its capability, enjoying the political advantages of its undeclared capability.

New Delhi's decision to resume testing in 1998 represents a fundamental shift in national policy. It was the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elected in March 1998 that made the final decision, but there is much more to the decision than the BJP. The May tests were the result of a new consensus among Indian leaders that nuclear weapons are essential to security and of a widespread public thirst for international recognition. This consensus is so strong that another Indian government may well have done the same sooner or later.

For India, a nuclear weapons capability is an issue that defines national uniqueness. The end of the Cold War provoked a crisis of credibility for Indian foreign policy, which found itself unable to adjust to a world without the Soviet Union, dominated by economic globalization and American political leadership. India's attempt at economic liberalization began in 1991 but quickly stalled, keeping foreign investment low and suppressing growth. Indian commentators have been highly critical of the country's indecisive foreign policy that is seemingly based only on opposition to the United States. This policy manifests itself in areas as diverse as opposition to pressure on Iraq, criticism of NATO expansion and particularly with regard to arms control and disarmament issues.

One clear cornerstone of New Delhi's foreign policy—something on which Indians of every political stripe can agree—is opposition to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The vast majority of the world's sovereign states have accepted the logic behind the NPT—that is, limiting to five the number of nuclear-weapon states—either by signing the treaty (as 185 have done; Taiwan has also signed) or joining regional arrangements such as nuclear-weapon-free zones. Only three major countries remain completly outside the international nuclear non-proliferation regime: India, Israel and Pakistan.

Where India stands apart is in its long-standing moral opposition to what it considers to be the discriminatory basis of the NPT—dividing the world in the "haves" and the "have-nots." Indians across the political spectrum, especially the country's powerful nuclear weapons establishment, are critical of the NPT, arguing that it unfairly warps international hierarchies to the disadvantage of the non-nuclear-weapon states. Although several states have expressed dissatisfaction with the NPT, India is the only country to fully articulate its outright rejection of the treaty. Most states party to the NPT accept the unfairness of the treaty as a trade-off that serves their own and global interests. India's leaders insist that fair and genuine nuclear disarmament must start with the nuclear-weapon states themselves, a demand formalized by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in his 1990 global nuclear disarmament initiative.

Indian spokesmen have been especially critical of proposed regional solutions, consistently rejecting a South Asian nuclear-weapon-free-zone accord. Instead, they maintain that regional settlements should wait until the broader problem of international disarmament is resolved. The Indian position offers an engaging twist on orthodox Western understandings of self-interest and the priorities of disarmament. In this view, regional nuclear settlements like that between Argentina and Brazil are at best irrelevant and at worst a betrayal of global disarmament for narrow self-interest.

This emphasis on global solutions led India to reverse its traditional support for the CTBT, an idea pioneered by the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1954 and strongly advocated by Homi Bhabha. As recently as 1993, India supported UN resolutions for a nuclear test ban. Only in 1994 did opposition voices begin to receive widespread recognition as the negotiations accelerated at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). The critical shift came in a speech by then-Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao of the Congress Party at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in October 1995, when he stated that India would support a CTBT but only if it came with a clear commitment to global nuclear disarmament.[2] The final break came in a speech by India's ambassador to the CD, Arundhati Ghose, in January 1996 when she said a test ban would make sense only if part of "a specific time-bound procedure for carrying out disarmament."[3]

India's controversial position has exacerbated its diplomatic isolation. Some accuse India of wanting too much too soon. Others suspect the switch was intended mostly to preserve its own nuclear weapons option. What is not in dispute is the enormous popularity of this position in India, where opposition to the NPT long ago became orthodoxy, and the CTBT and the proposed fissile materials cutoff treaty are seen as consolidating the hegemony of the nuclear-weapon states.

A Shifting Elite Consensus

Although China is cited as the primary justification for India's nuclear weapons and Pakistan secondarily, in reality the challenge to Indian security was dissipating. New Delhi's relations with Beijing have been improving; China recently abandoned its only weapons program specifically targeted at India, the Dong Feng-25 ballistic missile. Even after Islamabad acquired the 300-kilometer range M-11 ballistic missile from China and, more recently, tested the 1,500-kilometer-range Ghauri missile, no one disputes that Pakistan continues to fail behind India military.[4]

It was not regional threats to Indian security but domesic pressures which transformed Indian opinion regarding the country's nuclear weapons program. The rising parliamentary presence of the nationalist BJP became an important force, altering the character of public debate. Many observers also point to the effects of the nationally televised serialization of the Mahabharata, India's greatest epic, strengthening a widespread desire for global recognition of the nation of some 1 billion people.

Pressure to overtly nuclearize has been growing since the 1988-87 and 1990 confrontations with Pakistan. The first grew out of an Indian military exercise called "Operation Brasstacks." The second was the result of rising tensions over Kashmir. While both involved an undeniable risk of war, the role of nuclear weapons in both crises is obscure and probably exaggerated. What cannot be exaggerated, however, is the effect on India's nuclear weapons consensus.

Initially, neither crisis was much acknowledged and Indian spokesmen—such as General K. Sundarjl, the army chief of staff responsible for Operation Brasstacks—tended to deride both events. But subsequent revelations and scholarly writing have fashioned a new consensus. Previously all but forgotten, the two incidents have become the well-spring of India's new security debate. In private, and increasingly in print, Indian (and Pakistani) defense experts are more self-congratulatory, describing the crises as overwhelming successes for nuclear deterrence. India and Pakistan, this argument goes, fully appreciated the risks involved. They avoided humiliating retreat while averting war and keeping nuclear dangers under control.[5] The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from their closest experience, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, shaken and determined to control their unrestrained confrontation. This started a process that led to detente and arms control. In contrast, India, and to a lesser degree Pakistan, emerged from their confrontations more confident in their accomplishments and convinced of their ability to manage nuclear deterrence successfully. In its most extreme form, this attitude leads to an insistence that nuclear weapons are benign, as Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes suggested when he argued that "even at the height of the Cold War, everybody kept their cool, even at the eleventh hour," implying that India could do the same.[6]

For Indian defense leaders and specialists, this interpretation of these crises, combined with the rising nationalist atmosphere, strengthened beliefs that India is entitled to nuclear weapons. Within its Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), there is strong support for advanced nuclear weapons. This was the force behind the incidents in 1995 when India was discovered making preparations for nuclear tests. Nor is this attitude restricted to a small faction. By the mid-1990s, the range of elite opinion had shifted so that it was impossible for anyone praising the NPT or CTBT to be taken seriously in New Delhi. Voices in favor of nuclear ambiguity or restraint became fewer and circumspect. The advocates of overt nuclearization dominated Parliament backbenches and the media.

Solidifying this new consensus was a series of semi-official revelations clarifying the full extent of India's nuclear capabilities. These revelations, especially about the nuclear submarine program and previous nuclear bomb developments, strengthened pride in the nation's capabilities. The most important revelation was a speech by Raja Ramannan, chief designer of the nuclear device tested in 1974. After years towing the official line that the 1974 test was a "peaceful nuclear explosive," in October 1997 he admitted it actually was a deliverable weapon.[7]


The Role of Prithvi and Agni

While regional security anxieties created the general environment for nuclear testing, domestic politics were in the forefront. The direct catalyst came from India's ballistic missile programs. First was the controversy surrounding the Prithvi short-range ballistic missile. Development of this missile (in its current 150-kilometer-range version) was completed in 1994, leading to debate over deployment. Although it is ostensibly intended to deliver conventional payloads, the Prithvi's nuclear potential has never been in doubt. For the first time, an Indian government was forced to publicly reconsider the policy of non-weaponized deterrence.

A strong government might have finessed the issue. Instead, the Congress Party government of P. V. Narasimha Rao shifted back and forth on Prithvi deployment, appearing incompetent and clinging to a policy which its main weapons programs rendered obsolete. Deployment seemed too provocative, especially as Pakistan was halting deployment of its comparable M-11 missiles. Nor could the Indian government allow itself to be seen as submitting to international pressure. After a storm of domestic criticism, the Prithvi finally was "stored" (a step just short, apparently, of deployment) near the Pakistani border by the subsequent United Front government in 1996-97. But the credibility of the United Front and its two prime ministers—H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral—had been seriously wounded as well. The Prithvi fiasco would make other advanced weapons much harder to resist.

The decision to test nuclear weapons came in two parts. First was the basic decision to weaponize. This was strongly influenced by India's debate over the future of the Agni ballistic missile in 1996-97. The 2,500-kilometer-range Agni was tested three times beginning in May 1989 as a "technology demonstrator." After the last test in February 1994, Rao declared the program "complete." The director of the DRDO, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, sought approval for additional tests to prepare the Agni for deployment, but got no response. Meanwhile, pressure to complete the Agni program grew in Parliament, which produced a report in March 1996 urging series production. Inheriting the Agni much as it inherited the Prithvi, the United Front began to waiver. Then-Defense Minister Mulayam Singh Yadev initially stated that "Agni has been successfully completed. Agni is not a missileprogramme."[8] Pressure from Abdul Kalam and Parliament, already intense, received a sudden boost from Pakistan, which announced in the summer of 1997 that it had a new missile, later revealed to be the Ghauri. A few weeks later Yadev would state that "the programme will proceed on a priority basis."[9] By November 1997, final development and initial production of the Agni was assured. The number to be deployed and the deployment schedule remained to be worked out, but the principle of deployment was resolved.

Because the Agni always was considered to be exclusively a nuclear delivery vehicle, the decision to fully develop it had momentous implications for India's nuclear weapons program as well. The Agni decision made nuclear weapons testing virtually inevitable. The symbiotic nature of the Agni and the nuclear weapons program confused some observers, who later mistakenly thought nuclear test preparations were for the Agni. But if the Agni needed time before resuming flight tests, nuclear tests had been ready for years. AEC and DRDO engineers simply returned to the facilities intended for the tests that were cancelled in 1995.


Countdown to Pokhran

What the Agni decision did not clarify was the timing of nuclear tests. Even after India's national security establishment—led by the Ministry of Defense, the DRDO and the AEC—was ready, a political decision was necessary. In 1995, testing was averted not so much by prompt U.S. action as by the fact that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was not fully convinced. Could the United States or any other outside power have acted more forthrightly to stop India in 1998? Would stronger statements from the international community have made any difference? Despite a deluge of self-criticism, there is no evidence that the United States could have stopped India's May tests. The critical events which led to the decision to test occurred not in the international arena, but within the Indian Cabinet in the weeks immediately after the March 1998 election.

Initially, the BJP-led government seemed unsure of its intentions. Its election manifesto declared that the party would "re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons." The language contained considerable ambiguity. The document said nothing about nuclear testing or delivery options, nor did it explain what it meant by "induct." The word in the report emerged as a compromise between hardliners and moderates, suggesting there still was some doubt about what to do. At the same time, Vajpayee, his Cabinet and aides started a charm offensive, reassuring a suspicious world, implying that nothing precipitous would happen. The new government's hesitation came partially because the newly elected leaders did not know the resources at their disposal. As they learned more about the advanced state of Indian preparations, enthusiasm for testing grew. Vajpayee, a consensus figure who never dominated his party, allowed himself to be overshadowed by more truculent BJP ministers. The charm offensive ended as Defense Minister George Fernandes became the first Indian official to explicitly criticize China.[10]

Pakistan's unexpected launch of the Ghauri missile on April 6 surprised observers outside South Asia. The poorly timed test was provocative, but its relationship to subsequent nuclear tests has probably been exaggerated. Indian leaders have consistently justified their nuclear ambitions in terms of the threat from China, not Pakistan. Initial Indian reactions to the Ghauri test were restrained. While the missile test undoubtedly influenced Cabinet deliberations in New Delhi, it cannot have been decisive. The engineering requirements of nuclear testing, moreover, lead to the conclusion that India's nuclear tests were authorized several weeks earlier, probably within days after the March election.

According to Abdul Kalam, the government made its final decision to conduct five tests, code-named Shakti-1 (Hindi for "divine power"), 30 days before the actual event. Little preparation was needed. Not only were facilities ready from previous preparations, but an inventory of completed weapons was available to choose from.[11] In the interim, the Indian government acted with great aplomb to deceive the world as to its intentions. It is revealing that even prominent Indian defense experts like Jasjit Singh of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and Raja Mohan, a columnist at The Hindu, did not anticipate the tests. Advocates of overt nuclearization assumed that it was at least a year off.

The controversy over the intelligence failure to detect the Indian preparations misses the most important point: The preparations escaped notice partially due to Indian deception, but even more because outsiders—even in India"August 24, 1998umed that nothing was going to happen. Like all good deceptions, it worked because its audience wanted it to work. Most of the world was hoping that there would be no tests and was looking for ways to build a healthy relationship with the BJP. Whether Indian officials lied to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson when they met in New Delhi on April 15, he was ready to be deceived.


An Indian Nuclear Force

As a result of its actions, India now finds itself a virtual diplomatic pariah. Not only has India consistently rejected the nuclear non-proliferation philosophy accepted by almost every other country in the world, it has overtly challenged one of the most important taboos of global security—the norm against testing. In the process, it has shown itself to be less than trustworthy. Not only have India and Pakistan lost aid and trade, but New Delhi's hope for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council—perhaps its highest foreign policy goal—has been sacrificed. Its foreign policy continues to be based on its Cold War-era friendship with Russia, now its only source of advanced technology for nuclear reactors and fighter aircraft. Far from encouraging restraint, however, isolation strengthens the hand of those who insist that India cannot be secure until it weaponizes and deploys a nuclear force.

Aside from assuring the Parliament that weaponization is being completed, the Indian government has been vague about the force it is creating. The detailed paper presented by Vajpayee to Parliament two weeks after the tests, Evolution of India's Nuclear Policy, mostly deals with international treaty negotiations, restating well-known Indian positions. On actual weapons policy, the paper says only that India will not make nuclear threats or engage in an arms race, statementsbelied by the bellicose outbursts of government officials like Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who declared that now having proven its nuclear weapons capability, "India is prepared to deal firmly with Pakistan's hostile activities in Kashmir," and Madan Lal Khurana, minister of parliamentary affairs, who said that not only was India ready to fight a fourth war with Pakistan, but that it would triumph.[12] Indian officials have been careful to avoid clarifying whether these missiles will be nuclear armed at first, but they have stated that in the words of Abdul Kalam, "Nuclear warheads for Prithvi and Agni are available." According to Murli Manohar Joshi, minister for human resources (who is in charge of science and technology policy), India "will put a nuclear warhead on missiles as soon as the situation requires."[13]

What might an Indian nuclear force eventually look like? Nuclear weapon advocates like K. Sundarji, the retired army chief of staff, typically call for accelerated production of weapons usable fissile material; a sustained testing program to create a dependable, high-yield nuclear capability; and the establishment of a mixed force of delivery systems. Although China may be described as India's geostrategic nemesis, there have been virtually no calls to match Chinese nuclear capabilities, which currently include at least 46 deployed intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and 17 ICBMs.[14]

The size of the nuclear force is determined primarily by the supply of reprocessed plutonium from the unsafeguarded Cirus and Dhruva heavy water research reactors at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Trombay. According to a prominent study, by the year 2000 India will have roughly 450 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, sufficient for approximately 90 weapons.[15] In an emergency, additional material could be taken from other unsafeguarded reactors, although there is no evidence this has ben done. A uranium enrichment program near Mysore reportedly has yet to show significant results.

Aircraft undoubtedly would be India's easiest and most versatile nuclear option. Likely platforms include British-supplied Jaguar bombers, French Mirage-2000s and recently acquired Russian SU-30MKs, possibly the best performing attack aircraft anywhere. Most of the public debate, however, focuses on the Prithvi and Agni ballistic missile projects. A reasonable nuclear force, in the view of Indian advocates, would include at least one nuclear attack squadron, 60 to 100 nuclear-armed Prithvi missiles (with 150- to 250-kilometer ranges) and 12 or more Agni-type IRBMs (with ranges between 2,000 and 3,000 kilometers). A nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine also features on many wish lists. Long-term planning stresses development of a sea-based deterrent, including at least one nuclear-powered submarine armed initially with the Sagarika missile (with a range of roughly 300 kilometers). Even the shrillest voices from India's "bomb lobby," it should be noted, have yet to call for development of an ICBM.

Cost may be the greatest barrier to large-scale nuclear weapon deployments. Indian finances are better than crisis-stricken Southeast Asia, but the country is mired in low growth and investment, high government spending and deficits. India's 1997-1998 defense budget of $9.1 billion is roughly equal to that of Canada or Spain. While this is higher than most regional powers, given the scale of India's armed forces—the world's fourth largest in terms of personnel levels—there is little flexibility for adding major new programs, and institutional politics make it virtually impossible to delete old ones. Even promised budget increases of 14 percent will not alleviate these pressures because most will go for desperately needed salary increases. For budgetary reasons alone, changes in India's defense posture will be gradual.


Sanctions: Pain Without Gain?

It was inevitable that India's nuclear tests would meet with global condemnation and sanctions, especially from the United States. Despite the tide of reprehension, though, it is doubtful that sanctions will have any positive effect. Indeed, the longer they remain in place, the more counterproductive they will be.

Although sanctions are unavoidable, they serve mostly to express U.S. displeasure and to strengthen international precedents. The effect on India will be marginal at best. The country's civilian economy is simply too large to be dramatically affected. Too many other countries will continue to supply capital and restricted goods and it is unlikely the sanctions will be strengthened very much. India has made itself a diplomatic pariah, but it is not a rogue state; it is too large and too important to be excluded from the international system.

One effect of sanctions will be to gradually bring to a halt India's indigenous conventional weapons programs, such as the Arjun tank and the Light Combat Aircraft programs which depend on subsystems from Germany, the United States and other countries no longer supplying military technology. Unable to build all of its own conventional armaments and cutoff from the West, India will have no alterative but to turn instead to Russia for its major weapon systems.

Above all, sanctions cannot have much effect on India because of the great strength of its democracy. Sanctions were originally conceived of, and remain, as essentially a tool to use against unpopular dictators, leaving no doubt of the cost of their policies. But when the electorate stands strongly behind its leaders, sanctions cannot accomplish much. As difficult as it is dealng with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro, dealing with democratically elected leaders can be much harder.

India came to the decision to test nuclear weapons by slowly creating a national consensus. It will not rejoin the global consensus overnight. International pressure is not irrelevant, but it must be used carefully because it can be effective only by influencing India's attitudes about itself.


Restoring U.S. Influence

One of the tragedies of the Indian and Pakistani tests is that they came just as Washington was acknowledging the importance of the region in global affairs. Led by Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, the United States was seeking to rebuild a relationship with New Delhi all but ignored for years. The one unquestionable result of the tests is that it has focused unprecedented attention on the region. Unfortunately for U.S. policy-makers, it also means having to start virtually from scratch. Faced with dangerous events in a distant region, Washington instinctively tries to isolate the countries involved. India and Pakistan, however, require more attention, not less. There is no alterative to broader diplomatic contact.

High-level visits of all kinds should be encouraged, emphasizing objectives that are readily achievable, especially in non-controversial trade. Such cooperation may be impossible now, forbidden by U.S. sanctions laws and public opinion on both sides, but the approach remains as valid as before. Even modest military-to-military contacts serve the interests of both countries by building trust and confidence. Eventually, this cooperation could be upgraded to permit more extensive exchanges and joint operations for missions such as search and rescue.

Despite Washington's preference to justify international summit meetings with major agreements, U.S. officials have to learn to deal with India by starting small. Major proposals inevitably generate mostly skepticism or even mockery in New Delhi. This is especially true of arms control proposals, which are perceived with suspicion, judged not for their stabilizing merits but as hypocritical efforts to promote U.S. strategic interests. In particular, the Western-dominated Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime are seen by Indians as bald attempts to repress the country's power, prestige and influence. Moreover, the anger generated by President Eisenhower's embrace of Pakistan in 1954 and the U.S. dispatch of a carrier battle group to the region in 1971 remains a highly emotional issue with Indians. If Washington must work to dispell Indian suspicions, officials in New Delhi must not forget how they often appear in American eyes, where an image of unwillingness to negotiate or bargain must be overcome. The holotype remains President Kennedy's disasterous meeting with Nehru in 1961, when the prime minister lectured the president on America's failures.

India's May tests have only increased the need for a frank and productive dialogue. Before any other objective can be accomplished, the United States must find a new and more effective way to deal with New Delhi. Although India is acknowledged as an important regional power and an emerging global actor, Washington and New Delhi have yet to develop a comfortable working relationship, a task now made that much more difficult—and more of an imperative—as a result of the nuclear tests. While many observers hope that India will see its nuclear tests as an opportunity to sign the CBT, there is little the international community can do to encourage this. The West has nothing to offer in exchange, in the view of Indian officials, that is comparable to the country's nuclear deterrent. Given the current nationalist enthusiasm in New Delhi and the distaste for making deals with Washington, persistent and patient prodding is the only way to encourage India to sign the CTBT.


A New U.S.-Indian Dialogue

The first requirement for U.S. diplomacy in South Asia is the restoration of outside influence. Having witnessed the failure of old approaches based on traditional non-proliferation diplomacy—sanctions and export controls—a new approach is desperately needed. The problems are too serious to resolve through a single "grand bargain." The arms control agenda in South Asia is based on four well-known elements. These are, first, bilateral assurances to avoid nuclear war in the region, especially declarations of nuclear no first use. Second, restraint on provocative deployments of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Third, winning Indian and Pakistani accession to the CTBT and a fissile material cutoff treaty. Fourth, minimizing the sources of regional conflict by resolving the disputes over Kashmir and Chinese border areas.

Although these ideas have been championed by virtually every international leader outside the region, none are likely to be achieved in the near term. Regional confidence-building measures, such as no-first-use declarations, are difficult for Pakistan to accept as long as its conventional forces lag far behind India's. Islamabad may need to modernize before it can compromise. Despite widespread hope elsewhere, India is not likely to severely limit its options for its newly declared nuclear deterrent capability. Indian governments also will avoid restrictions on the country's right to deploy ballistic missiles.

Rather than starting with good ideas, it may be better to begin with good intentions. The first step in averting further South Asian nuclearization is restoring bilateral relations and productive dialogue. This alone will enable the United States to speak with India and Pakistan in an atmosphere free of condescension and over-sensitivity and to engage in the give-and-take that distinguishes healthy diplomacy. Not only should the temptation to isolate South Asia be avoided, but diplomatic contacts should be broadened. President Clinton can take the lead by visiting the region as tensions subside, making the point that the United States is determined to remain involved. Excessively rigid sanctions tend to become barriers to disarmament, inhibiting dialogue and progress. In South Asia as elsewhere, diplomacy and disarmament require flexible instruments, stressing carrots as much if not more than sticks. While some will complain—with justification—that such a visit rewards India and Pakistan for violating the international no-testing norm, there is no more effective way to begin rebuilding essential bilateral relations. Private investment in civilian endeavors should be encouraged and non-military sanctions, such as those affecting World Bank loans, should be relaxed in recognition of their limited effectiveness. Even modest military contacts and joint activities should be allowed to continue.

In the long term, there is no alternative to a regional security dialogue that includes China. Only this way can India and Pakistan settle their differences. Political accommodation will make nuclear disarmament possible, not the other way around. Although the international commnity cannot allow India to bludgeon it into disarmament through the threat of proliferation, progress in global disarmament efforts will be essential to South Asian security.



1. Rebecca Johnson, "Indian and Pakistan nuclear tests," Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 26, May 1998, pp. 11, 15.


2. Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, "Testing Times: The Global Stake in a Nuclear Test Ban," Uppsala, Sweden: Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1996.


3. Arundhati Ghose, "Negotiating the CTBT," Journal of International Affairs, Summer 1997, pp. 239-261.


4. Sumit Ganguly, "India's emergent relations with the People's Republic of China and South-East Asia," paper presented at the 1997 India Symposium, National Defense University, 3-4 December 1997.


5. Kanti P. Bajpai, et al., Brasstacks and Beyond: Perception and Management of crisis in South Asia, New Delhi: Manohar, 1995.


6. John F. Burns, "India defense chief calls U.S. hypocritical," The New York Times, June 18, 1998, p. A10.


7. Dhirendra Sharma, "The smiling Buddha," The Hindustan Times, December 5, 1997.


8. Dinesh Kumar, "More tests needed," Times of India, August 9, 1996.


9. Dinesh Kumar, "Top priority to Agni: Mulayam," Times of India, August 28, 1997.


10. John F. Burns, "India's new defense chief sees Chinese military threat," The New York Times, May 5, 1998, p. A5.


11. Dinesh Kumar, "Prithvi, Agni can now be armed with nuke warheads," The Times of India, May 18, 1998.


12. Kenneth J. Cooper, "India warns Pakistan over Kashmir," International Herald Tribune, May 19, 1998, p. 5; and "More heat than light," The Economist, May 30, 1998, pp. 40-41.


13. Seema Mustafa, "Next step if Pak tests bomb," Asian Age, May 13, 1998.


14.The Military Balance 1997/98, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, October 1997, p. 176.


15. David Albright, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 264-271.



Aaron Karp is a senior faculty associate with the Graduate Programs in International Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.

Indian Ambitions and the Limits of American Influence

South Asia's Nuclear Wake-Up Call

May 1998

By Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

India's nuclear tests and its declaration of nuclear-weapon status have been widely seen as foreshadowing a nuclear arms race in South Asia and a wave of additional nuclear-weapon states. Although the tests did not actually change the existing dangerous confrontation there since India and Pakistan had long been credited with nuclear weapons capabilities, they did violate the 30-year international norm against new nuclear-weapon states and the newly established taboo against nuclear testing. Far from signaling the end of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, the tests should be a wake-up call to strengthen the remarkably successful efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Indian action was largely motivated by the ruling party's efforts to gain support for its fragile coalition government by appealing to nationalistic pride. In the process, India exchanged its overwhelming conventional arms advantage over Pakistan for a situation where Islamabad will be more likely to deploy nuclear forces, which could strike New Delhi with little or no warning time, and sacrificed its improved relations with China for a potential nuclear arms race, which it can ill afford and cannot win, with Beijing.

The practically universal condemnation of the tests, including strong statements by the UN Security Council, the G-8 industrialized countries and most members of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), demonstrated the continuing strength of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Significantly, none of the states with possible nuclear ambitions even cited the Indian and Pakistani actions as a precedent for going nuclear.

The world was alerted to the extent of U.S. concerns by the immediate application of far-reaching sanctions against both India and Pakistan as mandated by legislation. While the automatic nature of the sanctions helped underscore the seriousness of the issue and deter others from testing, the legislation does not contribute to problem-solving since the sanctions, which provide powerful negotiating leverage to influence future Indian and Pakistani actions, cannot be eased without new congressional action.

In proclaiming itself a "nuclear-weapon state," India sought to share the status of the five existing nuclear-weapon states. This outcome is totally unacceptable. Rewarding New Delhi for violating a 30-year international norm against any new nuclear-weapon states would encourage others to follow India's lead. Moreover, it is not even a viable option. The 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which now has 185 members, limits nuclear-weapon status to the five countries that had tested prior to January 1, 1967, because the signatories wanted to prevent any further proliferation. The treaty's amendment procedure was made impossibly demanding to preclude any controversial changes.

Since there is no possibility that New Delhi can be persuaded to join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state, India and Pakistan must remain outside the NPT. International efforts should focus on freezing the nuclear situation in South Asia by formalizing the status quo prior to the May tests. This could be accomplished if India and Pakistan joined the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) without conditions and agreed not to deploy any nuclear weapons. To cap their potential capabilities, they should also agree to join in future CD negotiations—without conditions—to cut off future production of fissile materials for weapons.

Such measures, which would reinforce the existing norm against proliferation and the taboo against testing, would certainly merit the lifting of the U.S.-mandated sanctions. By remaining outside the NPT, India and Pakistan would still be subject to the international restrictions that applied to them before the tests. The Nuclear Suppliers Group prevents trade in nuclear and dual-use equipment—even for peaceful purposes—unless a non-nuclear-weapon state accepts full-scope safeguards on all its nuclear facilities. This limited constraint would stand as a warning that there is a price to pay for remaining outside or withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation regime, but not attempt to isolate India or Pakistan from the international community.

The United States has at its command a range of incentives, including the elimination of the new sanctions and the proposed presidential visit, to encourage Indian acceptance of measures re-establishing the status quo. To make this possible, Congress must act promptly to give President Clinton greater flexibility on sanctions and to underscore the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to non-proliferation by ratifying the CTBT.

Looking to the future, the United States should improve relations with India, a democracy with a billion citizens, that will play an increasingly important role in the coming century. Balancing this objective with the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime in the face of the Indian and Pakistani tests presents a formidable, but by no means insurmountable, challenge.

Also from May '98... see ACT's special coverage of

The Crisis in South Asia

South Asia's Nuclear Wake-Up Call

The Nuclear Testing Tally

In May, India conducted its first nuclear tests in 24 years, followed by Pakistan conducting its first tests ever. The tests—the first since the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1996—present the most significant challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation regime in decades. In a May 11 press statement, India said it would be prepared "to consider being an adherent to some of the undertakings" of the CTBT provided certain conditions were met. Pakistan has maintained it would be prepared to sign the CTBT if India does.

United States (1,030)
First tested: Jul. 16, 1945.
Last tested: Sept. 23, 1992.
Signed CTBT: Sept. 24, 1996.

USSR/Russia (715 tests)
First tested: Aug. 29, 1949.
Last tested: Oct. 24, 1990.
Signed CTBT: Sept. 24, 1996.

Great Britain (45 tests)
First tested: Oct. 3, 1952.
Last tested: Nov. 26, 1991.
Signed CTBT: Sept. 24, 1996.
Deposited CTBT Ratification:
Apr. 6, 1998.

France (210 tests)
First tested: Feb. 13, 1960.
Last tested: Jan. 27, 1996.
Signed CTBT: Sept. 24, 1996.
Deposited CTBT Ratification:
Apr. 6, 1998.

China (45 tests)
First tested: Oct. 16, 1964.
Last tested: Jul. 29, 1996.
Signed CTBT: Sept. 24, 1996.

India (3 tests1)
First tested: May 18, 1974.
Subsequent tests May 11, 1998 and May 13, 1998.
Not a CTBT signatory.

Pakistan (2 tests1)
First tested: May 28, 1998.
Subsequent test May 30, 1998.
Not a CTBT signatory.


Year United States USSR/ Russia Britain France China India Pakistan Total
1945 1             1
1946 2             2
1947 0             0
1948 3             3
1949 0 1           1
1950 0 0           0
1951 16 2           18
1952 10 0 1         11
1953 11 5 2         18
1954 6 10 0         16
1955 18 6 0         24
1956 18 9 6         33
1957 32 16 7         55
1958 77 34 5         116
1959 0 0 0         0
1960 0 0 0 3       3
1961 10 59 0 2       71
1962 96 79 2 1       178
1963 47 0 0 3       50
1964 45 9 2 3 1     60
1965 38 14 1 4 1     58
1966 48 18 0 7 3     76
1967 42 17 0 3 2     64
1968 56 17 0 5 1     79
1969 46 19 0 0 2     67
1970 39 16 0 8 1     64
1971 24 23 0 5 1     53
1972 27 24 0 4 2     57
1973 24 17 0 6 1     48
1974 22 21 1 9 1 1   55
1975 22 19 0 2 1 0   44
1976 20 21 1 5 4 0   51
1977 20 24 0 9 1 0   54
1978 19 31 2 11 3 0   66
1979 15 31 1 10 1 0   58
1980 14 24 3 12 1 0   54
1981 16 21 1 12 0 0   50
1982 18 19 1 10 1 0   49
1983 18 25 1 9 2 0   55
1984 18 27 2 8 2 0   57
1985 17 10 1 8 0 0   36
1986 14 0 1 8 0 0   23
1987 14 23 1 8 1 0   47
1988 15 16 0 8 1 0   40
1989 11 7 1 9 0 0   28
1990 8 1 1 6 2 0   18
1991 7 0 1 6 0 0   14
1992 6 0 0 0 2 0   8
1993 0 0 0 0 1 0   1
1994 0 0 0 0 2 0   2
1995 0 0 0 5 2 0   7
1996 0 0 0 1 2 0   3
1997 0 0 0 0 0 0   0
1998 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 4
Total 1,030 715 45 210 45 3 2 2,050

1. In accordance with the definition of a nuclear test contained in the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and to allow accurate comparison with other countries' figures, India's three simultaneous nuclear explosions on May 11 are counted as only one nuclear test, as are the two explosions on May 13. Likewise, Pakistan's five simultaneous explosions on May 28 are counted as a single test.


South Asian Nuclear Tests Cloud Prospect for CTBT Ratification

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."

South Asian Nuclear Tests Cloud Prospect for CTBT Ratification


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