Separating fact from fiction

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Contributing Editor Dr SHIREEN M MAZARI discusses the CTBT issue

The whole issue of the CTBT has unfortunately become embroiled in political controversies with various parties using it to further their own interests. Also, an attempt has been made to link the CTBT to a visit from Clinton. Right at the outset, let me state that the CTBT issue should not be linked to a visit from Clinton. We should not appear as if we are prepared to bargain away our signature to international treaties. If we are going to sign the CTBT it must be because it is in our national interest - not because it would bring Clinton here. And this is the crucial issue because it is abundantly clear that India is definitely going to sign the CTBT when Clinton visits there - if not earlier. The official Indian pronouncements of great 'progress' in the US-India nuclear dialogue give this indication also, with the US giving India's nuclear status legitimization as a quid pro quo. So what should Pakistan do on the issue of the CTBT, especially with major donor states like Japan keeping up the pressure for signature? Well, the first thing that is needed is to be clear on certain basics regarding the CTBT since so much misinformation has been floating around. That the CTBT was not a viable option for Pakistan to consider before it had tested is not debatable since a nuclear capability was a necessity for Pakistan given its security concerns and the regional realities. But even then, had India not provided the pretext for Pakistan to test, our ruling elite would never have taken this bold step. Now having tested, an inherent question needs to be asked and answered very honestly: Will we ever test again unless India provides us the pretext? While pondering that question, some misperceptions regarding the nature of the CTBT need to be put to rest.

Popular misperceptions

One, that the CTBT is a discriminatory treaty.

The CTBT is non-discriminatory in that all states are forbidden to conduct nuclear tests - unlike the discriminatory NPT which has two different sets of rights and obligations for nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. Basically the CTBT plugs the gap that existed - regarding underground testing - after the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) became operational in the early sixties and to which Pakistan and India are parties. The framework of the Treaty is precisely this: Forbidding nuclear tests. All the provisions relate to this function, including the verification regime.

Also, the non-discriminatory character of the treaty is reflected in the manner in which the Organisation to oversee the functioning of the Treaty is to be formed. There are no privileged or permanent seats for anyone - instead, membership has been divided regionally.

Two, that the Treaty is intrusive in its verifications and will allow our enemies access to our nuclear facilities.

Yes, the verification regime is intrusive but there is a categorical provision for 'frivolous' challenges with monetary penalties. It is too bad that we did not show as much concern about the intrusiveness of the verification procedures of the Chemical Weapons treaty which will have a much wider impact on our chemical industry and weapons development programmes. The most important point is that verification in the CTBT relates to test sites only which by definition cannot be your nuclear reactors and arms producing facilities. So there is no truth in the claim that one's nuclear reactors etc. will be invaded by hostile alien forces under the pretext of verification. The scope of the CTBT is limited specifically to nuclear testing.

Three, that signing the CTBT will undermine our nuclear capability.

Dr. A Q Khan has gone on record to state that this would not be the case. And the fact is that unless Pakistan is prepared to test again - which is not likely - the CTBT will not undermine our nuclear capability or doctrine of nuclear stability. There is nothing in the treaty which prevents us from improving our nuclear weapons through cold testing, simulation exercises etc.

Then again, the Treaty allows a state to escape out under conditions of 'supreme national interest' after giving six months notice.

Also, our nuclear weapon status does not get affected either way since that has nothing to do with the CTBT. Whether we sign it or not, we will remain a nuclear weapon power and eventually the world will have to concede to this ground reality.

Four, that the CTBT is 'unIslamic'!

This is simply an emotive ruse being used by some people who are not aware of the fact, perhaps, that of the states who have to ratify the Treaty to make it operational (as required under Article XIV), important Muslim states like Iran, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt - to name a few - have already done so.

So then the issue is should Pakistan sign the CTBT now that it has conducted its nuclear tests and is unlikely to conduct anymore in the foreseeable future? To answer that question rationally, one must look at the costs and benefits that would result. And in so doing, one must remember two very important facts: One, that the decision to sign or otherwise will be purely politico-economic in nature in terms of assessing costs and benefits. Two, that presently the CTBT is a dead Treaty in so far as its actual operationalisation is concerned because the US has refused to ratify it. And traditionally the US has not altered its position on treaty ratifications, so it is likely that perhaps the CTBT in its present form may not become operational for quite a while! That means that the other signatories and ratifiers are simply showing a commitment to non-testing even though the CTBT clauses cannot be enforced.

Costs of signing the CTBT

  • Once you become a party to a treaty, you cannot just leave it. the political pressure will be great if at some future date Pakistan wished to leave the treaty to test again.
  • Given the present political milieu and our economic constraints, any government which signs will have to contend with accusations of having buckled under US pressure. And many disparate political forces may coalesce together using the CTBT as a base for an agitational movement - hence the need to educate the public and create a national consensus whichever decision the state opts for.
  • Since no testing will be possible in the near future, one must be sure that our technical requirements for a credible deterrence have been met before signing the CTBT.
  • Our ability to go for fission-boosted weapons development and thermonuclear weapons will be severely limited. So we have to examine whether we would ever require these weapons or whether our limited resources would be better utilised in continuing development on our fission weapons further - which we can do with cold testing and simulation.

Benefits of signing the CTBT

  • Primarily economic, especially the restoration of aid and assistance from Pakistan's largest donor state - Japan. It is not US economic blackmail that will push us to the CTBT but Japanese pressure on this issue - given Japan's constitutional limitations - along with the poor state of our own economy.
  • Divert negative focus on our nuclear development and deployment.
  • Reaffirm that as a sovereign state we abide by our international commitments.
  • We can finally move on to focusing our attention where it is needed - on the FMCT which is simply unacceptable in the form it is being devised presently. Here Pakistan needs to evolve a consensus with other negotiating states in Geneva so that its future stockpiles of fissionable material are not affected adversely, especially in relation to India. It is the FMCT which could place Pakistan at a permanent nuclear disadvantage in the region.

A critical point to remember is that in the case of the CTBT - as on many other specialised security/foreign policy issues, the government must first take a decision and then evolve a national consensus.

If there is a fear regarding Indian intentions, we can always sign and withhold ratification - linking it to India's accession. We can also state clearly at the time of joining that we will test if India does so. The issue is not so much one of 'why the hurry' as one of 'why the delay' when we are not going to be in a position to test again on our own.

One important fear that is being voiced in certain quarters also needs to be addressed: That today we 'give in' on the CTBT and soon there will be this domino effect and we will be pressured into rolling back our nuclear programme and eventually into renouncing it all together.

First of all, we should not 'give in' on the CTBT but go into it only if we decide it is in our national interest. Secondly, it is time we stopped living in fear that once under pressure we will simply cave in on all issues. If we are so insecure in ourselves then we do not need a treaty to undermine our national security. After all, when our decision-makers did buckle under on the nuclear issue and 'rolled back' the programme, it was not under any treaty! So it is up to us to choose our battles and stand firm where it is needed. As a nuclear weapon power we need to develop a national confidence and sense of security - so that fear of the domino effect does not invade our national being every time we contemplate signing an international treaty.