June 20 1996 - The Government of India Refuses to Sign the CTBT at the Geneva Conference


On June 20th 1996, India refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at the Geneva Conference.

The CTBT essentially bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, be it for military or civilian purposes. This treaty was taken up by the Unites Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 10th 1996 and was opened for acceptance on September 24th 1996 in New York. The treaty was signed by 71 countries (except India). This was a sizable achievement which marked the climax of forty years of international discussions to ban the testing of nuclear weapons.

Upon signing the treaty, the countries agreed not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion and to prevent any nuclear explosion in territories under their jurisdiction. Countries who have signed the CTBT also agreed to abstain from participating or conducting any nuclear weapon test explosion. Nuclear weapon states are allowed to build and warehouse nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear states are not permitted either of these things.

The history of the CTBT dates back to March 1st 1954 when America tested a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb in Namu Atoll, an island in the Pacific Ocean. By exceeding the estimated outcome and causing a rather large fallout beyond that of restricted testing area, this test increased the fallout of dangerous radioactive materials. Official calculations confirmed that 28 American and 236 residents of the neighbouring Marshall Islands had been contaminated by radioactive emissions. Subsequently the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, while addressing the Indian Parliament in 1954, appealed for an “immediate standstill” agreement until the Unites Nations had devised and laid out an extensive disarmament agreement. At the UN General Assembly meeting in December 1954, Indian stood by its proposal of completely pausing nuclear testing.

India’s take on the CTBT was in keeping with its dedication to follow a global nuclear disarmament with a vision of creating a world which would be free of nuclear weapons, and ultimately lead to a non-violent world. Since its independence in 1947, India had always viewed nuclear weapons as weapons of destruction, which would ultimately pose a severe threat to international peace and security. Hence, India opposed nuclear weapons and promoted the creation of a nuclear free world, by elimination of nuclear weapons through a multilaterally negotiated and effective treaty.

India was hoping that the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), also known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which had prohibited all testing of nuclear weapons unless they were done underground, would not only stop this frenzied arms race, but would also be the first step towards a complete test ban. The outcome of the treaty though was underground testing rather than any step towards a comprehensive ban. As a result of this, India rejected the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as they believed that this treaty strengthened the nuclear hierarchy which led to a sharp contrast and discrimination between countries which had nuclear weapons, versus those which did not.

The main concern India had during the CTBT negotiations were that the treaty should focus on disarmament if it hoped to be effective. The final treaty which emerged did not fall in line with what had been negotiated and a commitment for nuclear disarmament was missing.

India refused to sign the CTBT reasoning that the treaty was discriminatory. The United States, which had fired and tested more than 2000 nuclear devices which had the capacity of destroying the world many times over, apparently suddenly realized that there was no need to test nuclear devices any more. The second objection India had with the CTBT was that the nuclear weapon states, which were led by the United States, were not agreeing to commit themselves to a time-bound disarmament schedule. Another objection India had was that the CTBT would not help towards nuclear disarmament since it only banned nuclear explosive testing, but not other activities related to nuclear weapons, such as sub-critical (non-nuclear explosive) experiments, or computer simulations. Also, India did not want to sign the CTBT since it wanted to maintain a strategic flexibility keeping in mind its national security considerations.

While the CTBT debate was going on, Prakash Shah, India’s permanent representative to the UN stated that India “cannot permit (its) option to be constrained as long as countries around (it) continue their weapons programs either openly or in a clandestine manner” and a long as “NWS (nuclear weapon states) remain unwilling to accept the obligation to eliminate their nuclear arsenals”.

India also objected to the CTBT’s provision for Entry into Force, which required the signature and ratification of 44 states (those listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as having research or power reactors and which were also members of the Conference of Disarmament as of June 18th 1996) for the CTBT to be effective. Finally, India refused to sign the CTBT as it had concerns about the use of national technical means, which included satellites and human intelligence for verification. India said that it found the nature of the CTBT’s verification to be extremely intrusive and having the ability to have an adverse impact on the security and autonomy of less developed states.

In May 1998, India conducted a nuclear test in Pokran (Rajasthan) and declared a temporary prohibition on further nuclear tests and announced that it would convert this de facto commitment into a de jure one.

 Also On This Day:

1858 - Gwalior Fort is captured by British troops and the first Indian Sepoy Mutiny officially comes to an end.

1873 - Young Men's Christian Association of India is established in Calcutta

1985 - America's highest civilian decoration, the Medal of Freedom, is presented to Mother Teresa.

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