India’s nuclear tests are a wake-up call to the world, and particularly to the nuclear weapons states. The meeting of the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in Geneva, which concluded on May 8th, attracted near zero press attention and achieved near zero results. It was virtually a non-event. On the other hand, India’s tests three days later immediately got the world’s attention.
The message of India’s tests is that we can have a world in which many countries have nuclear weapons or a world in which no countries have nuclear weapons, but we will not have a world in which only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Israel retain nuclear weapons in perpetuity. India has long argued that it is unwilling to give up its nuclear weapons option so long as the current nuclear weapons states fail to make a commitment to eliminate their nuclear arsenals within a timebound framework. The Indians underlined this position in 1996 when they refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Following their recent nuclear tests, however, the Indians have offered to sign the CTBT, but only if the nuclear weapons states agree to eliminate their nuclear arsenals within a timebound framework and cease all subcritical and laboratory nuclear weapons testing. The Indian position is reasonable. They are calling for a world in which no state, including themselves, has nuclear weapons.
What is not reasonable is the way in which the nuclear weapons states and their allies have treated India’s position as non-negotiable. The nuclear weapons states have consistently failed to this day to show the good faith in seeking nuclear disarmament that they promised in 1968 in Article VI of the NPT.
Ironically, the only nuclear weapons state to consistently call for nuclear weapons abolition is China, but it, too, has been rebuffed by the other nuclear weapons states. It is ironic because India’s testing was, at least in part, a response to China’s possession and improvement of its nuclear arsenal.
Despite their promises in 1995 for the determined pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament, the nuclear weapons states have been largely impeding nuclear disarmament. If they are serious about stopping India, Pakistan and other states from becoming full fledged nuclear powers, they had better reverse their course of action and begin serious and good faith negotiations to rid the world of nuclear arms. This is the only course of action with a chance of success to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.
The knee-jerk reaction of the U.S., Japan and other industrialized states to impose economic sanctions on India will not stop the Indians from developing a nuclear arsenal. It will only result in greater hostility in a world divided not only between rich and poor, but also between nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.”
India’s testing is not only an Indian problem. It is a problem of the international system that leads the country of Gandhi to follow a nuclear weapons path. There is only one way out of the dilemma, and that is a commitment by all nuclear weapons states SQ now including India SQ to the abolition of their nuclear arsenals. According to a 1996 unanimous opinion of the International Court of Justice, the complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals is the legal obligation of the nuclear weapons states under international law.
Nuclear weapons abolition is also the solution called for by military and civilian leaders and citizen action groups throughout the world. The Abolition 2000 Statement of over 1000 citizens organizations around the world calls upon the nuclear weapons states to “Initiate immediately and conclude by the year 2000 negotiations on a nuclear weapons abolition convention that requires the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons within a timebound framework with provisions for effective verification and enforcement.”
In crisis there is opportunity. If India’s nuclear tests lead to sufficient pressure on the nuclear weapons states to reverse their course and become serious about ending the nuclear weapons era, we may still be able to enter the 21st century with a treaty in place to accomplish this goal. If the nuclear weapons states hold firm to their present positions, however, India may be only the first of many states to become new members in the nuclear weapons club.