THAT the issue of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is complex and involves a deep-driving diplomatic activity, becomes clear from the latest development that the Comprehensive Nuclear test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) has offered India an “Observer” status to be part of the multinational forum. Such a status would give India access to a lot of critical scientific data which otherwise would be out of India’s reach. Such a data would be useful in earthquake monitoring and following the radioisotope dispersion, according to Mr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO. And almost as an afterthought, Mr. Zerbo added, India’s joining the CTBTO could be a “good starting point” for further action, though he did not expect India to ratify the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. For India, this offer may come as yet another evidence of its expanding clout in international arena.
Of course, the history of Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty is full of pitfalls and potholes. India has been opposed to the CTBT on one unequivocal ground that it favours five nuclear-weapons countries like the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China. No matter the Indian stance, the CTBT is yet to obtain ratification from two of the five powers -- the US and China, though the two countries have signed the Treaty. It is clear from these details that the CTBTO is a forum that offers a good ground for complex diplomatic activity as part of which everybody is testing the patience and persistence of everybody else.
The offer of the status of “Observer” will give India an access to a diplomatic arena that was until now out of its reach. But the usage of the phrase “good starting point” also indicates what kind of pressures and conditionalities India may have to counter once it becomes part of the CTBTO. In that situation, India may have to take a relook at how it should handle the challenge of nuclear diplomacy.
One of the interesting aspects of the CTBT diplomacy is that everybody seems to wait for others to join full-fledgedly. In that game of patience, India will have to tread very cautiously, if it accepts the CTBTO offer. India will have to protect itself from some vulnerability that will creep in with the participation in the CTBTO activity even as “Observer”. If India accepts an invitation from CTBTO to join a science and technology conference late June in Vienna, it may help New Delhi to know the tone and tenor of diplomacy it might have to encounter in CTBTO. Much depends on how Government looks at the offer and what kind of shape of things it harbours on Nuclear Test-Ban issue.
Right from start, India has been opposed to partisanship in nuclear diplomacy. Its basic objection to Test-Ban is that the moratorium must be applicable in an omnibus manner, truly comprehensively, without exception. And it has not joined the CTBTO only because it suspects certain favouritism protecting the interests of the US, the UK, Russia, France, and China. But the very fact that all the signatories to the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty have not ratified the arrangement, also offers India a chance to be there in the forum and still pursue its own ideology.
The next steps would show how India sees and senses the scenario. The offer to accept the “Observer” status has its own temptations, but India will never jump onto the bandwagon just because it got the invitation. It will weigh the pros and cons and then decide what diplomatic road ahead it envisages. Since a lot of uncertainties dominate the CTBTO forum, India may want to test the new waters by accepting the “Observer” status at least on a temporary, on-trial basis. Subsequently, it can even withdraw from the forum citing solid reasons of double-standards followed by other nations. Of course, it is easier said than achieved. No matter all that, the CTBTO offer does indicate one thing clearly: India’s expanding potential in world forums.