Non-proliferation and the Challenge of Nuclear Disarmament

A Critique of UNSC Resolution S/RES/1887 (2009): Part 2

With the change in leadership in the U.S. (whether the change is merely superficial or for real may be a debatable point) and with the 2010 NPT Review Conference fast approaching, the U.S. and its allies were forced to demonstrate that they were concerned with the lack of progress on the issue of nuclear disarmament. They were also concerned about the failure on the part of the P-5 NWS to take adequate steps to implement Article – VI of the NPT. That, indeed, was the circumstance in which the present Resolution was introduced before the UNSC and adopted by it at this point of time.

Confusion over NSA

The said UNSC Resolution No.1887 of 2009, which was adopted on 24.09.2009 brings forth the confusion prevailing within the U.S. Administration on the issue of negative security assurance (NSA) to Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). This is evident from para 11 of the preamble to the Resolution, which welcomes and supports the steps taken to conclude NWFZ treaties “in accordance with the 1999 UN Disarmament Commission guidelines”. The readiness on the part of the U.S. now to abide by the 1999 UNDC guidelines is a radical departure from its earlier rigid stance against undertaking legally binding negative security assurance to NNWS. This is because para 14 of the said guidelines states as follows:

By signing and ratifying the relevant protocols to the treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, nuclear weapon States undertake legally binding commitments to respect the status of such zones and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against States parties to such treaties. ((Annex I: Establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region,” Report of the Disarmament Commission, General Assembly Official Records, Fifty-fourth session, Supplement No. 42 (A/54/42), 06 May 1999))

However, para 12 of the preamble to UNSC Resolution No.1887 of 2009 completely contradicts the undertaking that the P-5 NWS were required to make as per the above said 1999 UNDC guidelines because it merely seeks to reiterate the so-called negative security assurance made to the NNWS by the P-5 NWS vide UNSC Resolution No.984 of 1995. Clause 1 of the UNSC Resolution No.984 of 1995 states that the UNSC:

Takes note with appreciation of the statements made by each of the nuclear-weapon States (S/1995/261, S/1995/262, S/1995/263, S/1995/264, S/1995/265), in which they give security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon States that are Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

On the face of it, this negative security assurance through the said UNSC Resolution No.984 of 1995 would appear to be a very major step. However, a closer examination of the statements made by each of the P-5 NWS would reveal that, except for China, the so-called negative security assurance purportedly acceded to by USA, Russia, UK and France is completely hollow. This would be evident from comparing the statement made by China with those made by the other four P-5 NWS. In paras 1 & 2 of its statement vide S/1995/265 dated 06.04.1995, China gave the following assurances:

1. China undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.
2. China undertakes not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones at any time or under any circumstances….

Furthermore, in para 3 of the same statement, China submitted that:

3. China has always held that, pending the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons, all nuclear-weapon States should undertake not to be the first to use nuclear weapons and not to use or threaten to use such weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States and nuclear-weapon-free zones at any time or under any circumstances. China strongly calls for the early conclusion of an international convention on no-first-use of nuclear weapons as well as an international legal instrument assuring the non-nuclear weapon States and nuclear-weapon-free zones against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, the operative parts of the U.S. statement vide S/1995/263 dated 06.04.1995 was as follows:

The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons EXCEPT in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear weapon State IN ASSOCIATION OR ALLIANCE WITH a nuclear-weapon State. (emphasis added)

[Russia (S-1995-261), UK (S-1995-262) and France (S-1995-264) had also issued separate statements, which were essentially identical to the one made by the U.S. as quoted above.]

“In association or alliance with” is a very convenient phrase, which could be interpreted according to the whims and fancies of the U.S. and its nuclear allies. In other words, whatever affirmative content there may have been in the first half of the declaration made by the U.S. and its nuclear allies, the same is completely negated by the escape clause in the second half of that very declaration that renders the first half of the declaration completely void of substance and makes it totally redundant. The escape clause provides a suitable handle to the U.S. and its nuclear allies to justify the use of nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state under any pretext at any time. If the U.S. and its nuclear allies had genuine intentions of guaranteeing negative security assurance to the non-nuclear weapon states, they could have easily done so by giving a straightforward declaration like the one made by China. From a perusal of the two sets of declarations, it should be evident to anyone who makes an honest comparison that there is a world of difference between the forthright declaration regarding negative security assurance that China has given, on the one hand, ((India, Pakistan and North Korea have also made identical unilateral declarations.)) and the convoluted and conditional declaration that USA, Russia, UK and France have made, on the other. To treat the two entirely different sets of declarations on par would be an act of sheer dishonesty, which is exactly what the UNSC has committed. However, what is surprising is that despite China’s forthright stand on negative security assurance to NNWS, China goes on to support the fraudulent UNSC Resolution No.984 of 1995 as a whole, which is intrinsically against the interests of the NNWS.

In this regard, it would be appropriate to draw attention to the protest letter that the G-21 nations (representing the nonaligned nations in the UN) had addressed to the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Disarmament on 11.04.1995 itself. The letter states that:

this resolution [UNSC Res. No.984 of 11.04.1995] does not take into account any of the formal objections made in the past by Non-nuclear Weapon States on the restrictive, restrained, uncertain, conditional and discriminatory character of the guarantees already provided. [Therefore], it is for the Nuclear Weapon States to provide security assurances to Non-nuclear Weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in an internationally and legally-binding form.

The scathing criticism expressed by the G-21 nations in the said letter dated 11.04.1995 completely lays bare the true character, i.e., the worthlessness, of the said UNSC Res. No.984 of 1995. Thus, the purported commitment regarding negative security assurance to NNWS, which is made in para 11 of the preamble to the UNSC Res. No.1887 of 2009, is entirely negated by the reiteration of support to the questionable UNSC Res. No.984 of 1995 in para 12 of the same preamble.


Another problematic aspect of the UNSC Resolution No.1887 of 2009 is the unqualified manner in which it has called upon all States to join and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). On the face of it, such a call would have been most welcome provided the CTBT in its present form was designed to fulfill that mandate. However, as is explained below, that certainly is not the case. The article titled “Disarmament Negotiations: In Retrospect and Prospect” provides a brief overview of the concerted attempts from the late 1940s till the early 1960s to advance towards the goal of disarmament. Throughout that period, due to persistent pressure from the global peace movement, the nuclear weapon powers were forced to engage in disarmament negotiations. The adoption of the McCloy-Zorin Accord was the high point of such efforts.

During 1958-1961, when the first moratorium on nuclear tests was in force, fruitful negotiations had taken place between the U.S., the USSR and the UK at the Geneva Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapon Tests. Under its auspices three technical working groups of experts had – in almost continuous session from 31 October 1958 to 29 January 1962 – investigated and reported on various aspects of control: one on high altitude tests, another on underground tests, and the third on seismic research programs to improve detection capabilities. However, the Conference was unable to complete the drafting of a Treaty because of persistent differences on whether or not national technical means of detection were adequate for detecting violation of any treaty obligations under all environments.

After the Geneva Conference of technical experts adjourned in January 1962, the principal forum for negotiations became the newly formed 18-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC), ((On 20 December 1961, the UNGA, apart from unanimously endorsing the McCloy-Zorin Accord, had also decided to expand the 10-Nation Disarmament Committee, which was beset with irresolvable differences a year earlier. It expanded the Committee by including eight non-aligned nations (Brazil, Burma, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Sweden, and the United Arab Republic) with a view to bridging the gap between the NATO and Warsaw Pact factions of the Committee.)) which began its meetings at Geneva under the aegis of the UNGA on 14 March 1962, with its focus again on general and complete disarmament. At the 2nd Meeting, on 15 March 1962, the USSR submitted its “Draft treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict international control.” At the 23rd Meeting, on 18 April 1962, the U.S. submitted its “Outline of basic provisions of a treaty on general and complete disarmament in a peaceful world.”

Concurrently, on 20 March 1962, the ENDC decided to set up a sub-committee composed of the U.S., the USSR and the UK to consider a treaty on discontinuance of nuclear weapon tests. On 27 August 1962, U.S.A. and Britain came up with a proposal for a limited test ban (i.e., of ending nuclear tests in all environments except underground) monitored by national technical means of verification. USSR rejected the proposal and instead continued to insist on a comprehensive test ban treaty. The negotiations were rudely interrupted by the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. However, tensions between the U.S. and the USSR seemingly reduced after the Crisis was amicably resolved. Meanwhile, the global peace movement, which had been reinvigorated by the heightened tensions, continued to gather strength with its immediate focus on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Following the amicable resolution of the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, a perceptible reduction in hostility was noticeable from the conciliatory speech that President Kennedy delivered on 10 June 1963 at the American University, Washington, D.C., when he said:

(a) I have… chose this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived – yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace…

(b) Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles – which can only destroy and never create – is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace…

(c) While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both…

(d) Confident and unafraid, we labor on – not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.

At the end of his speech, President Kennedy also made two important announcements. He said:

I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to announce two important decisions in this regard. First: Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan and I have agreed that high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history – – but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind. Second: To make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on the matter, I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so.

Responding favourably to Kennedy’s speech, Premier Khrushchev on 02 July 1963 announced that the USSR was willing to consider signing a treaty outlawing nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water, while permitting underground ones, which was practically the proposal that the U.S. and the UK had made on 27 August 1962. Shortly afterwards, negotiations began in Moscow on 15 July 1963 supposedly for concluding a comprehensive test ban treaty. However, ten days later, on 25 July 1963, the three parties at the talks – USA, UK and USSR – agreed to conclude a Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), also known as Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which they signed on 05 August 1963 with much euphoria. Although the U.S. Senate ratified the LTBT on 24 September 1963, about one-fifth of the senators had opposed it on the ground that the LTBT had compromised USA’s national security. Moreover, as McGeorge Bundy has pointed out:

In the process of ratification the administration gave assurances on continued underground testing that were honored in later years. The LTBT cleaned up the atmosphere, and it also prevented testing in space and underwater, but it did not stop continuing technological advance in the design of nuclear warheads. ((McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival – Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years, Affiliated East-West Press Pvt Ltd., New Delhi, 1989, p. 460-461))

Nor did the PTBT in any way hinder the production of nuclear warheads and delivery systems, which went on unabated. In the background of the Cuban Missile crisis of October 1962, the PTBT may have been signed in good faith in order to allay fears of a nuclear conflagration. However, from hindsight, it appears that in effect the signing of the PTBT constituted a great betrayal of the peace movement. The signing of the PTBT – instead of the much-awaited comprehensive test ban treaty – not only succeeded in disrupting the peace movement but also misled the world into believing that the PTBT was a significant step in the direction of nuclear disarmament. Indeed, nothing was farther from the truth! The peace loving people were so eager for some kind of agreement between the two adversaries that the majority of them were easily taken in by the rhetoric of the PTBT. ((Opposition to adopting a comprehensive test ban treaty at that time was based on the spacious plea that the then available technology was incapable of detecting low intensity underground nuclear weapon tests. However, as is now evident, that excuse was merely a ruse to prevent a complete ban on nuclear weapon tests altogether. According to two experts on the matter, “Underground nuclear explosions were not banned, in part because seismological methods for monitoring the underground environment were thought to be inadequate. Over the subsequent 30 years, more than 1500 nuclear tests were carried out underground. They showed that seismological methods of monitoring a CTBT were far better than had been thought in early treaty negotiations, and, by the late 1960s, met the level of monitoring capability desired in 1963. Had the global monitoring system advocated in 1958 been built, its capabilities would have far exceeded the capability then said to have been necessary for a CTBT.” See: Paul G. Richards & John Zavales, “Seismological Methods For Monitoring a CTBT: The Technical Issues Arising in Early Negotiations.”))

Many of the better informed felt that the PTBT would at least eliminate the danger to human health by stopping atmospheric testing. If, as it was later claimed, the central concern was about safeguarding human health, both USA and USSR could have unilaterally stopped atmospheric tests. This is because most of the atmospheric tests at that time were being conducted at the Nevada test site in the U.S. and at the Semipalatinsk and Novaya Zemlia test sites in the USSR. People living near these test sites were the ones, who were primarily exposed to radiation hazards from the radioactive fallout from nuclear tests. Therefore, there was absolutely no need for an international treaty to save ones own citizens from ones own nuclear tests! This truth had then escaped the attention of most peace loving people. (Of course, depending on atmospheric conditions some of the radioactive fallout from the tests conducted in the U.S. and the USSR did get carried to places outside their borders as well.)

UK and France were conducting nuclear tests in their colonies – Australia, Algeria and French Polynesia – and were hardly bothered about the radiation effects on the local inhabitants. France, anyway, had refused to sign the PTBT. At the time of finalizing the text of the PTBT on 25 July 1963, USA, USSR and Great Britain together had conducted about 547 nuclear weapon tests. ((SIPRI Year Book 1988, p. 73)) However, by May 1998, the total number of such tests (including those conducted by France, China, India and Pakistan) had gone up to 2051. ((Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 1998.)) North Korea has since joined the bandwagon on 09 October 2006. Thus, all that the PTBT did was to drive atmospheric and underwater tests underground! The real character of the PTBT, thereby, stood thoroughly exposed.

Ascendancy of Non-Proliferation

The signing of the PTBT signalled the abandonment of the drive towards disarmament and led to the adoption of the convenient concept of “non-proliferation” ostensibly to stem the spread of nuclear weapons (which strictly meant horizontal non-proliferation.) There were, of course, a few exceptions such as the signing on 27 January 1967 of the multilateral Outer Space Treaty, which prohibited militarisation of space. Ever since the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, drawing non-nuclear weapon states into the net of non-proliferation has been the primary agenda of the nuclear weapon states. There was a tacit understanding by the three nuclear weapon powers – USA, USSR and UK – that those countries that had tested nuclear weapons before 1967 would not only have the “right” to possess nuclear weapons but also would be free to indulge in unbridled vertical proliferation. Needless to add, there was no provision in the NPT that prohibited the use of nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear weapon states.

The signing of the NPT in 1968 did theoretically commit the nuclear weapon powers to continue negotiations towards a comprehensive test ban treaty. However, renewed concern about the need for a CTBT began only in the late 1970s when peace-loving people the world over were rudely shaken when they found that humanity was at the edge of a precipice. The massive nuclear arms build-up, the worsening of “East-West” relations, floating doctrines of “winnable” and “limited” nuclear war, etc., alerted them to the impending threat of outbreak of nuclear war. Concerned scientists and peace groups began to express their outrage at the drift towards nuclear war. For them there were no options but to re-organise and rally people at large against the goings on. They sought a freeze on testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. Thus, the issue of a comprehensive test ban again came to the forefront.

On 09 June 1978, at the UN Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSD), Prime Minister Morarji Desai of India proposed a ban on nuclear weapons tests, this time as part of a defined program of nuclear disarmament. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reiterated this proposal through a call dated 11 June 1982 to the Second UNSSD. India’s proposal included a call for a convention on no use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, a freeze on the manufacture of nuclear weapons combined with a cut-off in the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes, and a test-ban treaty. In response to appeals from peace groups, the USSR declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing during 1985-87. At the Third UNSSD on 09 June 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi put forward a comprehensive action plan titled “Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-violent World Order.”

In August 1988, the Six-Nation Initiative (Argentina, Greece, India, Mexico, Sweden and Tanzania) requested the United Nations to convene a special conference to consider amending the PTBT to make it comprehensive. The PTBT Amendment Conference, which was convened in January 1991, could not reach any agreement. In October 1991, the USSR again announced a one-year moratorium on testing; later the United States too joined the moratorium. In 1992 the Soviets extended the moratorium and the U.S. followed suit. On 16th December 1993, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to negotiate a CTBT as soon as possible.

Earlier in 1978, a 38-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) – had replaced the 18-Nation Disarmament Committee, which was conceived as a forum for negotiating the goal of general and complete disarmament. In 1993 the CD was further expanded into a 61-member body. CTBT negotiations began in the CD in January 1994 in Geneva. On 22 August 1996, India and Iran blocked a consensus in the CD because of serious differences on the final CTBT text. Thereafter, the President of the CD, flouting all norms of the CD where draft texts are always adopted by consensus, forwarded the disputed CTBT text to the UN General Assembly. Despite India expressing its strong opposition to the serious defects in the CTBT-text, the UN General Assembly adopted it on 10 September 1996.

The preamble to the CTBT equivocally states that the States that are party to the Treaty recognise that:

the cessation of all nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions, by constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons, constitutes an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in all its aspects.

Article I of the Treaty, which consists of two basic obligations, also states that:

1.Each State Party undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

2. Each State Party undertakes, furthermore, to refrain from causing, encouraging, or in any way participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.

On the face of it, the stipulations in the preamble and in Article – I of the Treaty are of great significance and should have gone a long way in advancing the cause of nuclear disarmament. However, the reality is quite different. Unlike any other treaty, key terms in the present CTBT are left undefined. For example, terms such as “qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons”, “advanced new types of nuclear weapons”, “nuclear weapon test explosions”, “other nuclear explosions”, “comprehensive test ban”, etc., have not been defined in technical terms. The difference between “test” and “use” of nuclear weapons has not been explained either. Thus, it is not at all clear what is prohibited by the CTBT. It was not due to an oversight that these terms were left undefined; it was a calculated strategy on the part of the U.S. Administration, whose representatives for all practical purposes were steering the discussion on the Draft Treaty in the CD, to subject the CTBT text to convenient interpretations by leaving these crucial terms undefined.

Convoluted Logic

The U.S. Administration’s strategy in this regard is elaborated in the Letter of Transmittal, which the U.S. President transmitted to the U.S. Senate on 22 September 1997 [See:.] It included an “Article by Article Analysis of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty”. According to this analysis, as far as Article – 1 of the CTBT was concerned:

[a] The U.S. decided at the outset of negotiations that it was unnecessary, and probably would be problematic, to seek to include a definition in the treaty text of a “nuclear weapon test explosion or any other explosion” for the purpose of specifying in technical terms what is prohibited by the treaty… It is clearly understood by all negotiating parties, as a result of President Clinton’s announcement on August 11, 1995, that the U.S. will continue to conduct a range of nuclear weapon activities to ensure the safety and reliability of its nuclear weapons stockpile, some of which, while not involving a nuclear explosion may result in the release of nuclear energy…

[b] With respect to the obligation “not to carry out” any nuclear explosion, the negotiating record reveals that Article I does not limit in any way a State Party’s ability to conduct activities in preparation for a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion…. In addition, the U.S. opposed this proposal because it might interfere with its ability to maintain the basic capability to resume nuclear test activities prohibited by the Treaty should the United States… withdraw from the Treaty…

[c] The United States understands that Article I, paragraph 1 does not prohibit any activities not involving nuclear explosions that are required to maintain the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. stockpile, to include: design, development, production, and remanufacture of nuclear weapons, replacement of weapon parts, flight testing of weapon components, engineering tests of the mechanical and electrical integrity of weapon components under a variety of environmental conditions and changes to weapons.

[d] Finally, the obligation “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” does not place limitations on the ability of the United States to use nuclear weapons…. Similarly, the CTBT negotiating record demonstrates that THE PROHIBITIONS IN ARTICLE I DO NOT APPLY TO THE USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. The U.S. position, which was repeated on numerous occasions, was that any proposed undertakings relating to the use of nuclear weapons were totally beyond the scope of this Treaty and the mandate of its negotiation. ((Paras 8, 10, 12, 13 & 14 of the “Article by Article Analysis of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.”)) (Emphasis added)

CTBT – A Mere Moratorium on “Zero Yield” Testing

In para [a] above, the U.S. officials have argued that:

The U.S. decided at the outset of negotiations that it was unnecessary, and probably would be problematic, to seek to include a definition in the Treaty text of a ‘nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion’ for the purpose of specifying in technical terms what is prohibited by the Treaty.

The U.S. negotiators were very clear in what they were seeking: they wanted to avoid definitions that would be problematic; or to be more precise, they wanted to leave key terms undefined so that such terms could be subjected to convenient interpretations. This posture of the U.S. negotiators was quite unprecedented. The normal practice has always been to define key terms of a Treaty so that such terms are not subjected to various interpretations and thereby violate the spirit of a Treaty. In every treaty there is invariably a clause specifically dealing with definitions. ((For example, Article II of the Chemical Weapons Convention deals with ‘Definitions and Criteria.’)) Given the fact that the key phrase “nuclear weapon test explosion” has not been defined in the present CTBT, how is it possible to strictly verify if a “nuclear weapon test explosion” has indeed taken place and whether the Treaty has been violated? How could any action be contemplated against any nation if critical phrases of a Treaty are open to varied interpretations? The motive behind leaving the key terms of the CTBT undefined is, therefore, very suspect.

In para [b] above, the official U.S. view is again that: “…Article I does not limit in any way a State Party’s ability to conduct activities in preparation for a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.”

According to this interpretation, after agreeing to a comprehensive test ban, States that are parties to that very Treaty are at liberty “to continue to conduct activities in preparation for nuclear weapon test explosions” or any other nuclear explosions! And such acts would not constitute a violation of the Treaty! Such liberal interpretation, indeed, stretches the logic a little too far. When Part 2 of Article I of the CTBT stipulates that each State Party should “refrain from causing, encouraging, or in any way participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion”, can the U.S. Administration claim that Article – I “does not limit in any way a State Party’s ability to conduct activities in preparation for a nuclear weapon test explosion”? If so, why were the parameters of Article I of the Treaty not clearly defined? Who has prevented whom from doing so? The United States was fully involved in drafting the Treaty. Therefore, the decision not to define the parameters of Article – I is nothing but a deliberate tactic on the part of the United States to indulge in what they themselves describe as the tactics of “hedging.” ((U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defence, Harold Smith, “Assuring Confidence in the U.S. Nuclear Stockpile,” 12 March 1996.)) In effect, the CTBT is not a test ban treaty, but only an undertaking to observe a moratorium on further nuclear weapon testing – a moratorium that can be broken at will! And because the moratorium may have to be broken some time or the other, a State Party to the Treaty has to remain prepared to restart testing at any time!

In para [c] above, the official U.S. view is that:

…Article I, paragraph 1 does not prohibit any activities not involving nuclear explosions that are required to maintain the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. stockpile, to include: design, development, production, and remanufacture of nuclear weapons….

Who has prevented whom from including all necessary clauses in the Treaty to prohibit the activities described above? The truth is that it is the U.S. negotiators who have ensured that all the activities described here are not prohibited under Article – I of the Treaty. Therefore, all the arguments by the U.S. Administration about Article – I not prohibiting certain activities are just hogwash. Suffice to say that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty after all is not all that “comprehensive”!

In para [d] above, the official U.S. interpretation is that:

…the obligation ‘not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion’ does not place limitations on the ability of the United States to use nuclear weapons.… Similarly, the CTBT negotiating record demonstrates that the prohibitions in Article I do not apply to the use of nuclear weapons.

If Article – I does not mean what it says, then why is there so much hype about the CTBT? Also, what is the difference between “testing” of nuclear weapons and “use” of such weapons? Why was no attempt made to explain the difference? If “testing” of nuclear weapons to derive technical data constitute an illegitimate act and a crime, how can “use” of nuclear weapons to exterminate human beings remain a legitimate right?

Other Loopholes of the Present CTBT

Having analysed the substantive part of the U.S. Administration’s explanatory note on the CTBT, certain other points too need to be clarified. It may be noted that while the CTBT was conceived as a disarmament measure and negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), it has finally turned to be merely a horizontal non-proliferation measure. In effect, the CTBT in its present form can never be considered as a step towards the goal of global nuclear disarmament. In addition, the CTBT permits quantitative and qualitative vertical proliferation by the nuclear weapon powers. Thus, the so-called “sub-critical” tests ((They are also called hydrodynamic or zero yield tests.)) (so named because the explosion doesn’t sustain a nuclear chain reaction, but in fact can produce a small fission yield) have not been prohibited.

Similarly, no ban has been placed on all other tests that relate both directly and indirectly to development or reliability of nuclear weapons. USA, Russia, and UK have been conducting sub-critical experiments (SCEs), which are carried out to gather information about nuclear warhead design and performance, after becoming signatories to the CTBT. Sub-critical tests serve the same purpose as full-fledged nuclear weapon tests by circumventing the restrictions placed by the CTBT. The U.S. alone has conducted 22 sub-critical tests between 02.07.1997 and 23.02.2006. ((See “CRS [Congressional Research Service] Brief for Congress” (21.06.2006), P. 14.)) At least four more SCEs have been conducted since then. What is the whole purpose of the CTBT if nuclear weapon tests can be carried on by other means? What then is the CTBT supposed to curtail or achieve? Does all this not completely expose the true nature of the present CTBT? Why should a mere nuclear “test explosion” ban treaty be called a “comprehensive” test ban treaty?

It is interesting to note that under the present CTBT, research on new weapon designs would continue in well equipped and well maintained nuclear weapon laboratories and new weapon-design experts would continue to be trained. The nuclear test sites too would continue to be kept in a state of preparedness to resume full-scale underground testing at any time. The United States has already announced in May 1995 that it was pursuing a Stockpile Stewardship and Maintenance Programme (SSMP) to maintain nuclear weapon capability without underground testing. According to a report:

…the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship (SBSS) Program seeks to model the performance of nuclear weapons from “first principles,” thereby diminishing and perhaps eliminating the historical dependence of the U.S. weapons program on nuclear test-based empiricism to verify nuclear explosive performance and calibrate nuclear design code predictions with actual test results. ((Christopher E. Paine, “Does the U.S. Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program Pose a Proliferation Threat?,” 1998.))

It was further noted that:

Senior DOE and national weapons laboratory officials have stated repeatedly that a major objective of the SBSS program is to achieve a “computational weapons testing — virtual testing” — capability as part of “DOE’s long range strategy to move nuclear design from a test-based to a simulation-based approach. Then Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary hailed the signing of a DOE-funded contract with Intel Corporation in 1995 to develop the world’s most powerful supercomputer at Sandia National Laboratory by noting, “Computers of this scale will unlock the ability to confidently simulate nuclear weapons tests in the laboratory. This effort demonstrates a step forward for our scientific-based stockpile stewardship program. ((Christopher E. Paine, “Does the U.S. Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program Pose a Proliferation Threat?,” 1998.))

The SSMP would also ensure that the U.S. has the capability to re-fabricate and certify weapon types in the enduring nuclear weapon stockpile, to maintain the capability to design, fabricate and certify new warheads, etc. The provisions of the present CTBT are, therefore, not only non-comprehensive but also have enough loopholes for nuclear weapon powers to circumvent them for serving their own ends! The CTBT, in other words, is just another version of the infamous PTBT. It is certainly nothing more than that for there will be no capping of nuclear weapons development. For all practical purposes, all that the CTBT is currently ensuring is a moratorium on nuclear weapon “test explosions” and nothing more!

India’s Principled Stand

At the Plenary Meeting of the Conference on Disarmament to discuss the CTBT text on 20th August 1996, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN at Geneva, Ms. Arundhati Ghose, had put forward India’s position on the issue very forthrightly. She said:

We were regrettably unable in spite of the best efforts of all delegations to reach a consensus on a CTBT at this point of time…. Indeed, many had wished for the negotiations to continue so that we could have, perhaps, been able to reach what we had been mandated to negotiate, a universal, multilaterally negotiated consensus text. Unfortunately this was not to be. …

We have always believed that the objective of a CTBT was to bring about an end to nuclear weapons development. We are all aware that nuclear explosion technology is only one of the technologies available to the nuclear weapon states. Technologies relating to sub-critical testing, advanced computer simulation using extensive data relating to previous explosive testing and weapon related applications of laser ignition will lead to fourth generation nuclear weapons, even with a ban on explosive testing. It is a fact that weapons related R & D in these technologies is being promoted. Our objective therefore was a truly Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty rather than merely a nuclear test explosion ban treaty. For many years we have been told that a CTBT was not possible because testing was required for safety and reliability of existing nuclear weapons. We questioned it then and now we know that we were right. Today underground explosion technology has the same relevance to halting development of nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapon States as banning atmospheric tests did in 1963. A truly comprehensive treaty should have fossilised the technology of nuclear weapons.

Despite our efforts, these concerns were not addressed and nor did India’s proposals receive adequate consideration…. As a result we were obliged to reiterate that India could not subscribe to the Chairman’s draft Treaty text. …

Our commitment to nuclear disarmament by continuing to work towards achieving the objective of a nuclear weapon-free world, remains undiminished. ((‘India’s Official Stand on the CTBT,’ statement by Ms. Arundathi Ghose, India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, at the Plenary Session of the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 20th August 1996 (Paras 3, 8, 9 and 11).))

Till recently, India had steadfastly stuck to its position that a genuine CTBT should be linked to a time-bound nuclear disarmament programme. ((A section within the Indian Government is currently willing to support the NPT and the CTBT in their present form provided India is formally “recognised” as a nuclear weapon state.)) Many people are under the false impression that India had been belatedly seeking a linkage between the CTBT and nuclear disarmament in order to scuttle the negotiations. They are totally mistaken. India had always sought a linkage right from the very beginning when the issue was first proposed. One of the proposals made by the Government of India as early as 12th July 1956 before the Disarmament Commission of the UN was on ‘Cessation of All Explosions of Nuclear and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction’. Clause (b) of that proposal had categorically stated that: “The cessation of explosions would serve as an important initial step in nuclear disarmament which might make subsequent steps less difficult.” ((DC/98, Official Records of the Disarmament Commission, Supplement for January-December 1956, reproduced in ‘Disarmament: India’s Initiatives,’ External Publicity Division, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 1988, p. 11)) Therefore, the CTBT, from India’s point of view, was always considered only as “an important initial step in nuclear disarmament.”

Even at that time, the Government of India had further proposed that the following initial steps in nuclear disarmament be taken:

(1) Prohibition of the further use of fissionable material for military purposes” [which would have amounted to a freeze on production of fissile materials for military use and a freeze on production of nuclear weapons];

(2) Prohibition of the transfer of fissionable material from civilian to military stocks”;

(3) Non export or conveying of nuclear weapons to other countries by those countries manufacturing such weapons; etc.

The Government of India had then hoped that: “These proposals, if adopted, would lead to reversing of the nuclear armament race…” ((DC/98, Official Records of the Disarmament Commission, Supplement for January-December 1956, reproduced in ‘Disarmament: India’s Initiatives,’ p. 12-13.)) Thus, India’s objective was always to reverse the nuclear arms race. India wanted to ensure that the signing of the CTBT did not lead to acceleration of the nuclear arms race in a different form. India’s view was that cessation of nuclear weapon tests in all its forms should be the purpose of the CTBT. In the words of Ms. Arundathi Ghose, as quoted above, “A truly comprehensive treaty should have fossilised the technology of nuclear weapons.” However, the CTBT in its present form falls far short of the acceptable standards: from a “comprehensive test ban” treaty, it has been converted into a comprehensive “test explosion ban” treaty. Such a CTBT would only pave the way for introduction of fourth generation nuclear weapons.

Rationale of Resolution

The UNSC Res. No.1887 of 2009 seeks to serve two major purposes. One was to deride North Korea and Iran: this is obvious from the manner in which various past resolutions adopted by the UNSC against these two countries have been recalled in paras 13 & 14 of its preamble. The other was – as stated in para 21 of its preamble – for the purpose of “Reaffirming UNSC Resolution 1540 (2004)” with its overwhelming emphasis on “non-proliferation”. There is, of course, a passing reference to Article – VI, i.e., the issue of nuclear disarmament, without any additional inputs on how to achieve that goal. The Resolution has called upon the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to negotiate a treaty banning production of fissile materials. It also welcomed the CD’s program of work in 2009, which includes negotiations on assurances of non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and systematic and progressive efforts leading to elimination of nuclear weapons. While several head of state/government at the 2009 UNSC summit expressed support for a convention prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons globally, such sentiments were not reflected in the Resolution.

The fact was, by 1995, the NPT had achieved its goal of placing all the possible non-nuclear weapon states under surveillance of the IAEA. Having reached that goal, the purpose of extending the NPT indefinitely was only to divert attention from the issue of nuclear disarmament indefinitely, a mission that the U.S. is desperate to defend and an unenviable task that most members of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), New Agenda Coalition (NAC), Middle Power Initiative (MPI), Abolition 2000, and other concerned peace movements are finding increasingly difficult to defend without losing face. Therefore, the only viable alternative before members of NAM, NAC, MPI and other peace movements is to take the initiative to replace the discriminatory NPT with a non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament treaty. The sooner that task is achieved the better. All the signatories to the NPT, who avowedly support nuclear disarmament, should have no problem in joining such a non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament treaty; the de facto nuclear weapon states – India, Pakistan, and North Korea, all of whom are also avowedly committed to global nuclear disarmament – would un-hesitantly join it. Only the real “rogue” states would attempt to keep out of such a treaty; if such a situation arises, the proponents of nuclear disarmament can deal with it appropriately.

Threat of Nuclear Winter

Studies on the environmental consequences of nuclear war leading to what is called a “Nuclear Winter”, were first carried out about 25 years ago. These studies posited that worldwide climatic cooling from stratospheric smoke would cause agricultural collapse that threatened the majority of the human population with starvation and untimely death. The first general circulation model simulations were conducted in the USSR. Subsequent investigations in the mid and late 1980s by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the International Council of Scientific Unions supported those initial studies and shed further light on the phenomena involved. Studies that are more recent show that even small arsenals threaten people far removed from the sites of conflict because of environmental changes triggered by smoke from firestorms. In fact, modern climate models confirm that the 1980s predictions of nuclear winter effects were, if anything, underestimates. According to recent estimates, even a regional war involving 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons would pose a worldwide threat due to ozone destruction and climate change. (The destructive power of the present stockpile of nuclear weapons is more than 3600 times higher!) A superpower confrontation with a few thousand weapons would be catastrophic. These findings are made in a study titled “Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War”, which was published by the American Institute of Physics in December 2008. The study took into account the proposals in the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) of 2002, which calls for the U.S. and Russia each to limit their operationally deployed warheads to 1700–2200 by December 2012. (The two sides actually agreed to such a proposal on 08 April 2010.)

Even if the limits envisioned in SORT are achieved and the excess warheads destroyed, still about 6% of the 70,000 warheads that existed in 1986 would remain. However, according to Owen B. Toon, Alan Robock, and Richard P. Turco, the three scientists involved in this study and as well as some of the earlier ones:

Given such a large reduction, one might assume a concomitant large reduction in the number of potential fatalities from a nuclear war and in the likelihood of environmental consequences that threaten the bulk of humanity. Unfortunately, that assumption is incorrect. Indeed, we estimate that the direct effects of using the 2012 arsenals would lead to hundreds of millions of fatalities. The indirect effects would likely eliminate the majority of the human population.

Furthermore, the U.S. decision on 13.12.2001 to abandon the Treaty on the Limitation of the Anti Ballistic Missile systems (ABM Treaty) and the introduction by it of the so-called National Missile Defense (NMD)/Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Systems has only increased the threat of nuclear war in the 42nd year of the signing of the NPT. Although the total stockpile of nuclear weapons has since come down drastically, primarily due to the demise of the Soviet Union, the current worldwide stockpile, as of 2009, was still about 23,600 nuclear weapons, which was good enough to destroy the entire world several times over.


If the NWS-parties to the NPT are at all serious about implementing Article – VI, at the forthcoming 2010 NPT Review Conference they have to give binding unqualified negative security assurance to NNWS, consent to a no-first-use pledge between the NWS, agree to de-alert all deployed nuclear weapons, and take necessary steps to begin preparations for holding a nuclear weapons convention. Without these binding commitments, every other step would merely amount to an exercise in futility. Unfortunately, UNSC Resolution No.1887 of 2009 falls far short of these expectations.

  • Read Part 1.
  • N.D. Jayaprakash is the Joint Secretary of the Delhi Science Forum & National Coordination Committee (NCC) Member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India. He can be reached at: Read other articles by N.D..

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    1. Rehmat said on May 10th, 2010 at 8:40pm #

      As long as the permanent members with veto power at the UNSC are limited to the five old colonial powers – the UNSC, IAEA, NPT, etc. are just a stage where the rest of the 187 members of United Nations are given a chance to blow their hot air. No one can force these five NPT signatory nuclear powers and other four non-signatory NPT nuclear powers to abandon their nuclear arsenals because without the nukes they cannot act bullies. The fact on the ground is – “Nuclear bombs do make others to listen”. That’s why, Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli-born Lebanon War veteran, writer and Jazz-player wrote: “Iran must produce nuclear bomb” to shut-up the US and Israel.

      “Whether Iran is aiming towards a nuclear military capability is obviously beyond me. However, after reading David Aaronovitch, it should. Iran must produce a bomb as soon as possible. Deterring the Jewish state and its allies is the only key to peace in the Middle East. Sadly, that’s the only language that is understood,” Gilad Atzmon in Hasbara author va Iran’s bomb.