by: Tahir Nazir
21 July 2018
To this day, there are nine nuclear weapon states, in possession of approximately 14 935 nuclear weapons, of which nearly 4150 are deployed and about 1800 are on high alert, ready for use at short notice. The Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States, China, the Russian Federation, France and the United Kingdom, are upgrading their nuclear arsenal, spending hefty sums on new weaponry systems. The US, for example, is projected to spend $1.7 trillion on maintaining and upgrading its nuclear forces over the next 30 years. Similarly, Russia is spending about $70 billion a year on modernizing its military and strengthening its nuclear muscle.
In South Asia, India has spent about a billion dollars over the past decade to modernize its military and nuclear forces. India under PM Modi, spent $63.9 billion on its military in 2017, an increase of 5.5 per cent compared with 2016 and of 45 per cent since 2008. According to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the world’s largest importer of major arms between 2013 and 2017, accounting for 12% of the global total; its imports have increased by 24% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
Despite emphatic calls to move towards “nuclear zero”, a world without nuclear weapons remains a perpetually distant, idealist’s dream. North Korea’s nuclear capability continues to pose a real threat to international peace and stability. Likewise, the hostility between India and Pakistan, exacerbated by the introduction of the Cold Start Doctrine, an offensive military strategy to flatten Pakistan’s military might without invoking the nuclear threshold, the acquisition of destabilizing technology, i.e. Ballistic Missile Defence systems, and a massive increase in India’s conventional defence spending is pushing the region towards increasing instability, and could potentially lead South Asia towards a ‘nuclear nightmare’ According to data provided by India’s Institute for Defence Studies Analysis (IDSA) India will spend over $62 billion on defence in 2018-2019, in contrast to Pakistan’s meagre $9 billion. . Such developments also have the potential to increase the level of an arms race which will erode the deterrence stability of the South Asian Region.
In this context, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) remains a linchpin for nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. It caps the development and modernization of nuclear weapons systems, in an attempt to leave a narrow space and very little motivation for states to build new weapons. By banning all nuclear explosions, the CTBT also puts qualitative constraints on the development of new nuclear weapons. Thus there is direct linkage between ending nuclear testing and progressing toward a world without nuclear weapons.
The Treaty’s relevance and importance was underlined first in 1998 when nuclear tests were carried out initially by India, followed by Pakistan,. More recently the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted a test in 2017 and previously in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2016. Nearly two decades have elapsed since the Treaty was first opened for signatures, but due to various political and geo-strategic obstacles, its entry-into-force is yet to be achieved, which has prevented the CTBT from entering into full legal effect.
The CTBT remains a crucial element of the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Currently, it has 183 State signatories, and has been ratified by 166 States, the vast majority of the world’s nations lending their voices to prevent further nuclear testing. However, for the Treaty to enter- into force, the signature and ratification of the remaining eight Annex 2 States is a necessity.
Pakistan and India are both among these eight Annex 2 states, and both have not found it possible to sign and ratify the CTBT due to regional security constraints. As far as Pakistan’s position is concerned, it has indicated its intent to sign and ratify the CTBT in parallel with India. Even in 1974, when India tested its nuclear weapons under the guise of a ‘peaceful test’, Pakistan proposed the idea of a regional CTBT. Since 1998, Pakistan has put forth proposals on a strategic restraint regime and bilateral dialogue on security and arms control issues to India many times, but unfortunately none of these proposal have been received with any enthusiasm or met with reciprocation from India.
Another of the eight Annex 2 countries – the US – recently published its nuclear posture review, indicating the role of nuclear weapons will increase in its national security policy, possibly opening a window for nuclear testing under extreme circumstances. Without doubt, the Trump administration’s decision to have the option to resume testing a will also have negative consequences for the South Asian region’s nuclear politics, as both countries (India and Pakistan) are continuing to develop new nuclear weapons delivery systems to counter the other.
Despite these dangerous and contrary developments at the global level, I believe that in South Asia, the signing of the CTBT by India and Pakistan has the potential to stabilize and strengthen the deterrence equation between the two arch-rivals in the long run, particularly by dis-incentivizing the development of new nuclear weapons. Hypothetically, even a sharp move by India to ‘sign’ the CTBT could place China and the US in an awkward position, where they would be left with very little space and excuses to continue to remain outside the Treaty, and perhaps be encouraged to expedite the process for ratifying it.
It is therefore prudent for the international community to push India to sign the CTBT if the country really wants to be integrated into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other high tech multilateral cartels. In 2008, at the time of Indo-US nuclear deal, a similar golden opportunity was lost to integrate the CTBT as one of the nuclear non-proliferation benchmarks when granting an NSG waiver to India. Let us hope that the same mistake will not be repeated in the discussions for Indian NSG membership proposal, and signing of the CTBT may be set as one of the preconditions.
Tahir Nazir is a research associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS. The views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of CPGS. He tweets @tahirdss