Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • Recently, Russia indicated that it might revoke its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
  • However, President Putin clarified that the intent is to maintain parity with the United States and not to resume nuclear testing.

About CTBT

  • CTBT is a multilateral treaty banning all nuclear explosions, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1996, but it is still in the ratification stage with 18 countries yet to ratify.
  • It also establishes a CTBT Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna, to ensure the implementation of its provisions.
  • The treaty was prompted by the decades-long nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, resulting in over 2,000 nuclear tests from 1945 to 1996.
  • Efforts to limit nuclear testing included the Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (LTBT) in 1963 and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) in 1974, but neither fully banned all nuclear tests.
  • The CTBT was adopted in 1996 after the Cold War ended, imposing a comprehensive ban on explosive nuclear testing.
  • Despite the CTBT, nuclear tests continued, with India, Pakistan, and North Korea conducting tests post-1996. The United States, China, and France last tested in 1992 or 1996, and Russia never conducted a nuclear test post-Soviet era.
  • To enter into force, the CTBT requires ratification by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries, with eight key countries yet to ratify: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged these remaining countries to ratify the CTBT in 2021 to facilitate its entry into force.
CTBT and India

India’s historical perspective on CTBT

  • India’s interest in nuclear disarmament dates back to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s call for a nuclear test ban in 1954.
  • Despite early efforts, the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963 did not curb nuclear testing effectively.
  • Security concerns, including China’s nuclear tests and conflicts with Pakistan, led India to conduct a peaceful nuclear test in 1974.

Continued support for Test-Ban Policy

  • India maintained its support for a nuclear test-ban policy, as evidenced by calls for a ban on nuclear weapons testing at the UN General Assembly in 1978 and a freeze on nuclear weapons production in 1982.
  • In 1988, India proposed an Action Plan advocating a time-bound nuclear disarmament framework.


Challenges and Shifts in Policy

  • India’s efforts toward a test-ban treaty faced challenges in 1995 with the indefinite extension of the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which India saw as unequal and lacking nuclear disarmament
  • India conducted nuclear tests in 1998 due to security concerns and the lack of progress on disarmament.
  • After the 1998 tests, India expressed flexibility on the CTBT and willingness to formalize its moratorium on future testing.
  • India emphasized the need for reciprocal actions from the P5 nations, including refraining from tests under safety pretexts and preventing proliferation.
  • India’s stance on nuclear disarmament also extends to discussions on Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of nuclear weapons components.

 Reasons for not joining CTBT

  • Principled opposition rooted in India’s commitment to universal nuclear disarmament.
  • Concerns about the unequal nature of the NPT and lack of firm commitments from nuclear-armed states.
  • Security concerns, including China and Pakistan’s nuclear activities and the potential for nuclear collusion.
  • Domestic political considerations, particularly during the 1996 general elections.
  • Concerns about the CTBT potentially hindering India’s strategic nuclear program.

 Gains for India by signing CTBT

  • Signing the CTBT would enhance India’s global stature and strengthen its case for membership in international nuclear groupings like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
  • India’s adherence to CTBT would exceed the actions of some NPT weapon states.

 Importance of CTBT

  • The CTBT serves as a barrier to developing and improving nuclear weapons.
  • It provides a legally binding norm against nuclear testing and prevents human suffering and environmental damage.

 Way Forward

  • India has upheld a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing since 1998, demonstrating political consensus on its position.
  • Embracing the CTBT could fortify India’s role as a global leader without resorting to military or economic displays of power.

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