Jeffrey LewisMedcalf on India & Testing

Rory Medcalf, writing on the Lowy Interpreter, suggests that Manmohan Singh’s omission on India’s test moratorium “won’t lead to fission”:

For a start, while it might seem odd that Singh did not mention the testing moratorium on that occasion, the M-word still features regularly in Indian Government discourse. Just yesterday, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee used it while discussing the nuclear aspects of his recent talks with the Australian Government. And at least as telling as the content of Singh’s 9 June speech was the way his Government marked the tenth anniversary of India’s May 1998 nuclear tests — it didn’t.

I have a sense that there is a quiet and growing recognition in New Delhi that India has been needlessly backing itself into a diplomatic corner on the question of whether and when it would sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and that there is a wish, given the new global momentum on disarmament and the controversy over the US-India nuclear deal, to slip quietly out of that corner. So while I am surprised Singh did not mention testing in his recent speech, I wouldn’t read so much into it. The bottom line is that if the US finally ratifies the CTBT — a real possibility in the post-Bush era — then China will follow quickly, and India not long after.

I hope that’s right.


  1. MarkoB

    Medcalf is a noted supporter of the Bush-Singh deal and exporting Australian uranium to India, the latter now having been firmly rejected by the Australian Government and this opinion piece should be read within that context. The statement at the end, the crux of the matter, is boldly stated but is done with precisely zero evidence. It is true that the H-bomb might be an issue here, given there exists good grounds to suppose that the ’98 test was a fizzle (supposing it was a true 2-stage device), but also the DRDO can be expected to push the envelope on missile development and so on; the Indian strategic establishment shows every sign of trying to acquire the trappings of a global strategic power. Given this, there is a strong internal constituency within India against CTBT ratification and statements that India will ratify the CTBT simply because everybody else will suggests that it will also ratify the NPT, which we know it won’t. Even in the US case there is still the issue of RRW; suppose the congressionally mandated review of nuclear strategy post-Cold War decides, alas, that new designs are needed. There could be pressure not to ratify the CTBT to keep options open.

    Seriously, to think that a state will sign a treaty because of the demonstration of a good example of behaviour by another state merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of political processes. For India to sign the CTBT it would have to be in India’s interests to do so upon the basis of a favourable correlation of forces between external leverage and internal opposition; the Bush-Singh deal provides no external leverage, so why upset a powerful internal lobby in the absence of external pressure?

  2. Rory Medcalf (History)

    My thanks to Marko for the reminder that it can be unwise to economise on expression (or seek impact ahead of precision) by venturing bald predictions, even in a quick blog post. Marko is right, of course, to note that it would be simplistic to think that a state would sign a treaty simply because others have. Decisions to sign treaties, or to acquire nuclear weapons, are not made simply because of the good or bad example of another country’s doing the same. Still, the influence of global norms and international law does matter (and even to India); why else would so many countries and activists remain so intent on pursuing a non-proliferation regime with a basis in law?

    My argument, which might have benefitted from a more explicit and caveated articulation, is that, on balance, I do not believe that India will be the first nuclear-armed state to test again, for the reason that current and future Indian governments are likely to consider the political costs too high. Regarding possible future CTBT signature, the challenge will be to build a consensus in India – not including every conceivable player, but sufficient for an Indian government to weather domestic criticism of such a move. For a country of India’s gargantuan size, individual political personalities matter enormously, and the key will be to bring the right players on board, especially in Congress and the BJP, prospectively circumventing the partisanship that is derailing the India-US nuclear agreement. (In Nixon-to-China tradition, these dynamics might work better with the BJP in government, since Congress is already the party most aligned with India’s disarmament tradition – a pity for those of us who like to see secularism ascendant in Indian politics.)

    An important deficiency of the India-US nuclear deal has been the failure of the Bush Administration, the Singh government and the deal’s supporters internationally (including Australia’s former Howard government) to launch a coherent parallel process to advance global non-proliferation and disarmament aims. Such a drive, including serious efforts to kickstart negotiations for a verifiable FMCT, might have helped to offset perceived or actual ‘pro-proliferation’ consequences of the US-India deal (i.e. the ‘demonstration effect’ of carving out a new double standard for India) and to embed the deal in a credible new vision for non-proliferation and disarmament in which India was an active player that was willing to make commitments commensurate with its claimed great-power status and with the commitments made by the recognised nuclear weapon states.

    Let’s assume that the US-India deal is not going to cross its multiple remaining hurdles this year, and that in its current form it might wither with the passing of the Bush Administration. Sooner or later, there will be another attempt to bring India into the so-called mainstream of safeguarded global commerce in nuclear energy. When it happens, it will need to be in tandem with a systematic set of non-proliferation and disarmament initiatives by India and those powers seeking to help it, initiatives which would lead to increased obligations by New Delhi. That might be the kind of Indian nuclear deal that I really could unconditionally advocate.

  3. Akash (History)


    Did you see this? Scott Ritter tears David Albright a new one!!