Hindustan Times, India

CTBT office hopes Indian tests will prompt more ratifications

The UN body set up to monitor implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is hopeful that the Indian nuclear tests would convince other countries to ratify the treaty soon and give it universal acceptance.

A top official of the body said that if countries so wished, the treaty could be renegotiated so that it will enter into force even without the participation of India or Pakistan.

The official at the provisional secretariat of the CTBT Organisation (CTBTO) here told IANS he hoped that more of the 149 signatories would now ratify the treaty. So far 13 countries, including two nuclear powers Britain and France, have ratified it.

The provisional secretariat would become a full-fledged office with its global monitoring system covering the whole earth once the treaty enters into force after the ratification of all 44 countries possessing at least one civilian nuclear facility.

According to the official, who wished anonymity, Argentina and Chile have promised to ratify the treaty within the next month or so while Brazil - the third Latin American country which CTBTO head Wolfgang Hoffmann was visiting when India conducted the tests - has promised to complete the ratification process within the next six months.

The Indian tests have resulted in a flurry of diplomatic activity in Vienna with the CTBT preparatory commission, the governing body where all signatory states sit, meeting to discuss the development and issue a statement. The statement merely expressed regret at the tests and called upon India to sign the CTBT.

Vienna was abuzz when the Indian Ambassador to the UN, Yogesh Tiwari, met Hoffmann. CTBT officials said nothing concrete came out of the meeting. According to diplomats and CTBT officials, Tiwari explained to Hoffmann India's reasons for conducting the tests. He is also reported to have outlined India's position that it would accept certain undertakings of the CTBT.

But Hoffmann has declared that India cannot accept parts of the treaty nor accept it on preconditions. Diplomats point out that Article 15 of the treaty clearly states no country can sign it with reservations. The treaty has to be accepted in its whole.

Meanwhile, open-ended consultations - meaning they do not have any deadline to take decisions - began in Vienna about the conference of the signatories that has to be held if the treaty does not come into force within three years of its adoption by the UN General Assembly.

The treaty was adopted in September 1996, which would mean the conference could be held any time after September 1999 to discuss the future course to get the treaty into force.

One issue that is being mulled over, at least by some CTBT officials, is whether there are any alternatives to bypass the stipulation that the treaty can enter into force only if all 44 countries with nuclear facilities ratify it.

"As it is, it would appear the treaty is hostage to a few countries," the official said, a clear reference to the refusal of India and Pakistan to ratify.

One alternative, the official said, is to change the treaty in a way that each country when ratifying declares that as far it is concerned the treaty has entered into force for its territory. With more countries expected to ratify the CTBT in coming months, such a move could lead to the treaty receiving more recognition, thus putting pressure on non-signatory countries.

It would also mean the treaty's clauses regarding the global monitoring system be implemented on the ratifying countries. However, one developing country diplomat said getting Article 14 of the treaty, which outlines its entry into force, changed will not be an easy task, given the insistence by a number of countries that all 44 ratify for the CTBT to enter into force. "Countries like Britain have categorically stated they don't want a CTBT without India and it will be hard to change their minds," said the diplomat, who has monitored the CTBT proceedings.