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'India might have to eat its own words on CTBT'

By George Chakko
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"It was Jawaharlal Nehru who started the very idea of a nuclear test ban. It was a very important step at that time (1954)" - Vladimir Petrovsky (Russia), UN-Director-General at Palais des Nations in Geneva in 1997, in an interview with this author in 1997.

Unlike self-pleasing US claims that the idea of CTBT was hatched under U. S. hats, giving credits for Eisenhower, the truth of being the real progenitor of CTBT belongs to India. Eisenhower preached 'Atoms for Peace', neither did John F. Kennedy toil hard to attain to end Cold War insisting on bilateral nuclear de-weaponisation after Russian removal of nuclear missiles in Cuba.


When President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré, who personally graced Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation's (CTBTO) International Scientific Studies Conference (ISS 2013) inauguration in Vienna, said: "I would like to add my voice to the peace-loving men and women to launch an appeal to all States whose signatures and ratifications are necessary for the Treaty's entry into force, to do so in the name of peace and security for humanity." He genuinely sang a chorus of 183 world States wishing lasting peace without nuclear weapons, through CTBT's entry-into-force (e-i-f) as a first step.

Much water has flown down Potomac (Washington DC) and Danube (Vienna) rivers since the ignominious rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by Republican hard heads in 1999 in a US Senate vote, a rather premature rejection that it was. Their main complaint - the treaty is not verifiable, cited even the India-Pakistan tests as proofs for CTBT's vulnerability.

After the CTBT was blocked by India in Geneva in 1996 and eloped to UNGA (UN General Assembly) for a general vote by Australia with US's consent and passed there by a majority of world states with only India, Libya and Bhutan opposing it, the Indian envoy burst out arrogantly saying: "This treaty is not worth the paper on which it is written."

He may now have to eat his words in 2013. Why? Out of a total listed number of 195 States, 183 have so far signed the CTBT and 159 have ratified it. Out of 337 stations planned all over Globe 87 per cent are fully operational.:. Data flow from the stations has increased to around 90%.

Today, the technical advances achieved by CTBTO scientists and displayed here at Vienna's imperial Hofburg Palace, is a peer class of its own. They convince a most knowledgeable CTBT cynic, in America, or elsewhere, that technology and sub-technologies of CTBT's IMS (International Monitoring System), are not merely sophisticated, but almost near to 100% perfect. The IMS precision-wise detection is splendid. "If only one thousandth of the noble gas (emerging from an atomic explosion) is vented, we will see it," said Dr Lassina Zerbo, Director - International Data Centre (IDC) and Executive Secretary-elect, CTBTO.

India has apparently missed substantial scientific truths in these frontline areas. Forget not that Pakistan, although not signed the CTBT, is an observer at CTBTO meetings, on the basis of few stations they service to IMS. Pak military shunted out all their stations during their May 1998 tests.

Some of the breakthroughs achieved surprised CTBT experts, as going beyond expectations; interestingly, an innovative case of science promoting political will for a global treaty of importance to enter-into force.

It answers lingering, technical doubts, esp. those of 8 hold-out States [USA, China, Israel, Egypt, Iran (all 5 signed but not ratified), and India, Pakistan and North Korea (all 3 not signed and not ratified). Disarmament veteran Dr Hans Blix put an icy "utilitarian" lining confirming it as " the rare case of a treaty that has entered into operation before it has entered into force" !

CTBTO's IMS is programmed to identify different types of explosions, from nuclear to non-nuclear. Both hardware and software forewarn impending tsunamis, quakes, volcanos, dangers of meteorites flying in to Earth from Outer Space (like the recent huge Russian fire ball in the sky that IMS detected with optical sharpness). or, anything negative happening under deep oceans, anchors it as an established investigative tool. The 4 pillars of IMS are 4 different technical clusters of detection. I. Seismic II. Infra-sound III. Hydro-acoustic and IV. Radio-Nuclide stations (RNSs).

Thus, the tsunami disaster in Indonesia became a blessing in disguise for CTBTO, because it was accidently challenged to metamorphose to a multi-functional organ, thanks to its spectrum of technical potentials. The credit to that awareness goes modestly to the critical media to which this writer belonged, accredited at the UN then [The UN in Vienna is comprised of IAEA, CTBTO, UNIDO, UNODC, UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, UNSCEAR, UNCITRAL etc.].

The following true episode intends to authenticate that:

When in 2004 the Indian Ocean Undersea earthquake magnitude Mw 9.1-9.3 (at 00:58:53 UTC time) shook South & S. E. Asia on Sunday, 26 December, all was quiet at CTBTO's IDC - International Data Centre in Vienna. (It was the third largest earthquake ever recorded in human history). But IDC's Sun Microsystems supercomputers were hyperactive, gorgeously swallowing billions of hydro-acoustic and seismic data flashed by IMS Asian stations, reaching Vienna within 20 mts. of the event.

Being Christmas holidays no soul was around at IDC to process and send Blitz warnings to all nations around the tsunami. Had CTBTO exercised its technology potential to warn these nations immediately, emergency transport could have been mobilised in all surrounding countries, cutting the total deaths of 230, 000 by half. It takes about 4-6 hrs for undersea water of trillion gallons displaced due to the sea-bed quake to reach surrounding coasts afar in gigantic waves of 700 km/hrs speed.

Thus, there was sufficient time-gap to save thousands of lives. (Strangely, India's Southern East Coast got an early warning by a call from U. S. Naval Station at Diego Garcia that was connected to the Asia-Pacific Tsunami warning network). Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

The CTBTO called a press conference (PC) in January 2005 only, weeks later. Both CTBTO chief, Dr. Hoffmann and his Public Information chief Ambassador Rozgonova, were conspicuously absent. Chosen to face the press were the CTBT Preparatory Commission Chairperson, the Algerian lady Ambassador and CTBTO~s IDC expert (possibly the current Exec.Sec-elect Dr. Lassima Zerbo). (PrepCom - is a prelude phase of CTBTO's e-i-f . After e-i-f it will be known as Board of Governors).

The question came up why CTBTO was of no help to mitigate the tsunami disaster. The Chairwoman answered glibly saying CTBTO was not mandated for such events, it is more a " military" sort of control organisation to stop nuclear tests. Then this writer countered that CTBTO as a recipient of world taxpayer's money had an unwritten obligation to do humanitarian emergency help when and where possible, as implied by the letter and spirit of the UN Charter.

This writer then called CTBTO's inaction a veritable "shame" considering the amount of sophisticated equipment it possessed and still couldn't lift a tiny finger for help. (An academic Russian correspondent present at PC shared this view, so did many others from press corps). I threw up a suggestion then why CTBTO cannot work in 2 shifts (day and night) as in hospitals and on 24x7 basis. The IDC expert, not being authorised, did not answer directly, but only said that CTBTO is working hard to reduce the real-time data transfer from 30 mts. to 10 or even 5 mts. from IMS stations to IDC.

The PC ended amicably but with press disappointment explicated. The impact was a radical shift in CTBTO's policy subsequently. CTBTO then embarked on a path trumpeting its multitudinous potentials for global disaster relief. Thus the UN press catalysed CTBTO to multi-functionality and go "para-functional" in service of the world beyond its mandate. CTBTO is the only world organ under UN-flag now enjoying this uniqueness.

[This is now much appreciated by the UN Secy. General and IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano(Japan). Japan has now coupled its Asia-Pacific tsunami warning system with IMS after U. S. approval].

The conference's thematic focus was on 3 distinct areas: i) The Earth as complex system. ii) Events and their characterisation and iii) Advances in sensors, networks and processing.

In the opening ceremony, keynote speaker Dr Hans Blix, a former IAEA Director-General and ex-Swedish foreign minister, a highly respected diplomat said: "Modern science is dedicated to critical thinking in its search for reality". Politicians should follow that.

Dr Hans Blix - 'Security needs science and critical thinking'

You cannot artificially create reality. Politicians are not critical enough when accepting incomplete and ambiguous data fed on to them. Particularly, "when hypothesis or findings do not stand up to critical examination, the scientists' obligation is to say so". This was the case in Iraq when the absence of weapons of mass destruction was revealed. He even quoted former US defence secretary Rumsfeld who said: "We know that we don't know and don't even know that we don't know."

Blix added: "some pretend to know things that they don't know". The principal point Blix drove home - we live in an Age of Science, and should take the help of science when dealing with disarmament treaties like CTBT or NPT or FMCT (Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty). Scientific checks and truths gained give us the balance, flushing out voodoo speculations and esoteric phantasies or ego-based prejudices.

Blix sees other actual concerns looming. In a world inflicted with house-made financial crises it is "obscene" to irrationally spend horrendous sums in 4-digit $ billions for defence. He has in mind the big nuclear powers, US primarily, but few other states as well. The Trident programme of UK will "overburden" the UK economy for long run and it has no meaningful military function. Britain ought to scrap it and that would encourage others to do similar cuts.

It is phantasy if someone says," Romania needs a missile shield to counter Iran's missiles. The real cuts, however, are desperately needed in nuclear warheads - totalled 20,000. A harmonious peace will not settle on humans unless there is a radical, massive cut on the $1.7 Trillion per annum global defence budget to a 10% of this sum.

When asked in a short post-panel discussion interview with OneIndia - how the EU can exert pressure on the US to move on the CTBT, Blix said, he is a bit sceptical because of Franco-Anglo positional differences. Blix believes French have a penchant in holding to power attained (U.K is and always will be a traditional co-drummer for US tunes.) How about neutral countries like Sweden, Finland & Austria?. He answered, their political power together is too weak to make any impact.

In this context, OneIndia readers shouldn't forget that unlike South Asian nations EU nuclear nations France & Britain jointly ratified the CTBT with Russia following a bit later, more than a decade ago. All three, in the interest of World Peace, have come off with a clean shirt on CTBT. However, Vladimir Putin, in his previous terms, in wake of a unilateral US withdrawal from the bilateral ABM Treaty in "supreme national interests" sent out a clear warning to the US by saying "Should the US do likewise on CTBT, Russia will do as well to keep up strategic parity" (directed at G W Bush). Which would mean a dangerous re-start of a heinous nuclear arms race after 6 decades of perspiratory toil and success against.

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