Current Affairs

Nuclear disarmament

Nuclear disarmament

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-weapon-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated.


Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) 1963: Prohibited all testing of nuclear weapons except underground. The PTBT had no restraining effects on the further development of nuclear warheads.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—signed 1968, came into force 1970: An international treaty (currently with 189 member states) to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty has three main pillars: nonproliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.

India, Pakistan and Israel have declined to sign the NPT on grounds that such a treaty is fundamentally discriminatory as it places limitations on states that do not have nuclear weapons while making no efforts to curb weapons development by declared nuclear weapons states.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—signed 1996, not yet in force: The CTBT is an international treaty (currently with 181 state signatures and 148 state ratifications) that bans all nuclear explosions in all environments. While the treaty is not in force, Russia has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1990 and the United States has not since 1992.

CTBT itself cannot legally enter into force until all remaining eight of the 44 so-called Annex 2 states accede. Of these, five — China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States — have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. But three — India, North Korea and Pakistan — have not even signed.

Only one country has been known to ever dismantle their nuclear arsenal completely—the apartheid government of South Africa apparently developed half a dozen crude fission weapons during the 1980s, but they were dismantled in the early 1990s.

India’s support to disarmament

India has remarkable history of anti-nuclear activism, from proposing an end to nuclear testing in 1954 after the U.S. nuclear testing in Bikini Atoll to signing the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963 to Rajiv Gandhi’s impassioned plea to the U.N. General Assembly in 1988 for phased nuclear disarmament.

India played a key role in the negotiations to establish the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and actively participated in the negotiations on the NPT, but decided not to sign when it became clear that it would become an unequal treaty.

Why treaties have not been proved effective (Other than Pakistan issue)

  • The complete absence of any progress on the ‘grand bargain’ (that the NNWS would not make nuclear weapons and the NWS would eventually abolish the weapons they have) that lay at the heart of the NPT-led non-proliferation regime, has eroded the normative core of the global nuclear order.
  • Moreover, there is an unhealthy shift in the contemporary non-proliferation agenda. From the traditional concerns of non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the focus today has shifted to counter-proliferation and nuclear security, primarily due to concerns about nuclear terrorism and the physical security of nuclear material.
  • Another obstacle is deteriorating relations of global powers. US-Russian relations due to Ukrainian crisis, Chinese assertiveness in East Asia is garnering greater pessimism.
  • Reluctance of countries to give off their nuclear weapons like Middle Eastern Nuclear Weapons Free Zones has not progressed much, In East Asia, North Korea shows little sign that it will give up its nuclear weapons.
  • The global arms control and disarmament agenda is getting even more crowded as new issues come up that require multilateral action like cyber security and space security, means little attention to disarmament.

Why India should join CTBT

First, to respond to global developments in nuclear disarmament and arms control as a responsible stakeholder in the non-proliferation regime.

Second, to negotiate India’s entry into the global nuclear order, as India has been seeking the membership of various strategic export control cartels such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Third, to revive India’s long-forgotten tradition of campaigning for global nuclear disarmament.


India’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing notwithstanding, its continued refusal to engage in the CTBT leads many to wonder whether it is keeping open the option of resuming testing. Discuss.

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