Thirty-four years of nuclear apartheid may have ended with India signing the 2008 Indo-US Civilian Nuclear deal but one critical goal still eludes the country - membership to the elite club that controls global nuclear commerce called the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). That could change any time, according to the head of the UN organisation that oversees the global convention meant to outlaw nuclear test explosions.
"Let's put the membership of the NSG on the table as negotiation for India joining the CTBT and anything would be acceptable to us, if India feels comfortable with that then why not," Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) chief Dr Lassina Zerbo said in an exclusive interview to NDTV.
Joining the NSG will help India become a part of global nuclear commerce easing supply of critical technologies to and from the country. But among the conditions for that to happen has been international demand for India to sign the CTBT and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
In 1996, India refused to sign the CTBT saying it was discriminatory and that it impinged on the country's national security requirements. Since then, the treaty has been in limbo since it cannot come into force till India signs and ratifies it even though there are several countries which have raised similar objections.
In particular, India had objected to this clause listed in Article 14 of the CTBT that made it mandatory for all the 44 states with relevant nuclear technology in 1996 to ink and ratify the treaty. India saw it not as recognition of its prowess but a way of shackling the country from becoming a nuclear weapons state. Then Indian Ambassador Arundhati Ghose, who was leading the negotiations, had famously remarked in Geneva, "India will never sign this unequal treaty, not now, not later."
Since then, much water has flowed down the Ganges and the Danube. In 1998, India conducted the Shakti Series of atomic explosion at Pokhran and declared a "voluntary moratorium" on nuclear testing.
"If that is the reason [amending Article 14] to bring India, then that is something we should see coming to see how we can make India to be more comfortable... and we are ready to do that," Dr Zerbo said.
According to data released by his organisation, the CTBT has so far been signed by 184 states, of which 168 have ratified the treaty. However, eight of the 44 "nuclear technology holder" states who need to sign and ratify the treaty before it can come into force, are yet to do so. They include China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States which have already signed the treaty but are yet to ratify it. India, Pakistan and North Korea are the countries which are yet to sign.
Despite India's "not now, not later" stand, Dr Zerbo said, "The night can be as long as it can be but at some point dawn will come... we cannot build a safer world without India."
He said that the world is a safer place because of the CTBTO. No other country besides North Korea has conducted nuclear tests in this millennium, Dr Zerbo added.
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