18 May 1998

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters press briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala reviewed the response of the United Nations to the five underground nuclear tests conducted by India on 11 and 13 May.

Within hours of the news of the 11 May test, the Secretary-General issued a statement through his Spokesman, he said. That was followed on by another statement on 13 May, also issued by the Spokesman. On 14 May, which was the first day the Secretary-General was at Headquarters following his extended visit abroad, he met separately with the Permanent Representatives of India and Pakistan on the positions of their respective countries. The Secretary-General urged the Ambassador of India that it would be important for his Government to consider signing the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibited all nuclear-weapon testing. The Secretary- General took the same position in his meeting with the Ambassador of Pakistan.

The Secretary-General followed those meetings with letters addressed to the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Dhanapala said. In his letter to the Prime Minister of India, the Secretary-General stressed the importance and urgency of achieving nuclear disarmament, which would lead to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. He also urged that India should consider signing the CTBT, which was an important element in nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. The Secretary-General also welcomed India's promise to undertake the negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament for a fissile material cut-off treaty, and he urged India to fulfil its promise in that regard.

In his letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Secretary-General reiterated his concern about the nuclear-weapon tests conducted by India, Mr. Dhanapala said. He expressed his concern that they ran counter to the norms that had been widely respected by the international community. The Secretary-General urged that constraint should be exercised by all States so that there would be no escalation of an arms race in South Asia. He also advocated that sources of tension were best resolved through dialogue. In addition, the Secretary-General reiterated the importance of the CTBT and urged that Pakistan subscribe to the treaty.

The Secretary-General was the depository of the CTBT, so he had a special role in urging the widespread adherence to the treaty, Mr. Dhanapala added. In his view, the adherence of both India and Pakistan to the CTBT would add significantly to stability in the region.

In addition to those actions by the Secretary-General, Mr. Dhanapala said the President of the Security Council had issued a statement, which the Secretary-General fully endorsed. The President of the General Assembly had

also issued a statement. There had been considerable discussion of the tests by India in the Conference on Disarmament, when it met in plenary on 14 May in Geneva. In addition, the Provisional Technical Secretariat of the Preparatory Commission of the CTBT Organization, based in Vienna, had issued statements on the issue.

Mr. Dhanapala said it was important to emphasize that the Secretary- General, acting as a moral conscience of the world, must make his statements something of a moral compass. It was his task to try to establish a position which went beyond the national security interests of individual States and addressed the overall global position of international peace and security. It was clear from the statements of the Government of India that it was giving consideration to accession to the CTBT, and it was the Secretary-General's responsibility to encourage that process. The international community should make it possible for India and Pakistan to adhere to that treaty.

The United Nations also looked forward to early negotiations on the fissile material cut-off treaty in Geneva within the Conference on Disarmament, he said. That matter had long been on the agenda of the Conference. One of the final decisions of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) identified the negotiation and early conclusion of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons as one of the important goals yet to be achieved. Progress had not been made because of objections from some countries and the links established between the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off with progress in nuclear disarmament.

It was also important to urge the five recognized nuclear-weapon States under the NPT -- China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States -- to honour their commitments regarding nuclear disarmament, Mr. Dhanapala said. At the second preparatory committee meeting for the review of the NPT in the year 2000, which was held recently in Geneva, non-nuclear-weapon States expressed considerable disappointment regarding the fidelity of the nuclear- weapon States towards fulfilling commitments made in 1995.

In addition, the Conference on Disarmament had established an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances, he said. That meant that there was a prospect of a treaty being negotiated to assure non-nuclear-weapon States that they would not be threatened with nuclear weapons nor would they be attacked with nuclear weapons held by nuclear-weapon States. The Secretary- General hoped that those assurances would be speedily negotiated.

There was also a great need for the establishment of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament in the Conference on Disarmament, Mr. Dhanapala said. If that was not possible immediately, then the five nuclear-weapon States should hold negotiations amongst themselves to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Disarmament Briefing - 3 - 18 May 1998

In the same spirit, he said he hoped the Russian Duma would ratify the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II), so that negotiations on START III could take place as soon as possible. In addition, all nuclear-weapon States and nuclear-weapon-capable States should negotiate a treaty on no-first-use. That would greatly enhance the security of the world and allay the fears of non-nuclear-weapon States about the use of nuclear weapons, which were the most destructive weapons invented by humankind.

A correspondent asked how had the Government of India indicated that it would consider signing the CTBT. Mr. Dhanapala said India's statement issued on 11 May said clearly that it would be prepared to consider being an adherent to some of the undertakings in the CTBT. The Secretary-General had very clearly stated that the CTBT should be adhered to without conditions. India's statement presented an opportunity to discuss the possibility of their acceding to that treaty. A number of Member States had also encouraged India to follow that course of action.

What was the impact on the NPT of the tests by India and any future tests by Pakistan? a correspondent asked. Mr. Dhanapala said there had been no violations of the NPT or the CTBT, because neither India nor Pakistan were members of the two treaties. Yet, as the Secretary-General had said, there had been a widely respected international norm regarding non-proliferation, represented in the NPT, which had been signed by 186 countries, and the CTBT, which had been signed by 149 countries. Those treaties represented customary international law. The tests by India, and possible future tests by Pakistan, would be a step in the opposite direction and should be widely regretted. The international community could also be concerned that disrespect of those norms posed a threat to the regimes established by the two treaties.

Asked how the tests would affect the long-proposed treaty to make South Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone, Mr. Dhanapala said the events of the last week made it very unlikely that that nuclear-weapon-free zone would be established in the future. Progress was being made in other parts of the world, including Central Asia, where five non-nuclear-weapon States were urging that that region be declared a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

Had there been any reliable assurances that India would not continue its test series? a correspondent asked. Mr. Dhanapala said the Ambassador of India assured the Secretary-General that the five tests completed the nuclear tests that the Government had envisaged. The assumption was that there would be no further tests which involved explosions.

Asked if he could clarify Pakistan's response to India's tests, Mr. Dhanapala said he had seen press reports about the cabinet decision in Pakistan regarding likely tests in the near future. There had been no official statement from Pakistan either confirming or denying those reports.

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A correspondent asked for an assessment of the effect of India's tests on the nuclear-weapon States in the NPT review process. Mr. Dhanapala said that for a long time non-nuclear-weapon States had stressed the need for more progress in nuclear disarmament. The Secretary-General had said that the events of the past week had only confirmed the importance of achieving speedy measures of nuclear disarmament so there could be the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Hopefully, the five established nuclear-weapon States would speed up those measures for nuclear disarmament.

Asked if the fissile material cut-off treaty would address existing stocks, Mr. Dhanapala said what had been proposed was an immediate cut-off of the production of fissile material which went into the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The cut-off would deal with existing stocks at a subsequent stage. Whether that would be the basis of the establishment of an ad hoc committee would depend on the agreement of all members of the Conference on Disarmament, which operated on consensus.

Regarding sub-critical tests, he said the United States had completed a third test in Nevada. There was no discussion amongst nuclear-weapon States to ban such tests, which were permitted under the terms of the CTBT. Subsequent negotiations to ban those tests had not been scheduled.

Asked for a list of the non-declared nuclear States, Mr. Dhanapala said the countries that had not signed the NPT treaty and whose facilities for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy were not safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were called "threshold" States. There were three threshold States: India, Israel and Pakistan.

Should India still be considered a threshold State? a correspondent asked. Mr. Dhanapala said India was still a nuclear-weapon-capable State.

If a nuclear-weapon-capable State declared itself a nuclear-weapon State without testing, how would it be treated by the international community? a correspondent asked. Mr. Dhanapala said there were a number of technologies that made it unnecessary to have a nuclear-weapon test in order for a State to prove that it had a nuclear weapon. So, if a country declared itself to be a nuclear-weapon State, then it was and the world should take note of that. It did not mean that, within the context of the NPT, it would be a nuclear-weapon State. That treaty stated that the nuclear-weapon States were those States that had detonated a nuclear device before 1 January 1967. Unless that treaty was amended, it would be impossible to admit new nuclear-weapon States.

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