India Rattles Nuke Saber
Monday's nuclear tests may undermine new treaty and add to instability in Asia.
The detonation of three underground nuclear devices in India's western desert is sending shockwaves around the world.Skip to next paragraph
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The tests - the first there since 1974 - have shaken post-cold-war global arms control efforts and may threaten the stability of Asia.
Authorized by India's new Hindu nationalist government, yesterday's blasts could accelerate a debilitating regional arms race. Pakistan, which has fought India three times since 1948 and has its own clandestine nuclear program, may feel compelled to test an atomic weapon for the first time, experts warn.
The Indian explosions could also reignite tensions between India and communist China, one of the world's five declared nuclear-weapons powers. The two clashed in 1962 over a still-unresolved border dispute. Last week India's defense minister called China the main threat to Indian security.
A surge in regional tensions could prompt other nations in Asia to boost military spending at a time when they can ill-afford it because of the financial crisis that is rocking their economies.
"The significance of this development really cannot be overstated," says John Medalia, a congressional arms-control expert. "All of a sudden, India has tossed a match onto a tank of gasoline."
Beyond the regional impact, the Indian detonations could undermine international efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons by further complicating implementation of a 1996 global treaty to ban atomic test explosions.
China, experts say, could reconsider its membership in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), while in the United States, the blasts could bolster conservative Republican senators determined to block ratification of the pact, one of President Clinton's top foreign-policy priorities.
"This [the Indian tests] runs counter to the effort the international community is making to promulgate a comprehensive ban on such testing," asserts White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
The explosions hold serious implications for US relations with India, the world's largest democracy. The Clinton administration is required by law now to impose economic sanctions on New Delhi, including a cutoff of all US bank loans, unless Congress objects. Such a cutoff could devastate the Indian economy, which experts say is already overextended and undercapitalized.
Furthermore, Mr. Clinton may also have to reconsider a visit to India scheduled for November. "It's impossible to tell what the impact is on the trip at this point," says Mr. McCurry.
The tests stunned world powers even though the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) coalition government had made it clear that it intended to push a nuclear-weapons policy in a bid to make India a major global military power. The move is also designed to strengthen domestic support for the BJP's fragile coalition, which was formed in March, analysts say.
The test blasts confirmed what was long suspected: India has been aggressively pursuing a clandestine atomic-weapons-development program since the 1974 detonation of a device that it has consistently contended was for peaceful purposes only.
"These tests have established that India has a proven capability for a weaponized nuclear program," Brijesh Mishra, an aide to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, said in New Delhi after Mr. Vajpayee announced the explosions at a news conference.