Reverberations from India's nuclear blasts continue. US economic sanctions have been ordered by President Clinton. Pakistan appears poised to conduct its own bomb tests. Experts ponder just how serious a blow the world's mechanisms for restraining nuclear proliferation have sustained.
That last concern seems to us central. In the wake of India's determination to detonate despite nearly universal condemnation, are all barriers crumbling? Pakistan said yesterday that the idea of an international treaty banning nuclear testing was now irrelevant. And there is no shortage of other nuclear wannabes.
On the hopeful side, New Delhi itself has hinted that India, having completed these tests, may now be willing to reconsider its long refusal to join the international pact banning nuclear tests. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is currently under debate in the US Senate. The Clinton administration urges ratification.
One value of the test-ban treaty is that it will bolster efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear arms. It makes clear that declared nuclear powers, notably the US, are willing to forgo the testing deemed necessary to develop new generations of weapons.
Countries who harbor nuclear ambitions, like India, have repeatedly complained that test-ban and nonproliferation treaties are "discriminatory," allowing some nations to retain these mega-weapons, while others are banned from having them.
That argument underscores the nationalistic attitudes that are the true threat to a reasonable system of nuclear restraint and, ultimately, nuclear disarmament.
India says it has done the tests to acquire the weapons to defend itself. But from what threat?
Wouldn't it make much greater sense for India to pursue negotiations with its neighbors that could end nuclear competition, encourage economic cooperation, and build peace?
In the US, too, wouldn't it make sense to ratify the test-ban treaty and push vigorously for progress on the START treaties with Russia that will significantly reduce the world's nuclear stockpile? Those steps would demonstrate that the world's premier nuclear power intends to lead the way toward ridding the world of this scourge.
Instead, these treaties face constant stonewalling from Senate opponents who have a nationalistic attachment to nuclear weaponry that, sadly, shares much ground with views espoused by the current government of India.