India was wrong to test, but what can the world do?

25 May, 1998    ·   96

Ramesh Thakur spells out the dilemma created by India's new nuclear tests at Pokharan

New Delhi seems to have concluded that the marginal costs of additional sanctions are outweighed by gains in national security and pride. India has long nursed a sense of grievance about international ''nuclear apartheid.''



India had exhibited nuclear restraint: no test since 1974, no declared nuclear weapon status, no sharing of nuclear technology with others and no overt deployment of missiles. India has also abstained from exporting arms.



Despite this restraint, New Delhi was constantly criticised for rejecting the nuclear treaties - even while the world turned a blind eye to the clandestine acquisition of nuclear capability by Pakistan with Chinese assistance.



The five nuclear powers have no moral authority to impose sanctions. They maintain stockpiles in defiance of a
World Court
opinion on nations' legal obligation to nuclear disarmament.



Also, India 's tests breach no international treaty, convention or law. The Big Five preach non-proliferation but practice deterrence. Their bluff has been called.



The dilemma is this: A moderate response will be self-defeating. India's nuclear hawks will feel vindicated, saying that India is now being treated with respect because it has nuclear weapons, which should therefore be openly deployed in numbers. A harsh response will be self-fulfilling. The hawks will argue that a friendless India , which is the target of hostile international attention, needs an arsenal of nuclear weapons to defend its interests.



Official statements from New Delhi present intriguing possibilities of resolving the dilemma. If outside pressure prevents Pakistan from nuclear testing, and if sanctions are not imposed, India may be prepared to join the nuclear club from within, to sign the test ban treaty, to observe the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty, to accept permanent membership on the UN Security Council and to take part in arms control talks at the centre table.



But don’t hold your breath!