News

Indian nuclear tests

From: George Perkovich
Date: Monday, May 11, 1998 7:28AM

I would offer the following advice in understanding and responding to the Indian nuclear tests.

First, there were hints that this would happen. Most recently, a statement by Atomic Energy Commission chairman R. Chidambaram in February that test simulations are fine if you have the necessary codes, as the U.S. and others do, but if you do not have the necessary codes, the only way to get them is to test.

Second, the BJP is the only party to hold power in India which has not shared the moral rejection of nuclear weapons posited by the Congress party since Nehru. In other words, normative identity has played an important role in restraining India's nuclear program; the new government did not share that normative commitment, hence was freer to test.

Now, in terms of reaction I think it is extremely important that we try to make the best of the situation. If India now declares that it will sign the CTBT and participate positively in the FMCT negotiations, I think a major gain will have resulted, much like what happened after France did its rushed series in the Pacific. The U.S. and the international community should hold its fire on sanctions until we see what India intends to do. If India takes these positive steps on these treaties, the international response should be relatively mild. However, if India continues to reject the CTBT, FMCT and other elements of the global agenda to reduce nuclear danger, than all states should impose what sanctions they can.

Space must be given for the Indians to do the positive thing and announce signing the CTBT, etc. If the pressure from sanctions comes today or this week, politics within India will dictate defiance. India will never subject itself to the colonialism of the nonproliferation regime. But if we give them space, they may do something positive.

Bottom line: this is a very regrettable development, but it's one that India could turn into a positive step by signing the CTBT and making progress on the FMCT. We should watch to see if India will now take these steps. If they do not in the very near future, the international community should exert severe pressure.