News

URGENT URGENT URGENT URGENT

INDIA TESTS THREE NUCLEAR BOMBS

From: Bruce Hall at Peace Action
Date: May 11, 1998
Re : India's test

What you can do
Fax the Indian Embassy!

Ambassador Naresh Chandra
Embassy of India
2107 Massachussettes Avenue
Washington, DC 20008
fax: 202 265-4351

Your Excellency:

* As a non-governmental group in the United States with a long- standing commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons, we strongly condemn India's decision to resume nuclear testing.

* We have worked hard over the years to halt the U.S. nuclear testing program and continue urge the United States to live up to its obligations under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which obligates the United States to pursue in good faith obligations toward nuclear disarmament.

* In particular, we continue to oppose the United States' multi- billion dollar Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program. We have protested US subcritical experiments.

* We have appreciated India's historic leadership for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and for a world without nuclear weapons. We can only look upon these nuclear tests in Rajasthan with regret. They have tarnished your country's past leadership.

* Worse, nuclear testing may ignite a dangerous nuclear arms race on the Asian subcontinent at a time when the world is waking up finally to the futility of nuclear weapons.

* We strongly urge you renounce further nuclear testing and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

* We strongly urge you to join the growing diplomatic movement aimed at accelerating the nuclear disarmament process.

Sincerely,


BACKGROUND

It is not absolutely clear what India did today, but based on a statement by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, weapons scientists conducted simultaneous experiments on a thermonuclear device (hydrogen bomb), fission device, and a low-yield device. India last conducted a nuclear test in 1974, but has tried to maintain a sort of nuclear ambiguity since then.

Based on what I know about India's nuclear weapons program, I would say that some of these experiments may have been to develop smaller nuclear warheads for the long-range Agni and the medium-range Pritvhi missiles. India claims to have the capability to strike any target in Pakistan. With development of the Agni II, they are working on the capability to strike targets in large parts of China.

In addition, I would bet that the fission device was an experiment in "boosting." Boosting describes the process in which tritium is injected into the center of the weapons plutonium core to provide more loose neutrons during the initial stages of a nuclear explosion. More loose neutrons means more fissioning atoms and therefore more bang for less buck in terms of explosive power. Almost all U.S. nuclear weapons use this boosting process which is why the United States Department of Energy wants to resume the production of tritium. Boosting is an essential concept for a nation that wants to develop lighter, more efficient nuclear weapons and was one of the major objectives of the early U.S. testing program.

WHAT THIS MEANS

We still need more information. The key question right now is, "Is this the beginning of a series of Indian nuclear tests or an isolated incident."

Under a worst case scenario, expect a Pakistani nuclear test in the coming weeks or months and a miniature nuclear arms race on the Asian Subcontinent.

Expect Republicans to use India's nuclear missile program to bolster their case for the ballistic missile defense program here in the United States.

Expect Republicans (Senator Kyl from Arizona comes to mind) to begin discussions or even introduce legislation on the need for the United States to resume nuclear testing. Under the 1992 nuclear moratorium the United States is prohibited from conducting a nuclear test after 1996 unless another country first conducts a test. As you remember Kyl tried to undo that moratorium in the summer of 1996. Of course our signature on CTBT commits the United States to maintain its moratorium but that fact may not

Obviously, this is very bad news for efforts to get the CTBT ratified in the United States Senate.

The Silver Lining

Yes, there is a potential silver lining in this scenario. India's test might serve as a bit of a wake-up call to a public and administration largely complacent on nuclear disarmament matters. In this sense, India's test might provide us with an organizing opportunity similar to, although smaller than, the opportunity given to us by French President Jacques Chirac when he resumed nuclear testing in the South Pacific. The repercussions of that decision ultimately included the Canberra Commission, the zero- yield CTBT, the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, and General Lee Butler's decision to come out publicly in favor of nuclear abolition. I'm sure it also had a major impact on the World Court decision.