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#146, 30 September 1998
 
The Nuclear Scene: The Current Situation
 

1. Four months after the nuclear tests in South Asia it is time to take stock. The Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers have spoken recently at the UN General Assembly. Where do we stand now?

 

 

2. Both Prime Ministers stated at the UN that they were prepared to sign the CTBT in a year and adhere to its provisions till then. They have also agreed to join constructively in the FMCT negotiations at the CD in Geneva next year. Bilateral talks will begin from 15 October. Small but significant CBMs have been announced between the two countries. But, there continue to be many imponderables. Acceptance of the CTBT has been conditioned on so many factors that an actual signing does not look likely in the near future. In any case the possibility of the US Senate approving it before September 1999 is remote and without sub-continental ratification, negligible. Odds on the Treaty's coming into force by that date was always low and is now less than one in twenty.

 

 

3. US sanctions against India and Pakistan remain in force. Conditions for their lifting continues to be linked to: signing and ratification of the CTBT, a restraint regime covering the nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, an export control system, a moratorium on the production of fissile material and direct talks between Delhi and Islamabad. Obviously talks between Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh has been much less successful than what has been projected in the Indian media. Given the wide differences in national perceptions this was expected. Even its future pace is likely to slow with the BJP getting increasingly frustrated in domestic politics and then resorting to a more strident external approach.

 

 

4. Pakistan is in a more perilous state. Its economy will in all likelihood tether on the edge for next several months and more. As always in time of difficulty there is likely to be a shift towards more authoritarianism and religious extremism. In turn this will an impact on it's democratic institutions. It is closer than perhaps ever before to fulfilling the dire prophecy of a "failed state".

 

 

5. Much of this stems from the way the countries approached the nuclear tests. India saw the question primarily on political grounds. Internationally by being "Against Nuclear Apartheid" but joining the Club nevertheless as befitting a nation with 1/6th of the world's population and through it claiming a place at the top table. Domestically there were high expectations of popular support. To this date the BJP government has claimed only two successes, the Shakti Tests and settling the inter-state Cauvery River water dispute. The Prime Minister justified the Tests at the UN in terms of "having harmonized its national imperatives and security obligations". Hence New Delhi would like the world to carry on as usual as if nothing has changed or is going to change. Except perhaps that India-China relations will remain permanently conflictual.

 

 

6. Having been compelled (perhaps inevitably) to come out of the closet, Islamabad now sees this as a golden opportunity to settle scores with India . It's aggression in Jammu & Kashmir having failed again, it sees it's last opportunity now in internationalizing the Kashmir question through the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. Even attempting brinkmanship through severe artillery duels across the LoC has not been given up as an option.

 

 

7. China 's perception of the global order as essentially benign and its borders as peaceful and stable, has been somewhat shaken. It had under estimated the continuing concern in India over China 's growing power and the lack of progress in delineating the LAC.  It will now carefully reassess the situation. How will this impact on its continuing support to Pakistan , on progressing with CBMs agreed upon with India and on its military preparedness in Tibet ? Will it also affect its reluctant commitment to the global disarmament order, particularly over resuming its nuclear testing or modernizing its strategic armaments?

 

 

8. The Tests in South Asia do not threaten the USA directly, now or in the near future. But, by undermining its painfully crafted international non-proliferation order it challenges fundamentally it's national security interests and global pre-eminence. It has the most complex challenge of all, to put together pieces destroyed by the nuclear explosions. How committed is it to preserving this order? What flexibility is it willing to show to accommodate new interests? The next article will examine "What next."

 

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