H-Asia: Implications of India’s Nuclear Tests
30 May, 1998 · 99
Stephen P. Cohen provides an American perspective to the implications of the Indian tests both within the region and in relation to US and China.
When the Indian government conducted five nuclear test blasts on May 11 and 13, the domestic response was one of joy and pride. Polls show 90% approval rating, and 82% in favour of weaponisation. In my judgement the figures are due to pleasure at the assertion of national greatness in defiance of an apparently hostile international community, most notably the
The Indian strategic community, which has debated this issue for over thirty-five years, is just now coming to grips with the implications of being a nuclear state. Do the tests make India a nuclear "power," or must New Delhi embark upon an extensive and costly program to mount these devices on deployed missiles (to reach China) and aircraft? Can the tests be used diplomatically and strategically, to establish
Few Indian commentators have taken the threat of economic sanctions seriously: many believe that the Indian economy is strong, and some assert that in the long run the
The Indian tests struck
Because the main strategic justification for the test given out by Indian officials was the incipient threat from China, India-China relations have plunged rapidly, featuring a lively exchange of invective and innuendo (the Indians quoted back to the Chinese the latter’s justification for their own series of nuclear tests, the Chinese responded by calling the Indians hypocrites and hegemonists). If India-Chinese relations deteriorate further, it will be an easy, low-risk operation for
First, it would appear that the CTBT has been dealt a serious blow. The Indian test showed that very low-yield tests cannot be detected by the present world-wide network of seismic monitors. While deriding "poor" India for carrying out these tests, Senator Jesse Helms has used them to justify his strong opposition to the CTBT, and it now seems unlikely that the Senate will ratify the treaty in time for the United States to participate in the forthcoming review conference (ironically, then, both the United States and India will be excluded from the discussions).
Second, there are more far-reaching proliferation implications. If India and Pakistan do proceed to active, overt, declared deployment, then they will face critical command and control problems, and will take a long step down the road of an action-reaction arms race that characterised the Cold War. Further, such an arms race would certainly draw in
Third, while both states appear to have acted responsibly in not sharing their nuclear technology with other countries, this could change, either as a matter of government policy, or because of weakened control over their nuclear/strategic enclaves.
Finally, observers have begun to construct optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, as to whether the Indian example will contribute to proliferation in particular regions. The
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