Dr Rajat Ganguli and Dr David Dickens: India's Nuclear Tests

By Harland, Bryce | New Zealand International Review, July-August 1998 | Go to article overview

Dr Rajat Ganguli and Dr David Dickens: India's Nuclear Tests


Harland, Bryce, New Zealand International Review


On 18 May the NZIIA joined with the Institute of Policy Studies, the Centre for Strategic Studies and the Asian Studies Institute at Victoria University of Wellington in holding a round table discussion on the security of South Asia after the Indian nuclear tests. The discussion was led by Dr Rajat Ganguli, a visiting lecturer in VUW's Department of Politics and International Relations, and Dr David Dickens, Deputy Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Dr Ganguli identified four suggested explanations for the tests. The Indian government itself has talked of a worsening security environment, instancing insurgency in Kashmir, Chinese and Burmese support for insurgency in North-east India, China's support for Pakistan's development of advanced weapons, and China's refusal to discuss its territorial disputes with India. The Indian Defence Minister has claimed that China has set up a monitoring station in the Cocos Islands, at the northern end of the Andaman Sea. A second possible explanation for India's action is that it resulted from a strategic bargain between India and the United States -- a move to meet what the Indians at least see as a long-term threat from China. A third explanation that has been suggested is that the tests were inspired mainly by domestic political considerations: the objective was to enhance the popularity of the government led by the Hindu nationalist BJP. The fourth possibility was that the Indian government felt that the United States has been indifferent to India's security concerns, and the nuclear tests were designed to attract America's attention.

What will happen next? Dr Ganguli thought the Indian tests would lead to hard negotiations between India and the Western powers over the conditions for Indian accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In the meantime Pakistan would probably follow India in testing nuclear weapons and the stability of South-east Asia would suffer.

Dr Dickens argued that there was no clear link between the nuclear tests and India's domestic politics, and the Indian action was more likely to have arisen from strategic considerations. India has been worried about its security ever since its war with China in 1962, and especially since the war with Pakistan over Bangladesh in 1971, when the Soviet Union was the only power that supported India. The recent emphasis in India on the long-term threat from China may have owed something to Russian influence. Pakistan would now test its own weapons, but the balance of power in South Asia would not change as both had known already of each other's nuclear capability. …

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