US May Stoke Asian Arms Race ; A Plan to Repeal a US Ban on Nuclear-Weapons Research Could Embolden India and Pakistan

By Scott Baldauf writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

US May Stoke Asian Arms Race ; A Plan to Repeal a US Ban on Nuclear-Weapons Research Could Embolden India and Pakistan


Scott Baldauf writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Amid all the talk of weapons of mass destruction, a curious bill passed through the United States Senate Armed Services Committee last Friday, repealing a ban on the research and development of low- yield nuclear weapons.

Such weapons are so sophisticated and specialized that few nations have the capability to respond with their own similar weapons programs.

But for the clutch of nuclear-weapons states here in Asia, accustomed to American diplomatic lectures on the benefits of nuclear restraint, the change of tone in the Senate comes as a welcome change.

The message, perhaps unintended, is that if the US can do nuclear- weapons research, other nations can too.

"For India and Pakistan, for the moment, this is good news," says Kanti Bajpai, a disarmament specialist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "It helps them claim that they, too, can refine their weapons systems and do research also.

"The US knows it can't roll back the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs," adds Mr. Bajpai. "So as long as their nuclear programs don't get too big, there shouldn't be any pressure from the US. They need the Pakistanis and the Indians too much."

For good or ill, Bush policy is closely watched here in South Asia and among the seven or eight countries around the world with acknowledged nuclear-weapons capability.

When the US made preparations for a preemptive war against Iraq, presumably to halt that country's ability to use or sell weapons of mass destruction, there were huzzahs in Delhi.

India's foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, responded that India had a stronger case for a preemptive war against its nuclear rival Pakistan.

Now that the US is formally casting off Clinton-era bans on nuclear-weapons research, there is likely to be a similar me-too phenomenon among military planners and strategists throughout the region.

"Look, the policy of the US toward Iraq and North Korea only gives more incentive for nations to get nuclear weapons," says Jasjit Singh, a military analyst and columnist for the Indian Express newspaper. "The insecurity for nations has increased, not decreased. If the US tests weapons, then China will test. If China tests, then there will be domestic pressure for India to test as well. You're reopening a can of worms."

Any change in the political atmosphere toward nuclear weapons is carefully noted here. Just last week, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheid Kasuri suggested that Pakistan would be willing to scrap its nuclear-weapons program if India agreed to do so as well.

Both India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons in 1998, prompting US economic sanctions against both nations.

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US May Stoke Asian Arms Race ; A Plan to Repeal a US Ban on Nuclear-Weapons Research Could Embolden India and Pakistan
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