India Sees Nuclear Option as Needed Protection

Article excerpt

NEW DELHI - The U.S. nonproliferation agenda suffered a severe blow from the recent actions of three Asian neighbors: India's defiant nuclear weapons tests were followed by Pakistan's copycat atomic detonations and Iran's test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile similar to Pakistan's.

The chain of events began in April when Pakistan stunned the world by announcing it had tested a missile with a range of more than 800 miles, giving it the capability to strike deep into the Indian heartland. The Ghauri missile, named after a 12th century Afghan raider of India, was widely regarded as of Chinese or North Korean origin.

A month later, India carried out five underground nuclear tests, revealing its capacity to manufacture the most sophisticated nuclear weapons, including hydrogen, boosted-fission and low-yield bombs. This prompted Pakistan, which has received nuclear weapon blueprints from China, to conduct its own atomic tests two weeks later.

The latest missile test by Iran, which has received Chinese missiles in the past and reportedly accessed Russian and North Korean technologies, involved a system of similar range and payload as Pakistan's Ghauri. Iran's newly tested Shahab-3 missile can strike Israel and India.

U.S. POLICY IS IN TATTERS

The U.S. missile nonproliferation policy now lies in tatters, and the Clinton administration is likely to come under increasing pressure at home from proponents of a national missile-defense system.

The United States has not been able to bring about an international consensus on missile nonproliferation. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a U.S.-led cartel consisting of more than two dozen states, is not backed by any international accord nor does it have the blessing of the United Nations.

Of greater concern to Washington is the damage to the U.S.-sponsored nuclear nonproliferation regime, which is underpinned by an international pact, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and policed by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. As Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has acknowledged, the recent nuclear tests have "dealt a blow" to this regime.

The United States needs India's cooperation if the cracks sustained by the nuclear nonproliferation regime are to be repaired.

India is wedged between China on one side and Pakistan and Iran on the other. New Delhi has had bittersweet relations over the decades with Iran, which aided Pakistan in the 1965 war with India.

If India, the nonproliferation regime's principal opponent, can be brought on board the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), it is very likely that Pakistan will follow suit.

Pakistan has always said it will accept any nonproliferation measure that India does, although recently it has sought to build its own diplomatic space by seeking to delink its position from India's.

If India and Pakistan accept the test-ban and cutoff treaties, the United States could contend that far from being undermined, the nuclear nonproliferation regime has actually been strengthened.

This explains why, just weeks after imposing economic sanctions, U.S. diplomatic efforts have shifted from penalizing these countries to striking a deal with them.

No treaty has had as much effect on Indian thinking and policy as the CTBT. But for the nuclear test-ban pact, India would still be straddling the nuclear fence, trying to make up its mind whether to go overtly nuclear.

TECHNOLOGICAL IMPERATIVES

The CTBT awakened India to the technological imperatives of its long-held nuclear weapons option and to its closing window of opportunity.

By seeking to forcibly drag India into the treaty through a coercive entry-into-force provision and hanging the threat of sanctions if it refused to join, the CTBT left New Delhi with little choice. …