India Conducts Nuclear Tests; Pakistan Follows Suit

Article excerpt

SPURNING THE international nonproliferation regime, and the global norm against nuclear testing embodied in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India announced two sets of nuclear tests May 11 and 13, prompting Pakistan to announce its own tests on May 28 and 30. The first nuclear detonations since the CTBT opened for signature in September 1996, the Indian and Pakistani tests are feared to be the first steps toward a new and destabilizing arms race between the neighbor-states, which have gone to war three times in the past 50 years. As a result of the tests, both countries, already straining to develop their economies, face international economic sanctions that will drive up the cost of capital, limit prospects for foreign investment and reduce their access to international development assistance.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced India's first tests and said they included a fission device, a thermonuclear device and a low-yield device. Two days later, New Delhi declared it had conducted two more tests, both alleged to have sub-kiloton yields. India's tests were conducted at the Pokhran test site near the Pakistani border. At a May 17 press conference, Rajgopala Chidambaram, secretary of India's Department of Atomic Energy and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, announced the yields of the first tests as 12, 43 and 0.2 kilotons, respectively. The second set of tests did not produce any seismic signal, and their yields cannot be confirmed beyond India's announced yields of between 0.2 and 0.6 kilotons. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, science advisor to the prime minister, noted at the May 17 press conference that the explosions had provided "critical data for the validation of our capability in the design of nuclear weapons of different yields for different applications and different delivery systems." Abdul Kalam also said that data from the tests would be put to use in modeling nuclear explosions with supercomputers.

Seventeen days after the first Indian test, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that Pakistan had tested five nuclear devices. Two days later, Islamabad declared that it had conducted two more tests, although Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed retracted that claim on May 30, saying only one subsequent test had occurred. The Pakistani tests took place in the Chagai Hills region, close to the Iranian border. A. Q. Khan, who heads Pakistan's nuclear program, said on May 30 that one of the five devices tested on May 28 was in the 30- to 35-kiloton range, with the other four producing small yields suitable for tactical weapons. The test on May 30 yielded 15 to 18 kilotons, according to Samar Mobarik Mand, a Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission official.

Following their respective tests, India and Pakistan announced unilateral moratoriums on nuclear testing, and New Delhi declared itself a nuclear-weapon state-a classification rejected by the rest of the world. Under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), only states that conducted a nuclear test prior to January 1, 1967, are recognized as nuclear-weapon states. All other states-parties are non-nuclear-weapon states. India, a non-signatory of the NPT, has long been an outspoken opponent of the two-tier structure of the regime, denouncing it as "nuclear apartheid" because it does not require a time-bound framework for disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states. Pakistan has also remained outside of the treaty, but has in the past indicated that it would sign the NPT if India did. Both states, however, have refrained from proliferating the nuclear technology or materials they have acquired and have pledged to maintain their no-transfer policies.

India has had a nuclear weapons capability since 1974 when it conducted a "peaceful nuclear explosion." It operates several natural uranium-fueled reactors whose spent fuel can be reprocessed to extract plutonium for weapons use. India is believed to possess about 400 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for 60 to 80 weapons. …