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The Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Tests


Paul Leventhal
Nuclear Control Institute

presented to
Conference on the Impact of the South Asian Nuclear Crisis
On the Non-Proliferation Regime
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
July 16, 1998

Overview of the Present Situation

-- Indian-Pakistani nuclear tests represent a colossal U.S. foreign-policy failure; U.S. non-proliferation policy is now in disarray.

-- Present chaotic situation is largely of our own making. We offered India substantially improved commercial and political relations without adequately or convincingly spelling out the consequences if India tested or deployed nuclear weapons.

-- In 1997, Council on Foreign Relations issued a Task Force report, originally solicited by the State Department, denouncing sanctions and calling for turnabout in U.S. relations with India and Pakistan for purpose of "persuading both countries to refrain from testing nuclear explosives, deploying nuclear weapons, and exporting nuclear weapon- or missile-related material, technology, or expertise."

-- Yet, the Council's stated objectives for abandoning sanctions constituted the actual situation in place with sanctions in effect.

-- U.S. signaled weakness, naivete, self-deception; India took our measure, lied to us about its nuclear intentions, and correctly judged it could test and get away with it.

-- Indian tests came as a surprise---a sneak attack on U.S. non-proliferation policy and global norms. According to Congressional testimony by Assistant Secretary of State Inderfurth, "We were told privately and publicly that India would continue to show restraint in the non-proliferation field, and would do nothing to surprise us."

-- Economic sanctions, which Indian officials thought they might have to endure for a couple of years, probably won't last more than a few months. Congress now in full retreat on Glenn Amendment, despite proven record of sanctions, imposed or implied, as an effective non-proliferation tool (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus and Khazakhstan).

-- Record shows that sanctions approach had worked in India:

- Former Indian President Venkataraman: "All preparations for an underground nuclear test at Pokhran had been completed in 1983 when I was the Defense Minister. It was shelved because of international pressure, and the same thing happened in 1995."

- K. Subrahmanyam: Preparations for 1995 nuclear test were "called off under U.S. pressure."

- Former Prime Minister Gujral: "...the Americans got in touch with Mr. (Prime Minister) Rao and for some reasons it was felt expedient to postpone the tests....It was a major decision where all dimensions and aspects had to be calculated. No decision could be taken in a hurry ignoring all the political, economic and international relations dimensions."

-- The effectiveness of past U.S. initiatives to block resumption of Indian testing makes all the more egregious the State Department's gullibility, lack of vigilance, and failure to take a firm enough stand against the stated nuclear-weapons intentions of the BJP when it came to power in March.

-- Before and after the Indian election---Secretary of State Albright's visit to the region last November, the overlapping visits to India by NRC Chairman Jackson and UN Ambassador Richardson in April, National Security Advisor Berger's meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Raghunath in May---the U.S. government sent the same, wrong message: nuclear differences will not be allowed to stand in the way of vastly improving American relations with India.

-- After the tests, we face two basic questions: How bad is the damage? How best to respond?

Alternative assessments: Do Indian and Pakistani tests represent an end to nuclear proliferation or to nuclear non-proliferation?

Alternative 1. An End to Nuclear Proliferation?

-- No remaining, significant NPT holdouts other than Israel, which also has nuclear weapons and probably tested in 1979 without announcing it.

-- As non-members, India and Pakistan did not violate the NPT or CTBT, nor did they violate IAEA safeguards.

-- Their claim to weapon-state status cannot be recognized under the terms of the NPT; they probably can be induced to join the CTBT.

-- Thus, there's minimal damage to the non-proliferation regime, and (because of near-universal adherence to the NPT) no likely contagion effect.

Alternative 2. An End to Nuclear Non-Proliferation?

-- Muted international response to the tests signals to other nations they can test and get away with it. Middle East and East Asia are regions of particular concern.

-- Both India and Pakistan used the cover of civilian nuclear programs to produce nuclear weapons, making the dual-use nature of civilian nuclear equipment and material all the more obvious and "confirming the weakness of the bars to nuclear proliferation" (Gilinsky).

- Half of India's military plutonium was produced in an Atoms for Peace reactor (CIRUS) supplied by Canada with heavy water supplied by the United States---a blatant violation of the "peaceful purposes" commitment India made in written contracts with both suppliers. Yet, India's making bombs from "peaceful" plutonium---the most basic breach of non-proliferation norms---has elicited no official reaction from the U.S. or Canada, before or after the tests (Gilinsky-Leventhal op-ed article, Washington Post, June 15, 1998).

- Pakistan stole European civilian uranium enrichment technology, got away with it, and based its weapons program on it. More recently, Pakistan started producing weapons plutonium in a research reactor at Khushab, built with Chinese assistance and probably operated with Chinese heavy water diverted by Pakistan from its safeguarded Kanupp power reactor.

-- India and Pakistan have established a new class of weapon states outside the NPT---a club that others can join by withdrawing from the NPT and the CTBT after giving the proper "supreme interests" notification.

-- India and Pakistan have demonstrated the value of nuclear weapons for enhancing international stature and solidifying domestic political base. In return for joining the CTBT, they may yet be rewarded with offers of nuclear power reactors without full-scope safeguards conditions (as proposed by Hans Blix about a month before India's tests) or with lessons in nuclear martial arts like second-strike capability, command and control, and one-point safety (as proposed by John Mearsheimer and other academics).


-- Alternative 2, not 1, is clearly in play.

-- Best hope for preserving global non-proliferation norms is to effectively counter the benefits of nuclear testing and weaponizing.

-- What's needed:

- Strong international response and maintenance of economic sanctions until specified conditions are met to cap and to roll-back Indian and Pakistani weapons programs.

- Specific conditions for lifting sanctions: no nuclear deployment on missiles, comprehensive cutoff of fissile material production (civil as well as military), verified removal of India's peaceful-use (CIRUS-reactor) plutonium from weapons, acceptance of CTBT without conditions, acceptance of mediation on Kashmir.

- Real progress on nuclear disarmament by the five recognized nuclear-weapon states: de-alerting, deep cuts, disposal of warhead materials outside the commercial power sector, avoidance of non-explosive testing and development of new weapons.

-- What's happening:

- Sanctions are being abandoned before being given a chance to work.

- Clinton Administration is now putting the best face on the situation: the same team is in place following the debacle, busily circumventing sanctions law to gain negotiating flexibility;

- If Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act (Glenn Amendment) is abandoned today, will Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act be the next to go?

- Managing and defusing the regional crisis is now the top priority, but this may prove unmanageable, nuclear war unavoidable, and damage to non-proliferation irreparable unless tough sanctions are maintained and India and Pakistan are persuaded to back down.

- Nuclear disarmament moves at a snail's pace, reinforcing India's rationale for testing and deploying nuclear weapons, and playing into the hands of other aspiring nuclear powers.

-- Given the fragility of the NPT regime, the growing availability of nuclear explosives in the civilian sector, and the apparent usefulness of nuclear testing to get economic sanctions lifted, the Indian and Pakistani tests might well spell the end to non-proliferation as we know it.

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