Signing up for the nuclear club

April 9, 1999


India's decision to stage nuclear TESTs last May, provoking a similar response from Pakistan, was rooted in the domestic problems of the new Bharatiya Janata Party government.

Vernon Hewitt of Bristol University says nobody in the West should have been surprised: "The BJP manifesto made it clear they wanted the bomb."

And while the BJP would have provoked immediate dissension among its coalition partners by moving on other issues, the bomb had popular support. India was also counting on an immediate Pakistani response to justify its own nuclear TESTs.

Mohammed Waseem of St Antony's College, Oxford, said a Pakistani response was inevitable. He points to Pakistan's constant worries about its larger neighbour: "It has been said that Pakistan's foreign policy is made in Delhi."

Proponents of a Pakistani bomb had argued that it was a potential counterbalance to the conventional superiority displayed by India in the war of 1971.

Both speakers agreed that India had gained little internationally. Existing nuclear powers had not welcomed it into their club. One Indian official noted the difference between gatecrashing and being invited to a party.

He also argued that the response of the major powers had been "indecisive and confused", with only the United States and Japan willing to respond with sanctions.

This, he says, might be costly with an adventurist government in Delhi and nervous neighbours in Islamabad: "If we got as far as deployment of the bomb, it would be extremely dangerous and unstable."

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