India keeps its nuclear option Test ban blow: Veto of treaty threatens weapons proliferation.

August 23, 1996

THE LEFTIST new government of India must fear being branded as insufficiently nationalist by the Hindu opposition. So it vetoed the nuclear test ban treaty negotiated by the 61-nation standing Conference on Disarmament at Geneva. This need not keep the other nations from adopting the treaty at the U.N. General Assembly. But it keeps the possibility of an Asian nuclear race alive, and it hobbles the arms control movement.

The treaty as written would come into effect when ratified by all 44 nations with nuclear research reactors, including the five declared nuclear powers (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France) and the three near-nuclear powers (India, Israel and Pakistan). Naming them was a way to put pressure on India that backfired. The other countries named, including Israel and Pakistan, voted to adopt the treaty. Only Iran joined India in opposing the treaty, a strange bedfellow.

President Clinton strengthened U.S. commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last year by committing the U.S. to renouncing nuclear tests. France and China, amid near-universal condemnation, tested weapons underground in a rush this year, then approved the treaty.

India, which conducted a nuclear explosion in 1974, denies having a weapon but presumably has some ready to assemble. Pakistan and Israel are widely assumed to have weapons or kits. South Africa admitted to having had nuclear weapons when announcing it would abandon them.

Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda insists India is commited to nuclear disarmament while resisting "discriminatory" provisions. Foreign Minister Inder Kumar Gujral said India would not resume testing its Agni missile, capable of delivering a warhead 1,500 miles, but "would keep our options open." India's arms race is with China, a past adversary, and Pakistan, a weaker but more active potential enemy.

It may be idle to press India to renounce nuclear weapons before its relations with China and Pakistan have improved fundamentally. But the world community should press ahead with the treaty and isolate India in its opposition. The danger from nuclear proliferation is too menacing for arms control to be derailed by India's ambitions.

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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