PAKISTAN'S five underground nuclear explosions to match India's five bring the world closer to nuclear war, perhaps, than it has been since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
It coincides with renewed tensions over disputed Kashmir and reports of shooting along the border. It reflects the Hindu nationalism of India's new government directed at Muslims at home and abroad, although the engineering bureaucrat in charge of India's program is a Muslim. It proclaims the existence of an "Islamic bomb," although Pakistan credibly claims to have had this capability for 20 years and was helped by technological transfers from Communist (and Confucian) China.
Supposedly, all this is for deterrence, not aggression. Pakistan in April triumphantly tested a missile that hit targets more than 900 miles away, putting major Indian cities in range. India, whose election in February turned on nuclear policy, tested five nuclear devices earlier this month.
Initially, the explosions caused joy and pride in India. Pakistan then exploded five of its own bombs underground yesterday, claiming that it will be fitting nuclear warheads to its new missile. Pride in Pakistan over the nation's scientific and engineering achievement matches India's, which has turned into recriminations, as Pakistan's will soon.
The United States has trouble slapping sanctions on Pakistan because it did that in 1990 and never took them off. President Clinton, who deserves credit for trying to talk Pakistan's government out of the tests, is moving evenhandedly against both countries. This means trying to block IMF and World Bank loans. That would hurt Pakistan more than India, which has a more robust economy, but both willingly took the risk.
Pakistan has a friend in China. India used to have one in Russia, which now is less interested. India, therefore, has awakened nuclear rivalries across two borders without acquiring sympathy, which hardly improves its security.
Pakistan may not have helped itself technologically from these tests to the extent it should, having rushed them for political purpose. But because the explosions occurred in the context of a runaway hostile arms race, the world is a more dangerous place.
Pub Date: 5/29/98