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15 May 1998

Nuclear Diplomacy

The outcry over India's nuclear tests reveals who wields real power in the international arena, argues David Nolan

UK foreign secretary Robin Cook has found a perfect opportunity to divert attention away from his 'local difficulty' over recent events in Sierre Leone. He has warned of the 'urgent task' to prevent a nuclear arms race in Asia facing the European Union and this weekend's G8 summit. After India carried out a series of five nuclear tests in the desert 330 miles south-west of Delhi, Pakistan said they were about to carry out their own retaliatory nuclear tests.

Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the permanent Conference on Disarmament in Geneva told the 61-nation gathering that "Indian actions, which pose an immediate and grave threat to Pakistan's security, will not go unanswered". Pakistan's foreign minister, Gohar Ayub, claimed that what India has done "is little short of a declaration of war".

Apparently the world was caught unawares by the underground tests because analysts responsible for tracking India's nuclear programme were asleep. What that says about the West's readiness for war is one thing. However, the immediate reaction by most countries reveals exactly what they thought.

Both the US and Japan imposed sanctions on India and demanded the rest of the world do the same. Some members of the G8 including Russia, France and Britain are currently opposed to sanctions while a Swedish government spokesman announced that a UKP73 million aid deal with India was cancelled. Strangely the last time nuclear tests took place, by both France and China in 1995, the reaction was muted and no official sanctions were imposed.

In Britain, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said it was outraged by India's series of nuclear tests. "It is very sad to see India throw away a long and honourable history of working for international nuclear disarmament and become instead a part of the problem rather than the solution", a spokesman declared. "I cannot believe that the Indian government, which is supposedly committed to nuclear disarmament, would take such a provocative and insane action. All this will do is heighten tension within the region and possibly restart the nuclear arms race."

After the tests India made a conditional offer to adhere to the international nuclear test ban treaty. Previously, India had refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, approved by the United Nations in 1996, saying that it gave an advantage to the five nations which had already tested their nuclear weapons.

In May 1995, shortly before the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima - the only time in history nuclear weapons have been used against people - a major international conference confirmed forever the right of the five nuclear weapons states, who coincidentally are also the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the USA, Britain, France, China and Russia) to own massive nuclear arsenals, and also their right to intervene in any other country accused of trying to obtain the Bomb. Articles I and II of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) mark the divide between the five nuclear powers and the rest.

At the time of the conference which confirmed the extension of the NPT forever, I wrote in LM:

"The double standard inherent in the NPT's division of the world between nuclear haves and have-nots ultimately rests on a racial divide. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Chinese regime has shown that it supports the status quo and accepts the moral divide between the powerful nations and the rest and plays the role of the honorary white man in Asia. The assumption underlying the treaty is that some nations can be trusted and others cannot; some are responsible and others are not; some nations are good and others are bad. The irresponsible and dangerous states are always 'over there', in the third world and the East. And the good, responsible and trustworthy nations are in the West."

This remains true today.

In 1995, despite recognising the inequities and double standards of the NPT, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament insisted on the need to renew it forever. The assumptions of racial superiority underlying the treaty are still held even by those who criticise both it and nuclear weapons. CND's reaction to the Indian tests, calling them "insane", reveals where their sympathies lie.

While India may well have decided to show its hand because of its ongoing conflict with Pakistan, it is clear that the real power to impose sanctions and wage war lies ultimately in the West. The ongoing devastating sanctions on Iraq show exactly who has the moral authority and the power to police the world. Through the NPT, the nuclear powers can maintain their monopoly on nuclear arsenals. We can be sure that unless India jumps into line very quickly (and signs that it will are already on the table) it is they who will suffer, in the name of peace.

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