15 May 1998
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
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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