US warns of fresh arms race as India conducts two more nuclear tests

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The Independent Online
BRUSHING aside the world's denunciations of the three nuclear tests it carried out on Monday, India yesterday executed two more, then declared the "planned series" of tests was now complete.

The US said the world could be on the brink of another arms race, triggered by India's tests, and slapped sanctions on New Delhi. "There will be a chain-reaction," the Defense Secretary, William Cohen, told a congressional committee. "There will be other countries that see this as an open invitation to try to acquire this technology."

Yesterday President Bill Clinton told a joint news conference with the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, that the tests could lead to "dangerous instability in the region". India should not conduct more tests and its neighbour, Pakistan, should remain calm, he said, calling the tests "deeply disappointing" and "a terrible mistake".

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, said the Indian leadership had "gone berserk". From China, which India has for the first time publicly identified as its main adversary in the region, there was only an inscrutable silence.

News of yesterday's tests, like Monday's, came out of a clear blue sky. As the first accounts of scenes in villages near the test site in Rajasthan's desert reached the newspapers - a violent shuddering of the earth, cracks appearing in walls of village huts, an outburst of spontaneous rejoicing - the world was stunned to learn India had done it again. The two new tests, according to a statement released by the government, took place at 12.21pm and were both low-yield devices. These, it was implied, would be the last tests. "The tests have been carried out to generate additional data for improved computer simulation of designs and for attaining the capability to carry out subcritical experiments, if considered necessary."

According the government's domestic critics, the new tests were a particularly sinister development. "What they did today makes sense only if they move towards rapid deployment of nuclear weapons," said Praful Bidwai, a security and nuclear affairs analyst. "They've started two nuclear arms races, with Pakistan and with China. It's going to degrade security. It's a foolhardy and disastrous thing to do."

Mr Bidwai's interpretation was bolstered by a statement by the hardline Hindu nationalist Manohar Joshi, a senior minister, who said on Tuesday that "Indian scientists will put a nuclear warhead on missiles as soon as the situation requires."

The diplomatic fall-out from India's initiative continued unabated. Japan, India's biggest aid donor, said $30m (pounds 19m) in grants would be cut. Just as Tokyo was announcing the measure, word of the two new tests came through. Later the Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, said Japan would now have to consider even tougher measures to penalise New Delhi.

In London after yesterday's tests Derek Fatchett, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, summoned the Indian High Commissioner, PK Singh, to express shock and dismay. The further tests, he said, "were in flagrant disregard of the concerns already expressed by the international community and made matters yet worse."

In Potsdam, standing alongside his host, Chancellor Kohl, Mr Clinton said the tests were "unjustified and clearly created a dangerous new instability in the region. I've long supported deepening relations with India. This is a deep disappointment for me personally ... We hope the Indian government will soon realise that they can be a great nation in the 21st century without possessing nuclear weapons ... It's a perfectly wonderful country and it is not necessary to manifest national greatness by doing this. It is a terrible mistake."

Reaction in Pakistan continued to verge on the hysterical. Ayub Khan said: "The Indian leadership seems to have gone berserk; they are acting in a totally unrestrained way".

But the Pakistani government gave no clear clues as to whether it would follow in India's footsteps or take Mr Clinton's advice and exercise restraint. In India the outburst of jingoistic excitement that greeted the first tests began moderating into something more reflective.

Economic analysts, pointing out that American companies have plans to invest more than $11bn in India, doubted that US business would sit idly by and allow such massive amounts to be jeopardised.

Optimists were quoted citing the case of human-rights abuses in China and America's readiness to turn a blind eye to them for the sake of commerce. Set against this was a study made by the Finance Ministry in 1995 which assessed that imposition of sanctions after nuclear tests could set India's economy back 5 to 10 years.

What the second batch of tests made abundantly clear was that the Hindu nationalist BJP, which has advocated India's possessing nuclear weapons for the past 30 years, had struck a huge patriotic chord in the country at large, transcending party lines.

But the government's majority is minuscule; speculation mounted that they might seize this opportunity to go to the polls again in the next few months, while the chord continues to reverberate, in the hope of emerging with a healthy majority. The US sanctions imposed under a 1994 non-proliferation law will be painful but are unlikely to have a severe economic impact.

Analysts in Washington are concerned that other states - led by Pakistan - will follow India's example.

It would be much more difficult to impose sanctions on Pakistan, as they would have a far more damaging impact on a country that is a long-time American ally in the region, and could have a destabilising effect on what is already an unstable country.

The US is also concerned that other states that are known to have pursued a nuclear capability, including Iran, Iraq and North Korea, will see the Indian step as a green light. "We have a real proliferation problem that's taking place globally. This is only going to contribute to that. It's going to cause other countries to find a rationale," Mr Cohen said. He said that about 25 countries now either have or are acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.