Leading article: A dangerous game of leapfrog in the dark

Share
Related Topics
WHICH came first? The Indian test, or Pakistan's plan to explode a nuclear device? The Pakistani test, or Pakistan's claim that India was about to attack the test site? The chicken or the egg? Arms races are like that: a game of leapfrog in the dark. India's defiance of world opinion two weeks ago looks less one-sided now. It may be many years before we know the true story, but it is possible that India's test was at least partly prompted by the knowledge that Pakistan was preparing its own. What the Pakistani show of force demonstrates beyond doubt, however, is that the arms race on the Indian subcontinent is driven by its own internal logic, impervious to appeals from the outside world.

"We have evened the account with India," said Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister. That simple statement explains why the pleas from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair for Pakistan to show restraint fell on deaf ears. But evening the account does not mean closing it. It means that both sides have reached an enhanced state of readiness for nuclear war: what matters now is the stability of the stand-off between India and Pakistan.

The trouble is that as more and more countries possess nuclear weapons, the greater the chance that, one day, someone somewhere will press a button with terrible consequences. However, the only practical way to minimise that danger is to proceed step by negotiated step to build up the international apparatus of treaties and arms control inspection.

The tests of recent weeks will have two contradictory effects: on the one hand, they will spur both countries to build up their military strength, but, on the other, they make it easier for both countries to sign the international treaties to ban further tests and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology still further. Pakistan has always offered to sign if India will and, to that extent, Mr Sharif's talk of "evening of the account" offers hope that a plateau of mutual deterrence has been reached.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Building Manager / Head Porter

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Medical Copywriter / Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Clerk / Debriefer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading temperature contro...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific