Letter: India's bomb tests

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Sir: India's founding fathers led the world in moral rectitude. Their successors desecrate the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru by reducing India from a first-class moral power to a fifth-class nuclear one. There seems to be negligible opposition. We read of dancing in the streets of New Delhi.

Forty years ago Britain tested hydrogen bombs, not underground but in the open air of Christmas Island. Whatever the official motive, the underlying one seems to have been the same as India's today: national pride; desire, in our case, to stay "up" there with the Americans and Russians.

After the Indian tests, the danger now is of a copycat epidemic which could end in world catastrophe. One message needs to be hammered home. There is nothing here to be proud of. Forty years ago, the ability to make a hydrogen bomb was the melancholy label of a great scientific power, but it is so no longer. The hydrogen bomb is now old technology and any fool can build one. You need only spend lots of money, and most governments have the money if they take it away from something else. You cannot dance in the streets of New Delhi without tripping over beggars on whom the money would have been better spent.

A moral gesture is needed, of the kind that India might once have given. Britain is the world's third nuclear power. With the Cold War over, our remaining motive in possessing these weapons is still national pride. We could give the world a lead and perhaps stop the dangerous "me too" proliferation, if we disposed of our entire nuclear arsenal now, in the most public and ostentatious way possible. Since the whole point of these terrible weapons is making gestures, Britain is now in a strong position finally to use its nuclear bombs - by unilaterally decommissioning them.