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Western Press Review: India Resumes Nuclear Testing

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba/Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 12 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press comment is focusing heavily on the implications of India's largely unexpected testing of nuclear weapons yesterday. New Delhi's resumption of testing, after a 24-year hiatus, was immediately criticized by many governments around the world as well as by the United Nations. Many commentators see dangers ahead because of the tests, while a few suggest they may hold some promise. All agree India's action is a major international event.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The nuclear testing is dangerous and foolish in equal amounts

Britain's Financial Times today calls India's nuclear testing "dangerous and foolish in equal amounts." In an editorial, the paper writes: "It heightens security tensions with (India's) neighbor Pakistan and in the broader Asian region. And it is the latest in a series of developments that raise disturbing questions about the new coalition government of Atel Behari Vajpayee." The editorial recalls that "Mr. Vajpayee...came to power promising to make India an official nuclear power, though once in office (he) appeared to backtrack on this intention. Last week, his defense minister provoked a row with Beijing by stating that China, not Pakistan, was the real threat to India's security. Now the nuclear tests marks an escalation that could get out of hand." The Financial Times continues: "The main worry for the international community is that India has a new, inexperienced and weak coalition government, anxious to promote its nationalist agenda (and apparently) prepared to act with reckless abandon." The editorial concludes: "India should repair the damage by quickly signing the nuclear test-ban treaty, promising to make no further tests....Failing that, it should be left in no doubt of the world's disapproval."

GUARDIAN: India may plan to follow the test-and-sign strategy

The British daily Guardian, in its editorial, says India's decision to resume nuclear testing was taken "for muddled reasons (having) to do with nationalism, the exigencies of internal politics, and international prestige." The Guardian writes: "The most benign explanation is that New Delhi is signaling that it can from now on maintain an advanced nuclear capability by means other than testing, and that it may soon sign the (UN's) Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India may plan to follow the test-and-sign strategy of China and France, with the difference that India is not a declared nuclear power." The editorial continues: "In dealing with New Delhi, one problem will be that the United States is committed to sanctions against states which test, a course which might be counter-productive in the Indian case. If, for whatever reason, testing were to continue or to be followed by actual deployment, Pakistan might decide to test. China, which has signed the CTBT, would probably stick to the treaty but would take other, serious, military measures. The shaky structure which until now has kept nuclear weapons under some control around the world would be endangered."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is reason to fear that New Delhi's decision will have some ominous echoes

In Germany, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Peter Muench says that "the blasts beneath (India's) Rajasthan desert underlined the ambition of the Hindu nationalist government, in office since March, to make India the foremost regional power --and maybe a world power as well." In a commentary, he writes: "Above all, (the tests) showed India's neighbors that the new bosses in New Delhi are not to be trifled with. In accomplishing that, however, they also made their country of almost (1,000-million) people the new pariah of world politics. India against the rest of the world has been a constant element in the long and arduous efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament in the world." Muench continues: "The message will, of course, be heard most loudly in Islamabad, capital of arch-enemy Pakistan. The Moslem state, partitioned from India at independence in 1947, has already fought three wars with India. Rajasthan even borders Pakistan. As if that were not enough, another neighbor has recently come into India's sights: China, which fought a war with its southern neighbor in 1962." He concludes: "There is ample reason to fear that New Delhi's decision to rattle the 'Hindu bomb' will have some ominous echoes."

ZUERICHER ZEITUNG: All this clouds the economic horizon

Switzerland's Neue Zuericher Zeitung concentrates on the possible economic fall-out from India's testing. In an editorial, the paper writes: "With its nuclear tests, the government in Delhi risks an acceleration of its arms race (with Pakistan). This is bad news for the population on a sub-continent where there are still hundreds of millions incapable of feeding themselves from their own resources. Already, defense expenditures there are tearing huge holes in (national) budgets --so much so that regularly there are insufficient resources for development. Delhi is also risking U.S. sanctions and the insecurity of foreign investors. All this clouds the economic horizon. (And) without real economic clout, India is not likely ever to attain the status of a global power. In that respect, neither rockets nor nuclear bombs will change anything."

ALGEMEEN DAGBAD: What has been feared has now become a reality

The Dutch daily Algemeen Dagbad, published in Rotterdam, carries an editorial titled, "India and Pakistan are Playing with Fire." The paper writes: "What has been feared has now become a reality. The change of government in India, which has allowed militant Hindus to have their say, (is creating a new) arms race with Pakistan and China." The editorial continues: "India and Pakistan have already waged war three times. If the two countries fail to come to an understanding, there is sure to be a fourth war. This time, the conflict could have larger consequences because weapons of mass destruction may be launched. Let us hope that the United States and Russia can persuade Delhi and Islamabad that they are playing with fire."

LA STAMPA: India has again raised the nuclear question

Two Italian dailies also assess the importance of India's nuclear-test resumption. Under the heading "The Weapons of the Apocalypse," La Stampa writes: "Two years and eight months after the French nuclear tests at Mururoa (in French Polynesia), which prompted understandable alarm and protests from international environmentalists and pacifists --even among Paris's allies-- another country has undertaken three underground tests....India (is) the world's most populous democracy and, together with China and Japan, (is) also considered a key nation in Asia, (perhaps) the most important continent in the 21st century." The paper's editorial goes on: "A huge country, still poor, battling against under-development, is nevertheless striving for the shortest way to power and national identity. It believes it has found it in nuclear weapons. As a result, India has again raised the nuclear question in a world that had thought, or imagined, that the issue had ceased to exist with the end of the Cold War."

LA REPUBBLICA: The most serious threat to the security of mankind now comes from India

La Repubblica says that "the earth shook in the desert of Rajasthan --and it really was an earthquake, a political, military and strategic one." The paper's editorial continues: "The most serious threat to the security of mankind now comes from the Indian sub-continent, where a tug of war with nuclear weapons is being enacted between India and Pakistan. The spectacular announcement of the three underground tests at a secret site near India's frontier with Pakistan, the prompt reactions of (India's) rivals, the alarm of the United States and the other great powers --all showed how tangible and immediate the danger of a nuclear escalation is." The paper concluded: "It may be that India is just flexing its muscles. But...this is taking place in an area with strong political and ethnic tensions, creating a danger that should not be underestimated."

LIBERATION: The Indian tests makes the nuclear-test-ban treaty's entry into force more uncertain

Two French newspapers join the chorus of comment on New Delhi's action. In the national daily Liberation, Andre Naef writes of its possible effect on the UN's nuclear-test-ban treaty. The Indian tests, he says, "makes the treaty's entry into force more uncertain. That's because India, as a so-called 'threshold' nuclear power, in fact almost holds a veto power over the treaty." Naef continues: "That's without even mentioning the risks of a new nuclear arms race on the sub-continent, where Pakistan --another 'threshold' power, along with Israel-- will undoubtedly not remain silent."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES: De-escalation of tension does not necessarily include the great Asiatic nations

In the French regional daily Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace, Christiane Vettu sees India's test resumption as creating a new "destabilizing factor" in the world. But she writes in a commentary: "Nevertheless, the action should be accepted without hypocrisy or bad faith, taking into account the fact that the most important adherents to the (UN) test-ban treaty only signed the document two years ago, when they themselves had no further need of testing. One only has to recall that France, after Jacques Chirac's election (as president in June 1995), hurriedly finished a series of tests before signing the treaty with a clear conscience." And Vettu adds: "The end of the Cold War brought a respite to tensions between the Western world and the former communist world. But one must accept the evidence today: This de-escalation of tension does not necessarily include the great Asiatic nations that are about to become the giants of the 21st century."