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Western Press Review: India's Nuclear Tests Evoke Alarm

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba/Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 13 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- India's surprise resumption of nuclear testing two days ago continues to preoccupy governments around the world. Yesterday, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said India's Hindu nationalist-led coalition Government had "let us down" and the European Union expressed its "dismay" at the tests. In the strongest reaction of all, U.S. President Bill Clinton recalled his ambassador to New Delhi, urged nervous neighbors Pakistan and China "not to follow down the path of a dangerous arms race," and prepared to implement retaliatory economic sanctions against India.

New Delhi's new nuclear testing also remains the chief center of attention for Western press commentators today. Most warn of its potential dangers to the sub-continent and to the world, many condemn the action, while a few find it contained some positive elements.

NEW YORK TIMES: The gravest threat of nuclear war is now shaping up in South Asia

Editorials in two U.S. national newspapers today evoke the dangers of the new nuclear threat from India. The New York Times says Delhi's resumption of testing "makes the world a more dangerous place." The paper writes: "By arrogantly challenging international efforts to control the spread of the most lethal weapons, the new Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may win applause at home from those who confuse military might with self-esteem. But for a paltry and short-lived domestic gain, India now faces a ruinous cutoff in foreign aid, a self-defeating arms race with Pakistan and isolation even from friends."

The editorial goes on to say: "Less than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the gravest threat of nuclear war is now shaping up in South Asia....It is fashionable in some circles to say that India and Pakistan are capable of managing their nuclear relationship, just as the United States and the Soviet Union did throughout the Cold War. But the super-powers were lucky to avoid a war in 1962, and they built up an elaborate regimen of safeguards to preserve the peace, which India and Pakistan lack. In the end, the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its efforts to keep up militarily." The paper concludes: "For India to avoid that fate, it must seek safety in arms control and restraint, not a nuclear buildup."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Monday's tests demonstrated India's nuclear weapons capability

The Los Angles Times, warning that "India (is playing) with nuclear fire," focuses on the likely effects on Pakistan and China. It writes: "Monday's explosions...raise the stakes again in South Asia, a restive region long considered vulnerable to nuclear war. Pakistan, predictably, pledged to take 'all appropriate measures for its security.' Nuclear experts believe that the Islamabad regime is capable of assembling a nuclear weapon on short notice. China, which fought a war with India in 1962, obviously must be concerned..." The editorial continues: "Previous Indian governments...insisted that New Delhi's only previous nuclear test, in 1974, was a 'peaceful' experiment. The new government, in contrast, boasted that Monday's tests demonstrated a nuclear weapons capability, a message that rang loudly in Pakistan. Although China denies it, intelligence sources contend that Beijing has helped Pakistan's nuclear program, also tabbed the 'Islamic bomb' due to funding from some Arab nations."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Vajpayee punctured that illusion of power with nuclear blasts...

In the Washington Post, columnist Jim Hoagland says Prime Minister Vajpayee's decision to test delivered "a nuclear punch on the nose of the international community." In a commentary, Hoagland writes: "Mr. Vajpayee struck just as the leaders of the world's seven most affluent industrial democracies, joined by their poor but militarily powerful Russian cousins, were preparing to assemble in England for their annual two-day parlay (May 16-17) about the state of the world. These talks...are no longer about power but the illusion of power, created and sustained in the summit's press releases and wall-to-wall puffery." He continues: "Mr. Vajpayee punctured that illusion of power with nuclear blasts...that the world leaders were relatively confident would not happen now. After all, they had issued stern warnings to both India and Pakistan about the consequences of sparking a nuclear arms race in the sub-continent."

Hoagland's commentary concludes: "Mr. Vajparee's nuclear decision is shocking and reprehensible. But it should deliver two needed reminders to Clinton & Colleagues at (the G-7 plus Russia summit in) Birmingham (England): Power is about will, not words and illusion. And selective (nuclear) non-proliferation is a hard case to make."

BALTIMORE SUN: India's nuclear tests are a triumph for Vajpayee's Bharatlya Janata Party

Yesterday, a Baltimore Sun editorial assessed India's action from three points of view. The paper wrote: "Strategically, India's explosion of three nuclear devices beneath the desert near Pakistan on Monday is aimed at a stronger China. The two fought in 1962 near their Himalayan borders when neither was nuclear. Now China is developing its military capabilities rapidly, and its growing naval capabilities disturb India." The editorial continued: "Diplomatically, India's muscle-flexing is aimed more at Pakistan, the weaker neighbor that undermines India's rule in disputed Kashmir and Jammu. Pakistan, along with Israel and India, is understood to be at least nuclear-ready, probably with weapons in kit form waiting to be assembled." And "politically," the Sun said, "India's nuclear tests are a triumph for Vajpayee's Bharatlya Janata Party (BJP) of militant Hindu nationalists (which) came to power with a coalition seven weeks ago, advocating nuclear options and firmness toward Pakistan."

GLOBE AND MAIL: Before India bestrides the world like a colossus, it must learn to walk

Canada's Globe and Mail daily today carries a commentary by Marcus Gee entitled, "The Chip on India's Shoulder." He writes: "India's decision to resume nuclear testing is less an act of self-defense than one of self-assertion. A proud nation that has fallen far short of its potential, India desperately wants to show the rest of the world that it matters. What better way than to announce that you have the Bomb, the ultimate symbol of great-power status." The commentary goes on: "But waving nuclear weapons around will not persuade anyone to take India seriously. To the contrary, its decision to defy international opinion and court a nuclear standoff with Pakistan only underlines its insularity. Did Mr. Vajpayee really think India would gain respect by thumbing its nose at the world?" Gee concludes: "If respect is what it wants, India must look homeward first....Instead of spending (thousands of millions) on new weapons, it must improve the scandalous condition of its poor. Instead of thinking up new curses for Pakistan, it must renovate its semi-feudal democracy. Before it bestrides the world like a colossus, it must learn to walk. Then, and only then, will the world consider India great."

IRISH TIMES: The international community must do all it can to minimize the damage done

Across the Atlantic, West European newspapers add today to what has become a flood of comment on India's action. The Irish Times calls the tests "an irresponsible exercise which could rapidly get out of control." The paper writes in an editorial: "Now that the damage has been done, the international community must do all it can to minimize it." But it notes how difficult coordinated international action may be, saying: "India must be persuaded to develop its weapons program no further...but agreement on how to achieve it is less certain. The U.S., to its credit, was quick to suggest it will impose sanctions on India but they may not be comprehensive; under U.S. law, it must cut off aid....Russia, a long-term ally of India, will not disappoint New Delhi, it has ruled out sanctions. Denmark has frozen its aid program and Germany has canceled aid talks, but the European Union will have to act as one; hopefully, it will take a tough line. Much will depend on Japan, the largest aid donor to India and, of course, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Paradoxically, some good could yet come of this blow to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation

Britain's Daily Telegraph, in an editorial headed "India, Nuclear and Weak", says that "the Hindu nationalists...have boosted their domestic popularity but have done their country no favors....Confidence that (the tests) will convince the world of Indian strength is misplaced." But the paper finds that, "paradoxically, some good could yet come of this blow to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation. It may induce the U.S. to take a stronger line against Chinese exports of military technology to Pakistan....This in turn may persuade New agree to sign the (United Nations) Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty when President Clinton visits the sub-continent in November." Still, the editorial concludes: "India has dealt a blow to American-driven efforts to curb weapons of mass destruction and has done nothing to enhance the stability of the region of which it is the dominant power. All in all, a foolish piece of braggadocio."

TAGES ANZEIGER: The foreign-policy price is enormous

Tages Anzeiger, published in Zurich, says in an editorial that "the foreign-policy price which Prime Minister Vajpayee and his country is having to pay is enormous." The paper writes: "India is threatened by boycotts, sanctions, the canceling of aid packages --above all, the loss of its moral credibility. The country that once supported disarmament and world peace is endangering the hard-won stabilization of destructive nuclear potentials to the five well-known (nuclear) players. Those ready to follow suite will be found easily." The editorial adds: "But to place (India's action) in perspective, the following should be stated: The U S. has undertaken 1,032 nuclear tests, the ex-Soviet Union 715, France 210, Britain 45, China 44 -- and India only four. Is that, however, really a source of comfort?"

DER STANDARD: The crux of the problem really lies in the unstable psyche of the country

Der Standard of Vienna sees not only political but psychological motives underlying the Indian nuclear tests. In its editorial, the paper says: "Indians from the President through the Government and opposition politicians to the commentators and ordinary mortals --all are reacting with unique self-flattery to the three nuclear tests....Officially, India's concern is the security of the sub-continent....But the crux of the problem really lies in the unstable psyche of a country that has the second largest population in the world which would like to be a great power and would like to have a say in concert with the real great powers. 'We have proved that we are no eunuchs,' a leading Hindu fanatic said in reacting to the tests, thereby exposing his inferiority complex. "

EL PAIS: If other countries follow India's example, we will soon loose the tranquillity we gained with the end of the Cold War

Spain's El Pais writes that "India's decision to resume nuclear testing comes at a time when the campaign for total abolition of nuclear weapons was reaching a high." The paper's editorial says, "Unfortunately, we're not there anymore," adding: "But we have to do everything possible, including applying sanctions and stopping arms sales to India --and other proliferating countries like Pakistan-- to make all these countries submit to the non-proliferation treaty and stop nuclear testing." The paper continues: "Much like the French did earlier (1995-96), the Indian defense minister said that with these tests his country will now be able to sign the treaties. That may be so, but if other countries follow India's example, we will soon loose the tranquillity we gained with the end of the Cold War."