Washington, 14 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- World reaction to India's five underground nuclear explosions this week is becoming a measure of America's might in the post-Cold-War era and a test of international resolve to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Top U.S. officials Wednesday launched a two-pronged response aimed in part at India's neighbors to stop a new arms race in the region, and in part against India to show that country it will have to pay a heavy price to continue its nuclear weapons development.
President Bill Clinton Wednesday imposed a harsh regime of unilateral economic sanctions against India, calling the nuclear tests "a terrible mistake" and declaring they "create a dangerous new instability in the region."
He said in a statement at Potsdam in Germany it is important the U.S. makes clear its "categorical opposition." The U.S. will urge other countries to do the same, he said.
Washington officials said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is contacting European and Asian governments to ask them to join the U.S. in blocking World Bank loans and other financial aid to India.
So far, most nations have not gone beyond expressions of outrage, shock and dismay. Rhetorical condemnation of India's action is near universal. However, the U.S. has little immediate support among its allies and partners for unified international sanctions.
Britain, France and Russia have all said they will not impose sanctions and Germany has remained non-committal.
Japan has taken largely symbolic steps of suspending $25 million in aid to India and canceling a World Bank donors conference that was to be held in Tokyo next month to assess India's economic needs.
America's top diplomat for South Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, praised Japan's action and told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Wednesday that the U.S. expects other countries in the days ahead to take similar measures.
He said the U.S. is working with Sweden and Britain, as well as Japan and China, on a resolution to be adopted by the United Nations Security Council, condemning the Indian government and urging it to join the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
But UN diplomats say Russia, a traditional friend of India, wants to soften the language to indicate concern or dismay but stop short of condemning India for the nuclear blasts.
Besides convincing other nations to join the U.S. in multilateral sanctions, a top priority for Washington. is to persuade India's neighbor and rival, Pakistan, not to follow suit with its own nuclear testing.
But without naming Pakistan, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen was pessimistic about that prospect.
Testifying before another Senate committee Wednesday, he said India's move will set off a chain reaction and contribute to proliferation and "there will be other countries that see this as an open invitation to try to acquire this (nuclear) technology."
Clinton said he telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif early Wednesday to urge restraint. But senior State Department officials said later that Clinton was not able to obtain assurances from Sharif that Pakistan would hold back from conducting a nuclear test.
Consequently, a senior mission led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has been dispatched to Islamabad to make the point among other things that Pakistan too will be subject to stringent U.S. sanctions if it explodes a nuclear device.
A 1994 nuclear non-proliferation law makes it mandatory and automatic to impose A 1994 nuclear non-proliferation law makes it mandatory and automatic to impose U.S. sanctions against any non-nuclear country that conducts a nuclear weapons test, even an ally like Pakistan.
At the Senate hearing, Inderfurth said Pakistan has the capacity to test a nuclear device and that the U.S. will need to work "closely and cooperatively" to show restraint in the face of India's provocation.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wrote to Clinton after the first round of tests Monday, citing concerns about Pakistan and China and "an atmosphere of distrust" in an attempt to justify his government's decision.
But Clinton Wednesday dismissed the rationale with these words: "To think that you have to manifest your greatness by behavior that recalls the very worst events of the 20th century on the edge of the 21st century, when everybody else is trying to leave the nuclear age behind, is just wrong. It is just wrong."
Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said India has made a major miscalculation.
As he put it: "the Indian government has deluded itself into the absurd assumption that the possession of nuclear weapons will make India a superpower at a time when hundreds of millions of India's people are in poverty. The fact is that India is tangled in economic knots, disease and misery are rampant -- it is an absurd assumption that a big boom will make them a big power."