The Subcontinent Goes Nuclear

The post-Cold War dream of a world free from nuclear weapons had a rude awakening this May. India’s five nuclear tests and Pakistan’s even more provocative response are a major setback to nuclear non-proliferation and threaten a dangerous arms race in South Asia, one of the world’s most likely nuclear flash points.

Pakistan’s deployment of nuclear warheads on its long-range Ghauri missiles makes an already deteriorating situation even more dangerous. Both India and Pakistan have been suspected for decades of having nuclear capability. This spring’s tests removed any doubt and will accelerate the arms race between the two—and could make a future nuclear exchange a real possibility. China is unlikely to sit idly by and may now increase its nuclear arsenal targeted at India.

After 24 years of ambiguity, why did India risk a regional arms race, international condemnation, and sanctions by testing nuclear weapons? There are several immediate reasons.

Geopolitics. In the past 50 years, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, and since India’s 1962 war with China the country has lived in fear of further attacks. In recent years, the Clinton administration has allowed China to acquire previously forbidden military, nuclear, supercomputer, and satellite technology, which China allegedly then made available to Pakistan. Only one month before India’s test, Pakistan for the first time successfully tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching India’s major cities. India has increasingly felt the regional balance changing to its detriment.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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