India to build nuclear weapons

by Rahul Bedi in New Delhi

THE new coalition government in India, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, will build nuclear weapons and step up testing and production of long range missiles.

Foreign spokesman, Brijesh Mishra, said: "The BJP believes India should be a nuclear weapon power and whatever is necessary will be done for that."

After its first and only underground nuclear test in 1974, India has maintained that it merely wants to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and has no intentions of building weapons of mass destruction. It has achieved nuclear self-sufficiency, including the ability to create weapons grade material, and has built 10 commercial nuclear power stations. Seven others are under construction and another 10 planned. It also has four research reactors, is building a nuclear-powered submarine and has an advanced missile programme which has been kept on hold to contain a military build-up in south Asia.

The BJP has criticised previous governments for "bartering" away India's security concerns under pressure from the West by not exercising its nuclear "option". The Hindu nationalists claim that nuclear weapons will discourage "military adventurism" by neighbouring Pakistan and China, both of whom are nuclear weapon states and have fought wars with India since independence 51 years ago.

India has been to war three times with Pakistan and once with China over territorial disputes. Gen Aslam Beg, Pakistan's former army chief, recently claimed that his country had been in possession of a nuclear device since 1987 and had enough enriched uranium for more weapons.

India has refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty aimed at containing nuclear weapons and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and . It claims that both agreements are discriminatory and favour the five nuclear weapon states - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France - by allowing them to retain large nuclear arsenals.

India's prime minister-designate, Atal Behari Vajpayee, yesterday began talks with the BJP's coalition allies to form a cabinet.

Most of the coalition members appear to agree on the need to "reform the reforms" launched in 1991 to end decades of socialist controls on the economy.

Several opposition leaders say they will try to topple Mr Vajpayee in the vote of confidence he must face within 10 days of taking over as prime minister on Thursday.

The BJP has the support of 264 deputies in the 539-seat lower house, but the declared neutrality of 12 MPs from the southern Telugu Desam Party means that it can form a government.

Depleted uranium

The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGRC) released a report March 2, 1998, estimating that as many as 400,000 service men and women involved in Desert Storm may have been exposed to depleted uranium (DU) during or immediately after combat.

Responding to the NGRC report, U. S. Department of Defense (DoD) officials denied that the numbers were anywhere near 400,000 people. While admitting that there is "a certain amount of danger associated with it [depleted uranium] from very long-term or careless exposure," the DoD denied that DU exposure can be linked to any post-Gulf War illnesses.

Today, depleted uranium is used by the military primarily for tank armor and ammunition fired against tanks. It is particularly effective as an armor penetrator. Rather than explode, the DU penetrator will fragment and burn on impact, producing a smoke cloud with toxic DU particles, which remain suspended in the air and can be carried by the wind for miles. Any movement through a contaminated area can stir them up, re-releasing them into the air.

Depleted uranium is radioactive and has chemical effects on the body similar to those from lead and mercury. Ingested particles can become permanently trapped in the lungs. Once trapped, a single particle can expose the surrounding tissue to radiation 800 times the annual dosage permitted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the entire body. Depleted uranium is implicated with lung cancer, kidney disease, and damage to the liver, respiratory and immune systems.

A 1993 GAO report stated that "Army officials believe that DU protective methods can be ignored during battle and other life-threatening situations because DU-related health risks are greatly outweighed by the risks of combat." Veterans groups have pressured the U.S. government to address the issue of veteran's illnesses due to DU exposure, but with little to no avail. But on January 8, in a dramatic change of policy, the Pentagon admitted for the first time that "thousands" of veterans were exposed to DU particles during and after the Gulf War. It assumed responsibility for not properly warning Gulf troops of the dangers associated with DU prior to being deployed in the Gulf.

On April 21 Dr. Rosalie Bertell testified on the issue before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs, which proposes to increase the list of radiation related cancers and disease accepted for "atomic veterans." - Center For Defence Information

From a report by Emily E. Skor, Center for Defense Information, Washington, D.C.

Peace Magazine May-June 1998

Peace Magazine May-June 1998, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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