The New Nuclear Arms Race

Conversations with M.V. Ramana and Douglas Roche

By M V Ramana and Douglas Roche | 1998-07-01 12:00:00

Early in the crisis over the tests of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, Peace Magazine interviewed two people whose articles we have previously published - the Indian physicist M.V. Ramana and Canada's former Disarmament Ambassador, Douglas Roche.

PEACE: Sometimes India says they need a bomb because of Pakistan and sometimes because of China. Which is ireally their motive?

M.V. RAMANA: If you look at it as a domestic political matter in India, Pakistan is a much more prominent target to blame it on. But if you raise it in an international forum, people say "Pakistan is a much smaller country that can't do much to you." On that occasion China becomes a natural target to point to. But in the domestic debate, China comes up only rarely.

An even more important factor may be the desire to become a world power, and that feeling has nothing to do with Pakistan. There are certainly other steps that could have been taken to satisfy their pride - such as giving India a seat on the Security Council. And their security concerns could have been handled by giving other kinds of assurances, but if all these issues come together at the same time, it makes it very difficult.

PEACE: What do you expect the long-term consequence of these tests to be for nuclear disarmament?

RAMANA: The pessimistic prospect is that there will be a re-negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), with India and Pakistan signing it, and a start of negotiations of the Fissile Missile Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), ending up with business as usual for seven or eight nuclear states, depending on whether Israel wants to be included in the process. India and Pakistan want to be let into the club, but they portray themselves as responsible states and will gladly do something like sign the CTBT if they can get a lifting of sanctions. In fact, some of the Indian leaders said, "We're not worried about sanctions because we can use the CTBT as a negotiating point to get the U.S. to engage with us." And some countries - but not the U.S. - are behaving that way. Russia, for example, is refusing to impose sanctions, and may even go ahead selling India some nuclear subs.

The optimistic possibility could be that the U.S. recognizes the need to get serious about disarmament and begins taking serious steps toward it - steps that would actually cut into their nuclear program, steps going beyond the CTBT and FMCT, which don't hamper their weapons development. They have already done all the tests they want; they can do the rest with computers and sub-critical tests.

Another optimistic sign is that we see the first peace movement emerging in India. Groups have formed that criticize the testing, and many of them also are promoting peacebuilding with Pakistan. For the first time a substantial number of scientists have come out against the tests. Peace groups in India and Pakistan need educational (especially audio-visual) material, such as the effects of nuclear explosions, weapons production, health effects, and possible accidents.

PEACE: But polls show that most Indians supported the tests. Will the Pakistanis do so too?

RAMANA: The initial reactions may be about the same in both countries but you have to take it with a pinch of salt. Opposition parties in India had painted themselves into a corner by opposing signing the CTBT. When the BJP government went ahead and took the next step, they didn't know how to react immediately, but now they are trying to distance themselves from the decision. They are saying, "You can't test without having any reason. What is the security reason for this?" Within weeks the support will diminish.

In Pakistan, the support will be limited by the extreme hardship that the sanctions will bring. Pakistan's economy is in very bad shape, lurching from loan to loan from the World Bank. The leaders know this is going to hurt them a lot.

PEACE: The international community seems not to have tried hard to settle the key dispute - over Kashmir, which was left unresolved after the partition in 1946.

RAMANA: India wants a strictly bilateral solution. It says that no other country should get into the matter. In 1948 there was an agreement to hold a plebiscite. Both countries blame the other for not carrying it out. Now so many years have gone by that it is difficult to hold one, especially since there has been so much migration into and out of the region. Pakistan, which is less comfortable with the current line of control, realizes that it cannot change it alone and would like the world to step in and force India to negotiate at a multilateral level. Of course, what Pakistan is hoping is that a settlement would lead to Kashmir joining it. Much of the firing across the border takes place in Kashmir. Both governments are hypocritical. They don't really care about the Kashmiri people. Neither country wants to give the Kashmiris a say in what happens. Rob Greene, of the abolition caucus, suggests taking the Kashmir issue to the World Court. I think it is worth pursuing.

Dr. Ramana is now working at MIT on a SSRC-MacArthur Postdoctoral fellowship on International Peace and Security in a Changing World. For further information about the South Asian nuclear arms race, see: South Asia Citizens web site at

PEACE: What should Canada's response be to these tests?

DOUGLAS ROCHE: Canada has maintained a policy of ambiguity on nuclear weapons, and is still staying quiet about the real issue that these tests have revealed. The real issue is the maintenance of their weapons by the nuclear weapons states into the indefinite future. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article stating that the risks of nuclear war are growing. Unless there's a global ban on nuclear weapons, within a decade we must expect a terrorist attack on the U.S.

I was in India for two weeks in March. I pleaded with the prime minister not to proceed down the nuclear weapons road. I'm not defending India, but simply blaming India is not sufficient. There is a NATO review going on right now in preparation for the summit in 1999, but we have not heard a word from Canada about what we are going to do about getting NATO to revise its policy.

I want to strengthen Canada's foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, who has said that Canada can be in the forefront, working with other like-minded states, to assure that a nuclear power and a great power are not regarded as the same thing. He said Canada will pursue its disarmament agenda with vigor. He said we need to put pressure on the nuclear weapons states to pursue an active disarmament agenda. That's all very heartening. I think he would like to go the whole distance but is restrained by his bureaucracy and by cabinet. He will be able to move on these issues only when NGOs put pressure on him. Let's do so!

There are three main reasons for Canada to get off the fence. First, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is in crisis. The preparatory committee collapsed on May 8 over the U.S. refusal to endorse the resolution (adopted at the NPT extension in 1995) calling for the Middle East to be a nuclear weapon free zone. This was the minimum condition for the Arabs, and Canada had introduced this language. A paper by the nonaligned states calls for the initiation of negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons within a time-bound program. Those are red-flag words for the three Western nuclear weapons states, which are stonewalling every effort to address disarmament.

A second reason for Canada to revise its policy is because India and Pakistan have de-stabilized everything. An accident, as well as deliberate use, could cause a chain reaction around the world.

The third reason is that our hands are not clean. Canada contributed to the development of the bomb by providing a nuclear reactor to India, which has built upgraded reactors based on what Canada provided, and has produced plutonium.

When India announced its tests, they said they remain fully committed to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a universal, comprehensive, verifiable disarmament agreement that would prohibit nuclear testing of all weapons, as well as subcritical testing. In its history of dealing with these matters India has had a commendable record. The Western press and the Western nuclear states have given it the back of their hand. We have to publicize these facts.

A parliamentary committee, chaired by Bill Graham, is reviewing Canada's policies, and this is the time to push for a strong report. I urge the peace community to strengthen Mr. Axworthy.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1998

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1998, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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