|GROWING NUCLEAR FAMILY|
May 12, 1998
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we get three additional perspectives now on the Indian nuclear tests. George Perkovich is the director of the Secure World Program at the W. Alton Jones Foundation, a program aimed at reducing the risks of nuclear war. He's written widely on South Asia nuclear issues. Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of nuclear physics at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan. He's currently a visiting professor at the University of Maryland. And Arjun Mikhijani is a nuclear engineer and native of Indian. He has written extensively on nuclear testing and is the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Thank you all for being with us. Mr. Hoodbhoy, you heard the ambassador say that partly because of the Chinese, Pakistan nuclear cooperation, the armed forces need this nuclear capability as a backup. As a Pakistani scientist, what's your reaction to the testing and to that explanation?
PERVEZ HOODBHOY, Nuclear Physicist: I feel very sad about it because it virtually eliminates the chances of peace for the region in the short run. The peoples of India and Pakistan have multiple problems related to poverty, to the lack of education and the basic necessities of life. We need to work together. We need to reduce tensions. We need to cooperate, rather than to build atomic weapons, and I feel that with the explosion which occurred two days ago, their chances have been reduced substantially. It's an unmitigated disaster.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Hoodbhoy, what is Pakistan's nuclear capability?
PERVEZ HOODBHOY: Nobody really knows. I suppose that in the next few days or perhaps the next few weeks or months we shall know better. However, what the literature says is that India has something like around seventy to eighty plutonium weapons. And now, of course, it claims to have thermonuclear capability. And Pakistan perhaps has a handful of nuclear weapons not exceeding 10.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And does this put a lot of pressure on the Palestinian government to go forward and test?
PERVEZ HOODBHOY: Immense.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Describe the pressure.
PERVEZ HOODBHOY: Immense. There are calls from every quarter of society to match this and to respond in kind, which means that no government in Pakistan today can afford to not do anything at this point. And, indeed, should it not, it will send one of two messages: either that Pakistan does not have the bomb and cannot match India, or that it has succumbed to international pressure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And George Perkovich, do you see those same pressures? Do you think that it's inevitable that Pakistan go forward?
GEORGE PERKOVICH, W. Alton Jones Foundation: I don't think it's inevitable, but I think it's highly likely for the reasons that Pervez mentioned. And it'll take a certain amount of long-sightedness and strategic thinking and restraint for the Pakistani government to wait and see what happens with India and to try to take the high road and avoid this escalation. But I think that for domestic reasons and historical reasons that's not highly likely.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Perkovich, what is your analysis of why India chose this moment to test?
GEORGE PERKOVICH: I think there are many reasons. One is that once they did the first test in 1974, the scientists involved wanted at that time and for the succeeding 24 years to continue. They wanted to do other tests, and they had always been stopped by prime ministers and governments for various reasons. So now you have a new government that came into power at the end of March that for the first time in Indian history did not express a moral rejection of nuclear weapons but, rather, in its platform said that India should have nuclear weapons. And so that domestic political platform removed one of the major sources of restraint in the Indian nuclear program. In terms of timing I think there were domestic considerations, but also the Pakistani test of the Gowring missile, medium range missile that was tested last month, really upset India, surprised India, and that provoked, I think, in India a speeding up of the timetable for doing these tests. Lastly, I would say that India has a perception partly valid that China has provided significant help to Pakistan's nuclear missile programs, and that the U.S. had done not enough to stop that. And India thought that the latest missile that was tested in Pakistan had come from China, which according to U.S. sources, is actually not true, but the Indians appeared not to believe that and so felt that there was a combination of developments in Pakistan, China, lack of U.S. support, all of that combined with their own domestic compulsions, and they decided to do it now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Arjun Mikhijani, do you have anything to add to that list of reasons for why now?
ARJUN MIKHIJANI, Nuclear Engineer: Yes. I think part of the reason might be seen in the timetable for the CTBT. India did not want--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
ARJUN MIKHIJANI: The Comprehensive Test Ban--yes. India did not want to sign this treaty and said that it did not want to be a party to its ratification. But the way the CTBT is written, if India does not sign it and ratify it, it cannot go into force. So it felt a loss of sovereignty. Next year there may be a meeting of the CTBT parties at which they may decide on a strategy to isolate India and India may face sanctions anyway. So in a way it's ironical. The CTBT, the way it is written and India being a part of it against its will, may have also pushed India into a corner where it already felt isolated and felt the international price, it was going to pay it anyway, so why not go ahead and develop the program? Of course, the change in government has also been a factor, as George mentioned.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Hoodbhoy, do you see this, the test, as really aimed at Pakistan, or are all these other factors mentioned equally important, in your view?
PERVEZ HOODBHOY: Well, on the 4th of May the president of the BJP, Mr. Pakray, said that it is time to bring Pakistan to its knees. And I fear that the real motivation behind these tests is to strike fear into the heart of Pakistan. But it's not going to bring Pakistan to its knees. It's not going to resolve any of the problems. It's not going to finish off the insurgency or the revolt in Kashmir. That problem will continue to fester. The way forward is through negotiations, through mutual trade, through improving the relations, not by exploding bombs.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think, though, that the nuclear arms race is now inevitable? You indicated that in your first answer to my question. Or is there a way now, immediately, fairly soon, to stop a nuclear arms race in the continent, the subcontinent, from taking place?
PERVEZ HOODBHOY: There's one faint possibility, which is that the international community react decisively and now with sanctions that are effective and which show to India that it has committed an act which the international community will not tolerate. Failing that, I fear that India will continue to explode more such weapons and that it will continue to perhaps increase the rate of development and induct nuclear weapons into its arsenal. Now, I don't say that having international sanctions will definitely work. The pressures on the Rashid government at this point must be simply enormous. Yet, if there is a chance, it is this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that, Mr. Perkovich, that sanctions might put off a nuclear arms race?
GEORGE PERKOVICH: I think sanctions first of all are almost inevitable. So it's regrettable in the sense that there isn't even that much opportunity now to make a strategic calculation in the United States, whether this will help or will not. Having said that, I think the sanctions in themselves will not really stop either India or Pakistan. Rather, there needs to be as Pervez mentioned earlier a process of bringing together India and Pakistan to begin to sort out their misperceptions and take positive steps. But the U.S. has a very important role. I think Ambassador Chandra in the setup--in the interview that you did earlier made allusions to India's interest in finding a way to join the test ban treaty at this point. I think the U.S. ought to make every effort to explore what the unions have in mind, not to reopen negotiations. That treaty took decades to negotiate--149 countries found it in their interest to sign it. So it's not subject to renegotiation--but to sit down with the Indians and say, okay, let's move forward on this as you suggest that you have an interest in doing. The Indians' statement also yesterday mentioned an interest in a treaty to ban production of fissile materials, which are basically nuclear weapons materials. And there too if India and Pakistan could be brought into that treaty, you in many ways at least limit the potential for an arms race. And I think that's the first order of business, is to limit potential for an arms race and then work our way back. So not optimistic, but I think that we shouldn't give up and should not allow the very regrettable Indian action to then derail the international community from moving forward on this constructive agenda of constraining nuclear weapons.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Mikhijani, first, what do you think of sanctions? Will they have an effect?
ARJUN MIKHIJANI: Well, I think sanctions, at least in the short-term, are going to be counter productive in India, because this has been--this test has been done out of a national sentiment. And when sanctions are imposed on something that's obviously so popular inside; however unfortunate it may be. They're going to reinforce that nationalist sentiment and create a siege mentality and more support for this kind of action. So it may actually lead to further tests. And so I disagree very much with Pervez, that I think it's going to be counter productive; however, I think there are two things that could be done that might mitigate this situation. One is I think that India could announce a moratorium on further tests. If the ambassador is to be taken at his word and India is serious, at least for the interim period while it invites back channel discussions, it could publicly announce a moratorium. And secondly, I think the United States needs to put a disarmament plan on the table. The United States is in violation of the spirit of Article VI of the NPT, which it created.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.
ARJUN MIKHIJANI: That's right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In what sense, just briefly?
ARJUN MIKHIJANI: Well, Article VI requires that there be good faith negotiations for disarmament. And the international court of justice has said that those discussions should be concluded. And the United States has announced that it intends to hold on to nuclear weapons forever. And this is part of the tension in the international community where many Indians feel there's a state of nuclear apartheid in the world. And so I think these two factors--India making a very serious commitment that it is not going to develop nuclear weapons further while these discussions are going on and a plan for disarmament--may help. It might be the silver lining to a bad situation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much for being with us.