Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Thursday, May 14, 1998

But We Thought India Was Turning Into a Constructive Partner

By Gerald Segal International Herald Tribune
LONDON - India becomes the sixth declared nuclear power. Just when we thought we were making progress in denuclearizing the world, India risks taking us back up the ladder of escalation. But the military risks can be exaggerated.

 The most long-term damage will be done to the prospects for the fifth of mankind that lives in India to play a full part in the prosperity of the global economy.

 Having one more nuclear weapons power is not a fundamental challenge to global security. And India does have real security concerns about a nuclear-armed China, and a fair complaint that the declared nuclear powers have not moved fast enough to reduce their own arsenals.

 India's actions are less understandable in the light of the clear trend in recent years toward cutting nuclear arsenals.

 Both India and Pakistan seemed to have settled for a ''screwdriver'' nuclear capacity - both sides merely one turn of a screwdriver away from having a nuclear weapon. Now the domestic pressure will be on Pakistani leaders to formally become the world's seventh declared nuclear power, which would mean increased risks of a costly and dangerous arms race.

 There will be also an increase in diplomatic tension as the United States and other powers talk about sanctions and gripe about each other's behavior as suppliers of dangerous technologies to South Asian nuclear powers.

 The risks of actual nuclear war should not be overdrawn.

 But those of us who have argued for years that the West should take India more seriously as a constructive player in international affairs will now have to reconsider. What we see is a nationalist government that makes South Asia a more risky place.

 To the extent that there was support in the West for taking India more seriously, it was based on the notion that here was a country that was finally appreciating the virtues of interdependence and would be a more constructive player in the global economy.

 A nationalist and risky India projects the opposite image. Foreign investors will see India as a less safe bet - a sad outcome, especially given that Pacific Asia's economic crises might have led some to look more favorably on investment in India.

 In addition to any Western sanctions, there will be damage to India's prospects for receiving investment and trade.

 If the United States, along with a nuclear-averse Japan, blocks aid and loans from the World Bank and other institutions, India will not collapse, but it will be poorer than it was before the tests.

 India can certainly expect to see more restrictions on trade in high technology. In the past few years we had been edging toward closer high-tech cooperation between the United States and India, but none of that will now be possible.

 Those Americans who argued for an incentive strategy in high-tech transfer as a way of keeping India from becoming a declared nuclear power will now retreat.

 In short, India has confirmed the worst images of outsiders of a country out of touch with the new principles of a post-Cold War world.

 The greatest sadness will be felt by friends who had come to believe that India could become a major player in the global economy - a power on a par with China but far more amenable to Western interests.

 President Bill Clinton, who will surely now cancel his planned trip to India scheduled for the autumn, will be reminded during his Beijing summit in June that at least China has stopped its nuclear tests.

 India and the world are less secure and poorer.

 The writer, director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.