Presentation prepared for the International Seminar on "The Post-Test Scenario in South Asia: Issues, Problems, and Alternative Strategies"
Berlin, Humboldt University, 18-19 June, 1999


Consequences of the South Asian Nuclear Tests for nuclear arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament

by Oliver Meier

I. The self-declarations of India and Pakistan as nuclear weapon states (NWS) have changed the post-World War II nuclear order. From an arms control perspective, a dilemma exists: In order to stabilize the situation in the region and prevent an escalation of the current arms race, it is important to involve India and Pakistan in nuclear arms control and non-proliferation. This could entail the open or implicit recognition of the NWS status of India and Pakistan. However, such pragmatic steps might be perceived by other non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) as a new nuclear "realpolitik". If the two countries are perceived to have been rewarded for going nuclear, this could not only weaken the global non-proliferation norm, but other states might be tempted to follow the same road of nuclearization.

One major challenge is therefore to involve India and Pakistan in such a way in nuclear arms control and non-proliferation regimes that the nuclear competition between India, China, Pakistan is stabilized and eventually reversed while guarding global non-proliferation norms. India and Pakistan bear the main responsibility for finding this balance. However, much will also depend on the flexibility of the international community at large, and especially the willingness of all nuclear weapon states to enter into a process that has the elimination of nuclear weapons as its clear goal.

II. Up until today, there is no clear-cut international response to the tests that took place in May 1998. The international community is almost united in opposing the tests, being pessimistic about their consequences for nuclear disarmament, doubting the utility of sanctions and hoping that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) can be saved. However, differences in approaches exist between many groups in international politics – the P5, Western group, non-aligned countries, and Asian states – and often even within these groups. In addition, new groupings like the New Agenda Coalition which cut across political and regional lines have been emerging. The NNWS can be divided into two broad groups: 'Pragmatists', who are flexible in dealing with India and Pakistan, and 'conservatives', who fear that pragmatic solutions might damage well-established disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

'Pragmatists' think that India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states and should be dealt with as such without formally recognizing them as nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). 'Pragmatists' see sanctions as potentially counterproductive because they isolate India and Pakistan, where involvement is needed. 'Pragmatists' argue that the NPT is not directly affected by the tests because India and Pakistan are not members of the treaty. According to this view, the P5 can play a positive role by involving India and Pakistan. The NWS should make good on their NPT Article VI promises, but this will not have a direct effect on India and Pakistan's nuclear policies.

'Conservatives' think that India and Pakistan must not be recognized as nuclear weapon states, either implicitly or explicitly. For 'conservatives' it is also important that India and Pakistan must not be rewarded in any way. They therefore do not oppose and often favor sanctions. 'Conservatives' argue that the norms of the NPT must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of isolating India and Pakistan, when necessary.

III. In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear tests in South Asia it was unclear whether the tests would help to break some of the deadlocks in the stalled arms control and disarmament process or whether the nuclear tests would make further progress impossible. More than one year after the tests has become clear that nuclear arms control has been further complicated by the tests in South Asia. The political movement resulting from the tests has not been used to overcome the stalemates that existed before May 1998: The START process is still stuck, and negotiated nuclear arms reductions remain an exclusive bilateral US-Russian affair. Moreover, existing arms control agreements are threatened, for example by US desires to develop a National Missile Defense system. Non-proliferation efforts are increasingly pursued outside nondiscriminatory regimes such as the NPT, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Hopes that India and Pakistan might become involved in the nuclear arms control process at an early date have been disappointed. India and Pakistan's willingness to sign the CTBT is still contingent on the signature of the US and other nations. Negotiations on a Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) have not gotten underway, even though India and Pakistan agreed in August 1998 to participate in such talks. The bilateral confidence-building process that was supposed to have been initiated at Lahore in February 1999 has not been implemented. The NPT Preparatory Committee at its meeting in May 1999 been unable to address the situation in South Asia (and the Middle East.)

IV. India and Pakistan have made clear that non-proliferation and disarmament are directly linked. Unless we see decisive steps towards nuclear disarmament, it is likely that attempts to safeguard existing arms control agreements will fail and talks on new arrangements will continue to be blocked. The elimination of nuclear weapons is therefore the only viable option. This demands a concerted effort by all states, nuclear and non-nuclear. Several steps towards this goal can be identified:

  • India and Pakistan should declare a freeze of their nuclear weapons programs and refrain from open deployment of their nuclear weapons
  • India and Pakistan should live up their promise to start a dialogue on confidence and security building measures and immediately implement those measures that have already been agreed upon in Lahore.
  • All states possessing nuclear weapons should multilateralize nuclear arms control and disarmament as soon as possible and take steps towards deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
  • The eight states possessing nuclear weapons should commit themselves to the speedy and final elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
  • Steps should be taken to ensure entry into force of the CTBT, including a change of the Entry Into Force rules, if necessary.
  • Negotiations on a FMT should be started immediately and have to get off to a good start. Towards this goal, all nuclear weapon states should issue a politically binding moratorium on the production of fissile materials and a declaration of stocks of fissile materials.
  • In the NPT context, clear language will have to be found on the question of universality. The fact that India, Israel and Pakistan remain outside the regime continues to be a major hurdle in maintaining and strengthening the global non-proliferation norm. Possibly, consultations between those states outside and inside the NPT could provide a forum to discuss these issues.


Oliver Meier ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter des Berliner Informationszentrums für Transatlantische Sicherheit (BITS)