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Broken Moratorium

The HINDU
Saturday July 5, 1997

It is very disappointing that after a spell of five years, the United States has resorted to "nuclear related" underground   testing and broken the moratorium it imposed upon itself in 1992. Of

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much greater and immediate concern to India is the test  firing of the HATF III Ballistic missile by Pakistan. Despite all the promises held out by even the none-too-satisfying provisions  of the CTBT, the world remains a dangerous planet with the nuclear threat dangling like the menacing sword of Damocles. With  such an example set by the lone superpower, which even after having built up a huge nuclear arsenal still feels the need for the   testing of its nuclear weapons, it will be very unrealistic of India to expect other countries, principally Pakistan, to desist from satisfying themselves that the weapons they have acquired live upto their expectations.

It will be cold comfort for the rest of the world to be told that what the US has now carried out is only a "sub-critical nuclear related test" which would cause no nuclear chain reaction. If it should be seen as nothing more than an "experiment", one  has to take very seriously the possibility of its being a way of designing new weapons, contrary to the purpose and spirit of the CTBT.

This should not be surprising since the US has not left the rest of the world in any doubt about its intentions to not only hold onto its existing nuclear stockpile but add to it if it finds it necessary. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations    Committee in June 1992, the former US Secretary of State, Mr. James Baker, said, "If we are going to maintain a nuclear deterrent and need to have some fissile material, then we would have the right to produce it." Apart from its being untenable for   a nuclear weapon state, already having a huge stockpile, to claim the right to produce more of such weapons, its decision to resort to repeated demonstrations of their capability by testing will be wholly indefensible especially if the purpose is to discover  ways of making new weapons. The Bush Administration made no secret of its desire to reserve to itself the right to revert to a    potential force more effective than its stockpile of between 20,000 and 30,000 weapons maintained during the Cold War.  There is no reason to believe that the Clinton Aministration thinks differently. The most that the US could persuade itself to do    was that the Hatfield-Mitchell-Exon amendment passed by Congress provided for limiting the resumption of testing to 15  explosions between July 1993 and October 1996. The rest of the world will, therefore, have to be thankful that the moratorium on testing has remained so long.

If, as it appears, the objective sought to be achieved by the present testing is to obtain information on the response of plutonium to shock wave compression under different high pressure conditions, It should make it clear that the US remains more   interested in further enhancing the destructive potential of its nuclear weapons than in defusing and destroying them. This is an  illustration of the warping of the psyche of a nuclear weapon state. With the prospect of exigencies arising for a resort to nuclear  warfare having hopefully become very un-likely in the post Cold War era, the US, should know that all the testing it carries out   could do nothing to stop the ageing of its huge stockpile. It is, therefore, futile for the US and also the other nuclear weapon  states to go on testing nuclear weapons instead of seeking to dismantle them as quickly as possible. This in fact the advice being given to Washington by those running nuclear projects within the US itself.