India's nuclear saber rattling has rightfully reaped international condemnation and adversely impacted its own economic and foreign-trade status.
Figurative fallout from five underground nuclear blasts in the Thar desert - India's first nuclear tests in 24 years - included a firestorm of dismay and disapproval, a weakened rupee and anticipated trade, aid and credit sanctions.Negative reactions to the tests were swift and unmitigated, with President Clinton calling upon India to abstain from further blasts while urging its neighboring nations "not to follow down the path of a dangerous arms race." He rightly imposed tough sanctions, mandatory under United States law.
Russia's Boris Yeltsin said India had "let us down" and called for diplomatic pressure on New Delhi to reverse its course, though it unfortunately steered clear of sanctions.
China expressed grave concern over the surprise tests, condemning them as detrimental to peace and stability in south Asia. And Japan, India's largest foreign-aid donor, considered its own sanctions including a freeze on yen loans and aid grants.
Those and other adverse economic and political consequences are stiff prices for New Dehli to pay while insisting the nuclear tests were necessary for national security. Unfortunately, that murky and isolated view by the Hindu nationalist-led government has been strengthened by widespread domestic support.
Science and Technology Minister Murli Manohar Joshi proclaimed India a strong nation that "cannot be taken lightly." There are other less threatening ways to prove strength, however, including bolstering a sagging economy that may now be crippled by temporary or long-term embargoes.
It appears only global sanctions will be effective in restoring sobriety to an Indian government suddenly drunken on its nuclear capabilities. Though India refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the United States is obligated to impose economic restrictions against it under the 1994 anti-proliferation law.
Swift action will best help bring India to its senses and provide a strong deterrent against future testing.
Countries that run afoul of the law by detonating nuclear devices are subject to denial of U.S. credits and credit guarantees and opposition to loan requests to international lending institutions. Loans by American banks to such nations are forbidden, except for those that provide food or other agricultural commodities.
India's tests are serious violations of international protocol and good will that threaten to destabilize a volatile region. Pakistan, also believed to have nuclear capability, immediately pledged to makes its defenses impregnable against this new Indian threat. The last thing needed is heightened friction between two arch-enemies that would just as soon destroy as deal with each other.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Gauhar Ayub noted the blame for potentially dealing a death blow to global efforts at nuclear nonproliferation rests with India. That is a serious indictment New Dehli should quickly move to shed.