A New Era Arrives — With a Bang

by Patrick J. Buchanan – May 19, 1998

Now that India has blown the doors off of the world’s nuclear club, we may just see a membership explosion. And though the CIA was caught with its satellites down by those five blasts in 72 hours, President Clinton should not have been surprised.

The Pakistanis warned the White House in April that India was going nuclear, and the Hindu-nationalist BJP party in New Delhi had declared its intention to make India a nuclear power.

Moreover, India has long had the most powerful of motives: isolation and fear. Among the great powers, none has fewer friends, and for good reason. Throughout the Cold War, the world’s largest democracy sided with Moscow, even to the point of supporting the invasion of Afghanistan. With the Soviet Union gone, India has no great power patron left.

Yet this Hindu nation of almost a billion people has a Muslim minority of more than 100 million and is bordered by Islamic states east and west. Its northern neighbor, China, attacked it in 1962 and lays claim to what India believes is sovereign territory. China has also transferred both nuclear and missile technology to India’s great enemy, Pakistan, and yet been coddled by Clinton’s America.

In the event of a second war with China, or a fourth war with Pakistan, India would be without allies. Hence, New Delhi decided to purchase the ultimate security blanket — nuclear weapons.

Nor was the risk all that great. After all, India saw how North Korea not only went unpunished for attempting to build atomic weapons but was rewarded with $5 billion in aid. As for the threat of sanctions, India has seen U.S. sanctions on Cuba, Libya, Iraq and Iran all denounced or circumvented by America’s own NATO allies.

India’s gamble has already paid off. Overnight, the BJP party has made itself the repository of Indian nationalism. The people are ecstatic, and at the Western economic summit, France, Russia and Britain refused to support a U.S. call for economic sanctions.

Before damning New Delhi, we should put ourselves in India’s shoes. If America had a nuclear-armed China to its north, which was providing nuclear and missile technology to a revenge-minded Mexico, would we follow the counsel of some distant busybody that was demanding we forever deny ourselves a nuclear deterrent?

Last week was a revealing one in post-Cold War history. It demonstrated that Western solidarity is disintegrating, that the old world of power politics has not yet given way to the new world of the Global Economy and that nationalism, while vanishing in Europe, is vibrant in Asia. The 21st century promises to look like nothing so much as the th, with the difference being that the great conflicts of the future are likely to explode in the East rather than in the West.

But as we should understand India’s perspective, we need to appreciate Pakistan’s as well. Islamabad sees in India a hostile neighbor of 950 million, ruled by a militant party full of nationalist bravado after having tested four atomic weapons and even a hydrogen bomb.

If Pakistan does not acquire its own nuclear arsenal, it risks being subject to nuclear blackmail. Unlike South Korea and Japan, Pakistan does not have a treaty guarantee that, in the event of war, the United States will extend a nuclear umbrella over it and retaliate against any who attack it. With the CENTO and SEATO military alliances in the 1950s, Pakistan may have felt it had such a guarantee. It does not today, and neither China nor America is likely to offer one.

If Pakistan wishes to remain the master of its own destiny, a nuclear deterrent appears the only way out. Yet, if Pakistan becomes the first Islamic nation to go nuclear, it will not be the last. Iran and Turkey are rivals for primacy in the Muslim world, and Iraq has its own hegemonic ambitions. Pakistan’s explosion of an atomic bomb would almost certainly set off a nuclear arms race in Asia, if India’s explosions have not already done so.

For the Clinton administration, it was an awful week. The Israeli prime minister ignored Clinton’s insistence that he give up 13 percent of the West Bank to keep the Oslo peace process alive. The International Monetary Fund program in Indonesia blew up in riots. President Bush’s 1992 threat of military action against Belgrade, if it crushed Kosovo, was defied. The U.S non-proliferation policy was blasted to smithereens, and America’s call for sanctions on New Delhi was ignored by Europe.

The world’s last superpower seems a good deal less so today.

While America cannot abandon the idea of limiting the spread of atomic weapons, it’s time to put less faith in the policy than in our own deterrent and a missile defense for America and its allies.