Scientist K Santhanam, who called for two more thermonuclear tests on Monday to perfect the hydrogen bomb (H-bomb), found few takers on Tuesday, with most experts and western diplomats saying a test at this juncture would jeopardise India's position as a responsible world power and cost it a seat in the expanded United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
When India and the US signed a civilian nuclear deal last year and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) lifted decades of sanctions imposed on the country, there was the reciprocal responsibility on India to continue with the moratorium on further tests, a policy announced by the former AB Vajpayee government and scrupulously followed by the current UPA regime.
"National interest, which Santhanam is talking about, is not just a technical call but also a political call which has to be taken only after a sober assessment by the government. It cannot be done because of bitter disputes between two groups of scientists. We cannot reduce testing to a Corsican vendetta of the retired lot," an expert said. A Western diplomat in the capital pointed out that the national security advisors in two governments had vouched for the 1998 nuclear tests and said no more were required.
India would not have declared a unilateral moratorium on further tests if there was even an iota of doubt. "But if India were to now decide to test without provocation, meaning imminent threat from another country, India's image as a major power ready to take on global responsibilities will take a beating and the first casualty will be a seat in the UNSC, which India has long claimed," he said, adding,
"India is certainly not a country which wants to be in the same league as North Korea and Iran, which is exactly what will happen if it decides to test without reason."
The Indo-US nuclear deal will certainly go for a six, because it clearly mentions that if India conducts a test without a change in the security environment in the neighbourhood, the agreement would automatically cease. "If India tests again, there will be immediate sanctions, the Indo-US nuclear deal will be revoked and the country will be isolated in the world. It would cost us a seat in the UNSC," former foreign secretary Lalit Mansing, who was also India's ambassador to Washington, said.
"It will be a tragedy, unnecessary and irrelevant, considering we already have a minimum credible deterrent," he added.
Another former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, asked about the consequences of a test, said, "India will be immediately isolated.There will be sanctions and the nuclear deal will be revoked, the political dialogue with the US, which is at the moment forward-looking, will then concentrate on damage control."
Another former diplomat G Parthasarathy said India's earlier tests in 1974 and 1998 were conducted under pressure. "The tests enabled us to break out of this pressure, but today it is a different matter. Our economy is integrated with the global economy, the world is gradually coming out of the economic downturn and the international environment is against nuclear tests. Therefore, it will be unwise to do so [conduct tests] now, unless a neighbour tests," he said. At the same time, Parthasarathy said, India should not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.