Science for Peace Discusses South Asian Nuclear Tests

The nuclear weapon tests by India on 11 and 13 May brought a flood of pious and hypocritical criticism from several of the nuclear weapon states and their allies together with threats of sanctions, stories that the Indian tests took the CIA by surprise, that the whole thing was a plot between the Indian government and the CIA, that some of the tests were actually of Israeli weapons, and an unlikely tale of immediate radiation sickness in a village near to the test site in the Rajasthan desert.

Despite U.S. threats, Pakistan exploded six bombs on 28 May. In both countries news of their countries’ tests were received with jubilation.

A spate of e-mail descended on those who read peace organization listservers. The mail initially had stock phrases such as: “…dangerous and irresponsible act…”; “…our shock and anguish…”; some gave the address of the Indian High Commission and added “Please send messages condemning today’s tests”.

But there were more thoughtful comments: “This development should not come as a surprise”; “The fault in the India test lies less with India than with the nuclear-arms states”; “India’s error in doing nuclear bomb tests is simply the error of following in U.S. footsteps”; from the French Syndicat National des Chercheurs Scientifiques: “President Chirac and the French Government, along with the USA and Great Britain bear a large responsibility in the Indian nuclear tests”; from the Dalai Lama: “As long as some of the major world powers continue to possess nuclear weapons, it is not right to outrightly condemn India’s action”.

There has been a lot of discussion as to whether and to what extent the Canadian sale to India of their first nuclear reactor (the CIRUS) was responsible for development of the bomb. I consider that discussion pointless. We, the people of the world, have by various errors put ourselves in a situation of terrible danger from nuclear weapons. The only thing that matters now is to get ourselves out of it before the weapons destroy us.

It is becoming clear that the wish of the majority of nations and people of the world to eliminate nuclear weapons has been greatly stimulated by these events. The Japanese government, and the Foreign Ministers of eight nations led by Ireland, have made public statements in favour of abolition.

The Science for Peace executive held a special meeting on 5 June to plan our response. Other members were invited to the meeting, and in all 16 members attended. Mel Watkins, President of Science for Peace, summarized some main points made at two recent meetings. The first was a special meeting in Toronto called by Project Ploughshares with invited speakers Prof. Arthur Rubinov and Douglas Roche, O.C. Several SfP members attended. The second was the regular meeting of the Canadian Network for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), in Ottawa.

Arthur Rubinov said that if effective sanctions were not applied the Indian action would encourage other nations to acquire nuclear weapons, and actual use of them would inevitably follow. Douglas Roche said that the NPT was in jeopardy; Canadian foreign policy was at a point of decision, whether to continue to accept the alleged protection of nuclear weapons or to follow international law and renounce their protection; Canada should join like-minded nations in putting pressure on the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) to undertake to eliminate these weapons from their arsenals. Voter pressure on the government and Lloyd Axworthy is needed. Some speakers at the Ploughshares meeting said that a nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan would bring stability to the region. Alan Phillips said that the south Asian governments had political justification for a nuclear arms race, following the precedent of U.S.A. and USSR. The reason not to start one is that it was the biggest mistake in human history.

In open discussion, the first point made was that ridiculously little media attention had been given to the results of the CPA poll, which had showed Canadian public opinion opposed to nuclear weapons by a large majority. With the Canadian government trying to sit on the fence, this information ought to be used to push them the right way. The public must make it politically impossible for Canada to follow the U.S. and NATO line that nuclear weapons are required for our security.

The main dangers of nuclear disaster that the world faces can be tabulated, in ascending order of magnitude:

  • Local or regional radiation pollution — military or civil nuclear reactor accident or bombing, or failure to contain the used fuel.
  • Local destruction and pollution — a single nuclear explosion by terrorists or by accident.
  • Regional disaster — a small nuclear war.
  • World disaster — a major nuclear war due to accident or false alarm, or by intention.

A likely result of the South Asia proliferation is a small nuclear war. Further “horizontal proliferation” can be expected, and further nuclear war somewhere in the world could become inevitable.

These messages have to be disseminated widely by all available methods to mobilize public opinion. The following ideas were suggested and supported as worth pursuing:

1) Circulate to all SfP members a list of main points to make, and ask them all to write to their newspapers. 2) Hold a teach-in or International Conference (Franklin Griffiths, Mel Watkins, Joe Vise and others will explore this and hope to organize something within a year). 3) Support Physicians for Global Survival’s nuclear abolition campaign (“NO NUKES” bumper stickers, pamphlet, personal declarations). 4) Work through CNANW and support the efforts of co-sponsoring organizations. (Eric Fawcett and John Valleau will contact VANA.) 5) Support Doug Roche’s “Middle Powers Initiative” and press the government to join it. (Mel Watkins will write to Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.) 6) Contact media to cover the issue, at every opportunity (Carolyn Langdon has media contacts and would like to hear from SfP members who would make use of them.) 7) Participate in Hiroshima Event on Sun. Aug. 9 at Toronto City Hall Peace Garden. 8) Bring members of local Indian and Pakistani communities together with peace activists. (Alan Phillips is working with PGS to arrange an early meeting in Hamilton.) 9) Send a letter from Science for Peace on this nuclear crisis to members of the academic community throughout Canada with help from our members in various universities. 10) Take every opportunity to have a presence at public festivals and events. (Margaret Vanderbrouche and Shirley Farlinger will contact some Toronto festival committees.) 11) Consider arranging a special public event in Toronto.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)