Testing nuclear devices opens up a Pandora’s box of requirements that can be relieved only by accepting a modus vivendi with an adversary or by accepting minimal deterrence from the competition.
After testing nuclear devices in 1998, Indian and Pakistani leaders genuinely believed—or stated for the record, while suspecting otherwise—that bringing bombs out of the basement would help make the region safer and more stable. They assumed, as did leading strategic analysts in both countries, that nuclear-weapon requirements could remain modest and minimal. Subsequent developments made it is all too clear that, in South Asia, as elsewhere, the overlay of nuclear weapons onto existing grievances does not improve bilateral relations and reinforce conditions of stable deterrence. Pro-bomb constituencies grow stronger once the testing threshold is crossed. Testing nuclear devices opens up a Pandora’s box of requirements that can be relieved only by accepting a modus vivendi with an adversary or by accepting minimal deterrence and dropping out of the competition.
After the tests, Indian prime minister A. B. Vajpayee declared that, “Ours will never be weapons of aggression.” Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif characterized the decision to test an act of national defense, reaffirming that “Pakistan will continue to support the goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, especially in the Conference on Disarmament.” The conference’s agenda has subsequently been moribund for multiple reasons, including that Pakistan has blocked negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.