India detonated a nuclear explosive below the surface of the Rajasthan desert on May 18 of this year. If we were hoping that the world's nuclear club could be limited to the five nations that have possessed the bomb since 1964, that possibility is thus now gone.
One should not base too many hopes on the fact that the Indian explosive was portrayed as intended for nonmilitary uses. Indian politicians have been releasing trial balloons for years now about a "peaceful nuclear explosive," while often more jocularly and candidly referring to it in New Delhi and Bombay as the "peaceful bomb." By detonating its explosive as it did, the Indian government avoided violating the aboveground Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which it had signed and ratified. By defining the explosive as peaceful, the government could also argue that it did not violate its agreement with Canada on the reactor at Trombay, an agreement which merely required use for "peaceful purposes." The "peaceful explosives" euphemism was moreover likely to hold back some hostile foreign reactions, although newspaper editorials the next day could note that such an explosive was practically indistinguishable from a bomb. By detonating underground, the Indians indeed demonstrated that they had more than some huge and crude device; since it was small enough to be gotten down a deep shaft, it was probably small enough to be carried aboard an airplane.
Can the further spread of nuclear weapons now still be contained after the Indian explosion, or must we reconcile ourselves to a seventh and a twelfth and a twentieth state with nuclear explosives? Is there even any good reason to devote much effort to trying to curb proliferation; is nuclear proliferation necessarily so bad?
Proliferation is indeed still bad for the world. The spread of nuclear weapons in some cases may make war more likely, because such weapons temptingly suggest preemptive strikes by the air forces of a region. And in most cases the spread of nuclear weapons will make war
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