29 May 1998
(Bacon says U.S. interests are indirectly threatened) (920) By Jacquelyn S. Porth USIA Security Affairs Correspondent Washington -- Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon says the 10 recent nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan and India this month pose "a threat to the people of those countries should this arms race get out of control or...miscalculations occur." U.S. interests, meanwhile, are threatened indirectly, he said, because the United States has "a real interest in stopping proliferation and stopping arms races which can be destabilizing in important areas such as the Indian subcontinent." With the launching of five nuclear tests by Pakistan in response to five Indian tests in early May, Bacon said, "Our hope now is that both sides will be able to back down and see the threat of an escalating arms race on the Indian subcontinent and do their best to avoid that." Speaking to Pentagon reporters May 28, just hours after the Pakistani blasts, the official said there is no evidence that the two nations are moving toward a nuclear exchange. He said there are no signs "that this arms race is focusing on very specific actions beyond the tests at this stage." Both India and Pakistan "had extensive nuclear programs before this recent round of tests," Bacon said. "So the fact that they were working to develop nuclear weapons is nothing new." International efforts to stop weapons proliferation in South Asia "have not succeeded," the spokesman acknowledged, adding that "the (nuclear) genie is out of the bottle." With these new explosions, he said, India and Pakistan have taken "a very large political step," although they have actually "made a relatively small technical step from developing weapons to testing" them. The challenge for the world now, Bacon emphasized, is to figure out "how to stop this situation from getting worse, how you take a potentially risky situation and try to control it in a way that will improve security in a region rather than make the security situation less stable." Bacon referred reporters to the Defense Department's 1997 Report, "Proliferation: Threat And Response," which states that both India and Pakistan possessed "adequate fissile material and components to assemble a limited number of nuclear weapons." It also noted that both countries had substantial infrastructure to support tests and that neither India nor Pakistan had signed either the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. That report notes that India's "nuclear energy development program remains active and has allowed it to obtain the essential materials and facilities needed to produce nuclear weapons." Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, it said, "is driven by its need to counter India's superiority in conventional forces." The apparent ability of both nations "to employ nuclear weapons greatly magnifies the potential costs of a fourth Indo-Pakistan war," the report stated, concluding that "unresolved disagreements, deep animosity and distrust, and the continuing confrontation between their forces in disputed Kashmir make the sub-continent a region with significant risk of nuclear confrontation." The South Asian section of the report may be viewed on the World Wide Web at: "http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/prolif/soasia.html#india". The full report is available at: "http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/prolif97/toc.html". Bacon pointed out that "we have realized for a long while that both countries had the capability to put together a nuclear weapon very quickly." He also said both sides are working on missile delivery systems and are trying to move to longer-range missiles from "the relatively short-range missiles they have in their inventory now." Their work to develop longer-range missiles is "worrisome," Bacon said, because it is "part of the pattern of proliferation that we think is destabilizing to the people of the Indian subcontinent." Asked about further tensions in the region, the spokesman pointed to "some increased skirmishing in the Jammu and Kashmir area." Bacon said it is not surprising that India and Pakistan "are nervous about one another now" and that the tensions between the two "are higher today than they were a month ago." The spokesman pointed out that India and Pakistan have gone to war twice this century over Kashmir. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir while Pakistan controls the remaining third. Asked about the effect of U.S. sanctions imposed upon Pakistan following its nuclear testing, he pointed out that the U.S.-Pakistani military relationship was already "extremely limited." There are no U.S. International Military Education and Training or Foreign Military Financing Programs in Pakistan and only limited troop exercises there, according to Bacon. Defense Department officials will examine existing military-to-military programs in the coming weeks, he said, "to decide what can continue and what can't" under the sanctions which President Clinton imposed May 28. "We will evaluate where we stand when we look at the overall geometry of the sanctions program," he added. While Bacon did not elaborate on the size or number of Pakistan's nuclear tests, he did say there was no evidence that any of them had produced a thermonuclear device. Still, the intelligence community, which he said was immediately aware of nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan, plans to spend considerable time analyzing the evidence of the collective explosions. "It takes a while to pull together the seismic and other data," he explained, "and to get a clear picture of what went on."