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India testing the heavy waters?

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28 August 2009 12:11

Just when the Obama Administration is getting serious about nuclear arms control and disarmament, is India going to spoil the show with a fresh round of nuclear tests? Retired senior weapons scientist K Santhanam has caused a stir this week by being the first participant in New Delhi’s 1998 tests to claim publicly that the single thermonuclear device reportedly detonated at that time was a 'fizzle'.

Foreign experts have previously expressed doubt about India's claims that it had successfully tested an almighty H bomb, along with four smaller fission devices, but the Indian media is attributing greater credibility to Santhanam's words.

Santhanam has two messages: India should not sign the CTBT, and needs to test again to ensure it has a thermonuclear bomb that works.

No doubt his words will reopen a fresh round of international speculation about the possibility of further Indian tests and the damage these would do to fragile progress on global arms control. But before we hasten to assume the worst, it is worth wondering why Santhanam – something of a maverick and a mischief-maker in the Indian security establishment, despite his rise to high rank – has chosen this moment to speak out.

Could it be that he, and others in India’s test-again lobby, can sense a growing prospect that the Manmohan Singh Government will genuinely consider signing the CTBT if the US and China ratify in the years ahead? Whatever the case, India's establishment — for example, India's navy chief, ADM Sureesh Mehta — have been quick to hose Santhanam down.

Photo by Flickr user Raveesh Vyas, used under a Creative Commons license.

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