Recent media reports that China started nuclear testing and Trump administration is also mulling ideas to initiate nuclear testing is the precedent of extremely dangerous trajectory in the 21st century. The erosion of arms control framework, may bring us to the obsolete ruins of nuclear testing sites. This paper will discuss the emergence of possibility of limited and high yield nuclear tests by the major nuclear powers especially the US China and Russia at the global level, and India and Pakistan at the regional level. We will note and observe trends which will decipher the quite resurgence of nuclear weapons test sites, not just for delivery means but for its actual yield. The erosion of arms control treaty was perceived as impossible a decade ago, and the arms control frameworks and the verification procedures evolved enough which become routine for the members of any such frameworks, after resurgent posturing from Russia and the new dislike for treaties by the administration in US, which sought solo flight in the global affairs by scraping and renegotiate almost every deal and agreement America made since its came into being. This new fragmented world is reintroducing some serious nuclear fallouts, almost from all the nuclear weapons states, with new ones in the offing, as the commitment to proliferation is eroding, the nuclear testing can be seen in the near future.
Prelude: Throughout the ages the invention of weapons systems brought about a seismic change in the world, whether it’s a castle warfare techniques of the medieval wars, where a formidable castle was an enduring challenge for the invaders, the castle was considered as the political and military heart of any territory, without getting control of the castle the invaders were considered as defeated in their mission. The siege warfare emerges to exhaust the castle strength by laying a siege. The evolution of weaponry to have a decisive edge in any conflict remained the prime focus of humans. The careful examination of conflicts over the ages shows that conflicts intent evolved overtime, first it was about getting more territory, then it shifted to arable lands, then acquiring supremacy through both, the religion was a late entry into the fray, the ideas and ideologies away from religion also shaped the dynamics of conflicts, the ideologies played a crucial role in the conflict we see today. The emergence of nuclear weapons after the two horrific great wars, was the single most event which changed the conflict we see today. The American atomic bombs may have killed millions, but the very nature of this weapons changed the way we see conflict and wars.
The memory of the cold war generation in Europe, Americas and Soviet Union, is a stark reminder that the world divided in two poles on the basis of ideology and economic system, put their bet on the most powerful weapons system human ever built and used, the nuclear genie from 1945 onwards was captured in a transparent fragile glass, but its horrific consequences was periodically shown to the world in the form of nuclear explosion by both poles. The nuclear testing is still the stark reminder of the world which was convinced enough to turn the world into ashes, if other side tried to intrude into its sphere of influence or resort to force to pursue that end. The colonial and major powers used a vast swath of land, air and sea for the nuclear testing. The nuclear testing have two intended objectives to demonstrate the power of the weaponry, and to show the rival pole that they are willing to pursue any end if they are threatened. Vast literature available on the emergence of nuclear testing, testify these findings. The nuclear explosions in the cold war era where not just limited to the gigantic blasts, but were also introduced at the small level, by experimenting atomic weapons at the battlefield and asymmetric or sabotage level, in the form of man pack. The legacy of nuclear testing still haunt us in many ways, whether it’s the cases sought by Marshall Islands and the ex-French colonies against its colonizers, the United States and France and ex-Soviet Union, the nuclear testing today have many facades and emerges as a well-researched area in the nuclear politics realm, the history of nuclear testing by all the 5 major nuclear powers is a history of human suffering. Nuclear explosion is all history and there is much written on the topic, from the world first nuclear explosion to the last one in contemporary history when North Korea tested its thermonuclear weapon on 3 September 2017. We will focus on the possible emergence of nuclear testing in South Asian region. Both India and United States was the first country to detonate a series high yield nuclear weapon in the bravo test in 1954, followed by the Soviet Union in 1961, the explosion was the most powerful in the human history, the bomb was labeled as Tsar Bomba means Tsar’s bomb.
The culmination of high yield weapons by both countries provided them with evidence about the actual data about the status of damage, in few of the explosion actual military assets are being placed in the range of tests to gauge the effects of nuclear explosion of those assets. The history of nuclear testing and fissile material seem capped till the Obama presidency, but the Trump administration’s revival of the old concepts, like new tactical nuclear weapons, the space force and possible future nuclear tests, as the Trump’s America seem to negate the global treaties and frameworks, the recent pullout from the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, opened the hatch for the testing of new delivery systems, the hypersonic both in Intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs and cruise missile realms are ready to be developed by the leading weapons manufacturers.
As the established and time tested, treaties and arms control frameworks fell apart in the form of CFE treaty, INF treaty and the slow but sure erosion of the Open skies treaty, because of the growing mistrust between the major global powers. As we revisit the history of nuclear history, it has three visible trends, that is development of the warheads, its development system, followed by the sabre rattling and potential threats because of offensive nuclear postures In the form of doctrines and strategies, followed by the new frameworks to control the threat, by reaching a common understanding to eliminate the threat posed by that weapon system. The complete architecture of arms control which was the bedrock of global security by not just minimizing the nuclear threat, but excluding it entirely from the conflict scenario, is now crumbling, both at global and regional level. Few years back the concept of crumbling of the arms control framework was unimaginable, though various factors were there to rollback treaties but both Obama administration and Russian government never tried to go for such options, but the world saw a revival in the form of new start and later at regional level in proliferation realm when EU and US opted to go for a treaty with Iran. The spirit of rule based order was seen in all these steps, where threat was being caped using the existing frameworks, which neutralizes threat to the world peace posed by the nuclear realm. The commitment and trust factors are driving major stakeholders away from their global commitments, which already initiated the global arms race, in which the possible resumption of nuclear tests may make a debut, the last reported US nuclear explosion was in the 1992, at the dawn of the new world order, the France and others closed in 1996. The regional nuclear rivals, has its solo show stealer in the 1998, after that the only nuclear mad child North Korea remained in news because of their nuclear testing.
Regional Nuclear Rivals: These explosions Pakistan are observing a moratorium on further nuclear explosions but the changing nature of leadership in India pose a threat to this mutual understanding. The US and French companies involved in the nuclear commerce with India and the recent push by the US to make India a de jure nuclear power by admitting them in the Nuclear Supplier Group, is a step seen with suspicion by Pakistan and China. The blind western eye on India in its human rights violations, and other global issues, mainly with Pakistan shows US clearly accommodating India, in the club, where they have the luxury to go ballistic in the nuclear realm. Pakistan opposition to the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty FMCT and the US and Indian support to the treaty shows that they lift India out of the fissile material deficiency, and India at any stage can turn this fissile material allowed to obtain for energy use, for the weapons purposes, the steps which validate this argument, are the inclusion of India in various strategic export control regimes, like Wassennar Arrangement, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control regime, MTCR, and its push for NSG Nuclear Supplier Group. India Pakistan nuclear equation can only be balanced with parity between both at the nuclear level. Any gigantic leap on Indian part which is already happening, will move Pakistan away from its commitments, as national interests and its security won’t allow it to observe those moratorium, and will ward off its defensive strategies which are in place since it detonated its first device.
Make in India may mark the end of moratorium: Defense acquisition is normal activity in almost every country, countries acquire weapons from foreign countries according to their arms forces need, few countries in the world go all alone to suffice their defense needs, the prime example of such counties are United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, means all the UNSC permanent members, others countries rely heavily on foreign purchases to either feel safe or threaten others by those acquisitions. India is among this second tier vast grouping which rely heavily on foreign input for its defense needs. India under Nrendar Modi introduced an ambitious plan to convert Indian defense needs into entirely domestic domain, to lessen and at later stage eliminate any foreign input in its defense acquisition, in nuclear realm they gain much by signing up to nuclear deals with United States, France and Russia, at the space level they made sufficient advances, by thrusting for ingenious GPS system and space Prowse which can seriously rival that of major powers, Indian military plans in almost all domains defy its regional posture which they tout being influenced by China and on later stages Pakistan, but its military ends are truly global In nature. Whether its acquisition related to naval assets or aerial combat fighters they are pushing for indigenous build and operate model, by purchasing technology from the lead tech countries. The Indian nuclear programme is running full pace and unnoticed in the western circles because of their newly formed alliance against China. India at later stage may come up with their nuclear testing plans. Totally ingenious India for its defense need and its global economic clout will make it hard for the global powers to punish India the way did in the aftermath of 1998 nuclear tests.
Pakistan and the nuclear tests: Pakistan being vigorously pushed by the leading western scholars in their famous Stimson’s paper the Normal Nuclear Pakistan, written by Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon. The paper said that Pakistan should not wait for India and tread its own way to join the test ban framework. This will put pressure on India, to sign up to those frameworks in response, citing Pakistan recognition at the global level. Pakistan nuclear weapons program remained robust, and emerge as one of the most advanced among the nuclear weapons, the rational posturing vise a vis India, and various proposals being presented by Pakistan, to introduce a strategic restraint regime, and others measures to sign up to those frameworks which can put a visible limit on the uncontrolled arms race being imposed by India on Pakistan. The introduction of other domains into the nuclear foray by India, such as the concept of nuclear triads, aircraft carriers, to carry out long range nuclear air strikes, to dilute Pakistan defenses, the expansion is disturbing enough for Pakistan to commit to any such frameworks in recent future, because the south Asian nuclear politics is still an unfinished business, as Pakistan is being dragged below by its opponent in parity. Any future decision by India to test nuclear devices, whether low of high yield will invite Pakistan to demonstrate its capability to maintain deterrence vis a vis India, and thus remain relevant in the nuclear game. The political and economic fallout will be worse for Pakistan as compared to India. But looking at the development at international and regional level it seem possibility that nuclear testing may become a headline in the strategically unstable South Asia.
China and nuclear testing: China remained the only constant in nuclear equation. Its swift and decisive nuclear forces seem to replace Russians in the Western strategic lens, as the growing literature in leading research organizations is dedicated to China vs. United States nuclear equation, discussing number of delivery means, the strength and type of payload, its role and place in nuclear arms control domain, and the offset technologies China is pursuing and testing in nuclear realm. The Chinese being the efficient partner in nuclear nonproliferation and arms control domain remain committed to nuclear peace.
Russia and nuclear testing: The Russians being labeled as bully in the recent skirmishes in the nuclear realm, by introducing a series of violations, in various treaties and frameworks, most notably the cold war milestone called INF intermediate nuclear forces treaty. The CFE treaty and other framework related to fissile material was set aside by the Russian Federation, citing it as contrary to Russia’s global influence and non-compliance from west. The Russian concept of Poseidon which is in its infant stages, the concept is terrifying for test ban advocates, as the Russian calculations of this weapons till now is only limited to computer generated models, the downward trajectory in US West relation, with harsh sanctions in place, and Russia fighting it out with extending influence In other parts of the world, like Middle East, Asia, Arctic and the Eastern Europe, the United States and Russia may find them in the loggerheads, to offset any coercion in the future the nuclear testing to demonstrate its new arsenal seem possibility.
The Russian introduction of hypersonic missiles in the nuclear and conventional realm, forced other western powers like France and United States to keep up with the pace, in the nuclear delivery, France announced to have hypersonic missiles by 2021, United States also on project to introduce such missiles. The steps in the delivery means by all the rivals, won’t be limited to the delivery means alone, the strength of any weapon is its payload, the gradual evolution of kilotons to megatons, and then its fragmentation according to strategy in the cold war era and post-cold war era, will require these powers especially Russia to come out of computer simulation and test weapons in real time, to reintroduce the concept of arms control for the 21st century, where weapons, range, payload, target and all other parameters got new definitions. The US seem to initiate or follow the testing, as there already plans in place. The Russian actions shows that they are planning for this eventuality to happen.
United States and Nuclear test ban : The US remain the only nuclear weapons state to have conducted the most nuclear tests to gauge its weapons vitality for both performance and signaling purposes. United States is not party to comprehensive test ban treaty. Under Obama, various programs like Nuclear Security Summit and Proliferation Security initiative were bolstered and used to ensure nuclear safety and security, the administration dedicated much focus to these areas, but its last leg the fourth summit was briefly politicized and the major nuclear power Russia skipped the summit, citing nuclear bias. The NSS remained active platforms to discus and implement ideas, the Trump administration is not willing to commit to such platforms.
The nuclear testing threat from United states is two pronged, one, it’s from the United States itself, and second, the United states commitment and concrete steps to export nuclear technology to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states like United Arab Emirates, the geopolitical standing of these countries is precarious in a troubled region, which cite Iran as a security threat, the Iran nuclear program is a no secret and they like United States and Israel are vary of the Europe efforts to stop Iran from acquiring bombs. The India Pakistan nuclear rivalry completing its second decade proved to be the enduring one, but with a rational underpinnings, both countries maintained the relevance of these nukes, by not restoring to cold war’s hair trigger strategies, nor the weapons are being put on table as option like the North Korean regime, the North Korean like nuclear brinkmanship is anticipated from Iran and its Arab rivals, if they get their hand on these weapons.
The nuclear testing genie can erupt from the Arabian sands, because of the blind us strategic exports. With trump at the helm, the United States which is developing and upgrading its SSBN fleet, may find it necessary to test the trident or its successor, with a new payloads. One enduring feature remained constant at the end of cold war, is the development of delivery system but no side tested its revised and updated payload. The evolution in fissile material technology is evident from the fuels like MOX and others, the payload for nukes evolved over time, adding lethality to the device. . The cold war strategies like massive retaliation flexible response are dust now, all the strategies were carefully designed citing the delivery means and payload used in those devices, United States and Russia are both convinced to have updated nuclear delivery means to dilute each other strategies, the nuclear testing remain the most relevant item after they get their hands on updated delivery means.
Nuclear Testing in Brexited Europe, France and UK nukes: The nuclear testing in Europe is not a realistic assumption, France carried out almost its nuclear tests on the foreign occupied territories and islands. The last one being in 1996, The France resorting back to nuke testing holds no ground, the same hold true for United Kingdom, which also remained committed to the nuclear test ban, in the greater interest of humanity. Others factors being on the back foot in this realm, is the gradual military weakness of both countries vis a vis their rivals, the parity is unachievable and they still rely on united states to guard them against any future nuclear threat.
Conclusion: The examination of developments that occurred in all these nuclear countries shows that, the halt in the nuclear weaponry that the world saw in the first two decades of the 21st century is disappearing. Large scale nuclear developments, commitments for upgrading and replacing those weapons with new one is established fact. The United States will have new SSBNs operating in the oceans, a force that clearly offset the major power like China and even Russia, Russia offsetting United States in aerial delivery means, China being the newcomers among both of them on the path to have efficient nuclear force to take on the largest nuclear weapons states, Pakistan, India parity dilemma, European countries grappling with their own security dilemma, all these factors surely bring back the nukes as tool for the survival. A lot have been appearing and written on the delivery means but they payload problem is just resurfacing, and these nuclear weapons states may initiate a new wave of cold and hot tests to rewrite the rules of nuclear game in their respective regions. The major powers need to commit to the test ban, the world may not see high yield testing in the near future, but once a low yield new material weapon is tested by any power, it will reverse the gains of test ban, and will give reprieve to others to start the menace of nuclear testing, which is not just lethal from the environmental and human perspective but will also relive the horrors of nuclear winters, which have just started to fade from the human memory.