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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 57, May 2001

News Review

South Asia Nuclear Crisis: Latest Comment & Developments

On April 17, Russia's new Minister of Atomic Energy, Alexander Rumyantsev, pledged to continue a controversial programme of nuclear cooperation with India. According to the Minister, Russia will proceed with the supply of both nuclear reactors to the Koodankulam power station, and nuclear fuel (uranium) to the Tarapur power station. Such cooperation is an apparently blunt contravention of rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), to which Russia belongs, prohibiting nuclear sales to countries that have not placed their facilities under IAEA safeguards. Although India has unsafeguarded facilities, Rumyantsev, in an interview with The Hindu, expressed confidence that an understanding on the Russian sales could somehow be reached within the NSG: "India is our strategic partner and we attach very great importance to nuclear cooperation with it. ... We are in talks with the NSG and I am sure we can reach an agreement. We can sign some sort of memorandum with the NSG allowing us to supply nuclear technology to India." With regard to the strong US criticism, in particular of the uranium exports, Rumyantsev stated dismissively: "They criticise us but we carry on with the supplies."

On May 8, Indian Defence forces began the country's largest ever military exercise, due to last until May 14 and said by officials to include nuclear warfighting scenarios. The exercise, held in the Thar Desert in western India, involved 50,000 troops and 120 aircraft. According to Air Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, a major component of the trials was disruption of enemy command-and-control systems, an aspect of conflict with obvious and profound implications for nuclear strategy and posture: "Modern warfare is electronic warfare. The first thing is to knock out the enemy's command, communications and control networks and jam its radars."

On April 22, the daily News in Islamabad reported that the government had decided to cut the budget of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) by 25%. The paper quoted sources from the Finance Ministry as stating that the overall reduction would include a "10% cut on the classified budget meant for the country's nuclear and missile research programme". The simple reason for the cutbacks, according to the same sources, was "the financial constraints the country is facing today." Questioned on the story on April 23, a PAEC spokesperson confirmed that funding reductions could be expected but described them as temporary in nature, noting that the nuclear weapons programme "will not suffer." The following day, a government spokesperson claimed that the News article was inaccurate and contained serious misquotes, although the paper firmly denied the suggestion.

Report: Russia to continue nuclear cooperation with India, The Hindu, April 17; Pak. atomic energy panel budget slashed, The Hindu, April 22; Pak slashes nuclear budget, Times of India, April 23; Report on PAEC budget clarified, The News International (Pakistan), April 24; India troops hold largest exercise, Associated Press, May 8.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.