Cold War: A Brief History

The New Nuclear Nations

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world generally felt that the threat of a nuclear war had subsided. On May 11, 1998, the world was reminded that nuclear proliferation was still an issue, as India shocked the world by conducting three underground nuclear tests in the Rajasthan Desert in western India. Indian officials claimed that they were a fission device, a low-yield device and a thermonuclear device. Although, India had conducted a "peaceful nuclear explosion" in 1974, it was generally assumed that the country was not overly active in developing more nuclear devices. Two days later, India conducted two more sub-kiloton nuclear tests.

Pakistan further increased global tensions when it conducted five nuclear tests on May 28, 1998. Officials did not release any information about the types or yields of the tests. Two days later, Pakistan conducted one more nuclear test. Pakistan had pursued the development of nuclear weapons since 1972. Their bomb development has been rumored to be greatly assisted by the Chinese.

The United States placed economic sanctions on both countries as required by the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Act. Both countries have announced a moratorium on further nuclear testing.

In a report from Seismological Research Letters, India and Pakistan exaggerated the number and size of the nuclear weapons each nation detonated, overstating the power of the atomic bombs by a factor of four. According to the analysis, two of the five nuclear explosions announced by the Indian government may never have taken place. The study also reported that only two in the series of nuclear tests that the Pakistan government announced actually involved real nuclear explosions.

The Risks

One reason for the concern that India and Pakistan had acquired nuclear weapons is the fact that since 1947 they had gone to war three times and had several skirmishes over the control of Kashmir. Each side has continued development of more advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missile systems. However, steps are being taken to reduce the risks of a nuclear confrontation by both sides, such as establishing a "hot line" between the two governments.

Proliferation Concerns

In 2004, the rogue nuclear network led by A. Q. Khan, a chief architect of Pakistan's nuclear bomb was finally acknowledged by the Pakistani government. Intelligence officials had watched Dr. Khan for years and suspected that he was trafficking in machinery for enriching uranium to make fuel for warheads. He confessed on national television was pardoned soon after by President Musharraf and has been under house arrest since. The Pakistani government claimed that Khan acted independently and without state knowledge. Libya, Iran and probably North Korea had some assistance with their nuclear weapons programs from Kahn. The complete extent of Khan's decades-long involvement in the illegal transfer of nuclear materials and technologies is not known.

In March 2006, India and the United States sealed a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation pact. The pact marks a major breakthrough for New Delhi, long treated as a nuclear pariah by the world, as it allows it to access American atomic technology and fuel to meet its soaring energy needs -- provided the U.S. Congress gives its approval.

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