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1998 in Review

South Asia's Nuclear States


Source: Reuters/Jayanta Shaw/Archive

Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee shocked the world by testing a nuclear weapon in May. Indians burn President Clinton in effigy after he declared his opposition to Indian nuclear testing.

India and Pakistan raised fears of a budding Asian nuclear arms race when each detonated nuclear tests in May 1998. Just two months after staunch Hindu nationalist Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister, India unexpectedly set off an underground nuclear explosive near the Pakistani border. The May 11 test violated the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act of 1994, a worldwide ban on nuclear testing. International condemnation was immediate. Two days later, India defiantly conducted two more explosions. On May 29 and 30, Pakistan, bristling at what it saw as its enemy's deliberate provocation, responded with several nuclear tests of its own, despite international urgings of restraint.

At the basis of India and Pakistan's show of nuclear brinkmanship was the disputed territory of Kashmir, which had already caused two wars between the countries as well as a half-century of acrimony. Slapped with sanctions by the U.S. and other countries, Pakistan and India agreed in October (with major caveats) to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The possibility of Asian nuclear proliferation resurfaced when North Korea launched a test missile over Japan in September 1998. Although North Korea claimed it had simply launched a scientific satellite, Japan and much of the rest of the world remained apprehensive over North Korea's commitment to the 1994 non-proliferation treaty.




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