Admittedly, the administration did not have a great deal of latitude in crafting a response. The misguided 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act requires the imposition of sanctions against any nation that has the temerity to pursue a nuclear weapons program — much less test such weapons. Some of the sanctions (the mandates to oppose new World Bank loans and terminate bilateral aid flows) may inadvertently benefit India by weaning that country from the narcotic of foreign aid. Other sanctions, especially the restrictions on private bank loans and technology exports, are certain to inflict economic pain. They are also likely to embitter relations between India and America and cost American firms market share without having any realistic prospect of getting New Delhi to abandon its determination to acquire a modest nuclear deterrent.
A more intelligent and constructive approach is needed. India’s acquisition of a nuclear‐weapons capability — or even the deployment of a small arsenal — does not threaten America’s security. New Delhi’s actions were motivated by a variety of considerations, including growing worries about China’s military clout and intentions, a desire to intimidate Pakistan and establish India as the undisputed preeminent power in South Asia, and the governing party’s need to consolidate its domestic political position by playing the card of Indian patriotic nationalism. New Delhi’s actions were not motivated by any desire for a military confrontation with the United States, now or in the future.
Although India’s conduct may exacerbate an already unstable strategic environment in South Asia (given the long‐standing hostility between India and Pakistan), the United States has no vital interests in the region that would inevitably entangle this country. Moreover, Washington learned to live with the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Stalinist Russia and Maoist China; U.S. leaders can certainly tolerate such weapons in the hands of democratic India.
The United States must reassess its entire policy on nuclear‐weapons proliferation. It is hardly surprising that the nonproliferation system — symbolized by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — is breaking down. Basic nuclear technology is now more than a half‐century old, and it is unrealistic to assume that only the five openly declared nuclear‐ weapons powers have the requisite technology, engineering talent, and financial resources to build arsenals.