Fallout from the tests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 1996, 12:00am

AFTER conducting six nuclear explosions in Polynesia, France faces a long and painful task in trying to rebuild relations with Asia and the Pacific, where Paris is now seen as an outcast for its defiance of the unanimous condemnation its tests have brought it since last summer.

The decision by President Jacques Chirac to cut short the testing programme - originally scheduled to include up to eight tests and last until spring - means that the healing can finally begin. But New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, has already predicted that the process may take years to complete.

The damage done to France's reputation has far exceeded the benefits of the scientific data which will supposedly allow all future tests to be conducted via computer simulations. The economic consequences were also severe. Australia cancelled a lucrative jets order and French products were widely boycotted. The political fallout was even more damaging. Riots in Tahiti unleashed social tensions which will not easily be defused, and have raised questions about latter-day colonialism tens of thousands of kilometres from Paris. Relations with Asian and Pacific nations have been badly soured. With outstanding demands for compensation and for international inspection of the testing sites, this will take a long time to change.

Paris can aid the healing process by taking a lead in negotiations to conclude a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But the moral to be drawn is that nuclear tests are not worth the price they exact. China, the only other nation still conducting tests, would do well to heed this lesson and end what are now the world's last nuclear tests.