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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 32, November 1998

US Disarmament Diplomacy in South Asia

'US Diplomacy in South Asia: A Progress Remark,' speech by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott (text as prepared for delivery), the Brookings Institution, Washington, 12 November 1998

"A year and a half ago...[President Clinton] instructed his foreign-policy team to explore ways to put our relations with India and Pakistan on a sounder, more mature footing.

The premise, with respect to India, was that relations between our countries were in a rut; we needed to get beyond the correct but rather chilly exchanges of the past. ... The President looked to India to continue its emergence as a global power. He also saw India and the United States to be natural partners in making our shared expertise in high technology a source of dynamism in the global economy.

As for Pakistan, there, too, the President felt we needed a fresh start. The end of the Cold War had created the opportunity for a new, more sophisticated basis for US-Pakistani relations. He saw Pakistan, as a deeply religious Islamic society and a democracy situated on the crossroads of the Near East and South and Central Asia, to be facing choices that will resonate far beyond its own borders.

When the President gave us the task of intensifying and diversifying our engagement with India and Pakistan in early 1997, the question of their nuclear and ballistic-missile programs was, of course, also very much on the agenda. We did not believe our commitment to non-proliferation to be in any way at odds with our interest in better relations with both countries. Quite the contrary: we saw these goals to be mutually reinforcing.

We hope, and believe, they still are. But the task is more difficult now. The tests in May have increased tensions, highlighted the consequences of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and posed a serious challenge to the viability of the global non-proliferation regime. That means we have no choice but to adjust the focus of our diplomacy accordingly, even while our long-term objectives and interests remain intact.

A starting point for that diplomacy is that India and Pakistan need security, deserve security and have a right to determine what is necessary to attain security. The essence of the case we are making to them is that there are ways to enhance their security without testing nuclear weapons or deploying missiles, and that they will assuredly undermine their security unless they move quickly and boldly to bring under control the action-reaction cycle between them.

In making this case, we are drawing not only from our own experience with nuclear weapons, but from what we believe is a misreading of that experience by many Indians and Pakistanis. Since May, we have heard from many Indians and Pakistanis the notion that the tests will usher in an extended period of nuclear stability in South Asia, comparable to the one that preserved the peace between the United States and the USSR for half a century. It's almost as if they see Cold War brinkmanship between the superpowers as something to be emulated.

They should look at the record again, not from the vantage point of having seen the Cold War end peacefully, but rather from the hard-headed perspective of what it took to manage the rivalry. ... The United States and the Soviet Union had more than one narrow escape. India and Pakistan have even less margin for error than the US and the USSR did over Cuba and Berlin, if only for geographical reasons, since no ocean separates them.

Moreover, during the half-century of the Cold War, we and the Soviets never shed a drop of each other's blood on the battlefield - at least not in a direct conflict. India and Pakistan, by very germane contrast, have, over approximately the same span of time, fought three wars; and there continue to be frequent and sometimes fatal exchanges of artillery fire across the Line of Control in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

And then there's the economic dimension of security. Before India and Pakistan decide to replicate the US and Soviet nuclear competition, they should consider the price tag. A recent Brookings study estimated that maintaining the American nuclear capability cost the United States just under 5-1/2 trillion dollars. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, comparable expenses contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet system and State.

The massive spending required to develop nuclear weapons is only a fraction of what is required for safely managing even a modest capability. The tense military situation generated by a nuclearized subcontinent would further drive up overall military budgets - a trend already in evidence.

Perhaps the most serious economic threat to these two developing nations is the near-certainty that foreign capital, which is critical if either is to rehabilitate its infrastructure, will decline as risk-averse investors back away from what will look like an unpredictable environment.

The issue is, of course, complicated by the China factor. Indian officials point to security concerns not just with Pakistan but with their giant neighbor to the north as well. We respect India's right to make that determination. We understand that this is a deeply felt matter, steeped in history. We ourselves have an on-going strategic dialogue with China, including about critical regions; and our determination to foster peace and security in South Asia will continue to be very much part of our agenda with Beijing.

In discussing these concerns with us, Indian strategists often refer not to any new or burgeoning military threat but to the possibility of competing interests between India and China at some time in the future. The best way to head off any such competition, it seems to us, is for New Delhi and Beijing to resume an intensive bilateral effort to enhance transparency and confidence and to overcome, or at least narrow, existing differences. In particular, we hope India and China will engage in a candid exchange on their strategic perspectives, goals and concerns.

India has said that it wants the world to consider its security in a geographical scope that goes beyond the subcontinent itself. So the world should, and so we, the US, certainly do. But by precisely that token, we hope the Indians will come to see their security in a context that includes a worldwide trend in support of non-proliferation. Especially since May, India and Pakistan have been bucking that trend, thus putting it in jeopardy.

Now, I can understand how, from an Indian or Pakistani vantage point, the monopoly of the five NPT nuclear-weapons States might look discriminatory. But I would also hope that, over time, Indians and Pakistanis would not try to redress what they might see as an historical injustice by embracing the bomb just as the rest of the world is trying to wean itself off of the view that the bomb bestows either safety or stature on those who posses it.

We Americans take seriously our own obligations in this regard, and we believe we are meeting them. The United States and Russia have already dismantled or de-activated 18,000 nuclear weapons; we are prepared to cut the US and Russian strategic arsenals by 80% from their Cold War levels. We've also cut our stockpiles of shorter-range tactical nuclear weapons by 90%.

So - when we urge the Indians and Pakistanis to call off their own nuclear-arms and ballistic-missile race before it's too late, we are practicing what we preach. And when we urge nuclear restraint and warn about the nuclear danger, it is not from a position of smug superiority. Rather, it's from a position of having been there and done that; we're trying to share the cautionary lessons of our own experience.

The second half of the 20th century has unfolded under the shadow of the mushroom cloud. The US played its own role in keeping that sometimes frightening drama from becoming a tragedy, and now we're doing everything we can to lift the cloud from the next century.

Let me turn now to the sanctions that the US imposed on both countries in the wake of the tests. They were necessary for several reasons. First, it's the law. Second, sanctions create a disincentive for other States to exercise the nuclear option if they are contemplating it. And third, sanctions are part of our effort to keep faith with the much larger number of nations that have renounced nuclear weapons despite their capacity to develop them. ...

[W]e have worked assiduously and, I believe, quite successfully with Congress to develop a firm but flexible regime for implementation of the sanctions. We have found there is a high degree of bipartisan support for two propositions: that the US must engage with India and Pakistan as constructively as possible; and also that we must strike a balance between our profound differences over the test and our equally profound desire to see them continue to develop as strong, safe, prosperous democracies. We have already taken advantage of the targeted waiver authority that the law now provides the President so that he can facilitate progress on non-proliferation...and also so that he can ensure that there are no unnecessary and unintended consequences for our other interests that are at stake in the region.

Specifically, we have decided to resume support for US business and investment through programs under the auspices of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Ex-Im Bank and the Trade and Development Agency. We've also decided to waive restrictions on lending by private US banks and to bolster our military-to-military contacts by restoring modest education and training programs. Finally, we have signaled our support for the IMF's efforts to help Pakistan avert a total economic collapse.

As for the concern and the criticism that the US has reacted unilaterally to the challenge posed by the tests, nothing could be further from the truth. From the outset, we have been working in concert with many other countries.

Let me be more specific. The UN Security Council, the Group of Eight major industrialized nations, and the P-5 have each endorsed a set of benchmarks that provide for the Indians and Pakistanis a map of the path away from the nuclear brink and back into the mainstream of those countries that are part of the solution to the problem of proliferation rather than being part of the problem itself. An unprecedented ad-hoc task force of over a dozen nuclear and non-nuclear weapons States, including several that abandoned nuclear-weapons aspirations or status countries like Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine - joined in forging a common response. So have regional groupings like the European Union, the Organization of American States, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and several others.

It is very much in the framework of this international consensus that we have conducted our own bilateral efforts. At the time of the tests in May, President Clinton and Secretary Albright asked me to go to work with the Indians and Pakistanis on three goals that we believe reflect everyone's interests - theirs, ours and the world's: 1) preventing an escalation of nuclear and missile competition in the region; 2) strengthening the global non-proliferation regime; and 3) promoting a dialogue between India and Pakistan on the long-term improvement of their relations, including on the subject of Kashmir.

So far, I've held six rounds of discussions with my Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission; and I'll be holding a seventh in Rome next week. On a parallel track, I've held seven rounds with Shainshad Ahmad, the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, including one just last Wednesday here in Washington.

Two principles have guided the American side of this effort:

First, we remain committed to the common position of the P-5, G-8 and South Asia Task Force, notably including the long-range goal of universal adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We do not, and will not, concede, even by implication, that India and Pakistan have established themselves as nuclear-weapons States under the NPT. Unless and until they disavow nuclear weapons and accept safeguards on all their nuclear activities, they will continue to forfeit the full recognition and benefits that accrue to members in good standing of the NPT. ...

Our second principle applies to the near and medium term, and to the practice of diplomacy as the art of the possible. We recognize that any progress toward a lasting solution must be based on India's and Pakistan's conceptions of their own national interests. We're under no illusions that either country will alter or constrain its defense programs under duress or simply because we've asked it to. That's why we've developed proposals for near-term steps that are, we believe, fully consistent with the security requirements that my Indian and Pakistani counterparts articulated at the outset of our discussions. The Prime Ministers of both nations have said publicly that they seek to define those requirements at the lowest possible levels.

In other words, while universal NPT adherence remains our long-term goal, we are not simply going to give India and Pakistan the cold shoulder until they take that step. We are working intently with both countries to encourage them to take five practical steps that would help avoid a destabilizing nuclear and missile competition and more generally reduce tensions on the Subcontinent and bolster our global non-proliferation goals. Let me say a few words on each step.

First, we have urged India and Pakistan to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT. There has been some progress in that direction. Both countries have declared voluntary moratoriums on further testing and at the United Nations in September the two Prime Ministers pointed their governments toward CTBT adherence within a year. We hope that India and Pakistan will take that step as soon as possible, and we applaud the work that the Prime Ministers have done in their respective countries to build public support for an agreement that has been demonized but that now, in the wake of the tests in May, represents an opportunity to stabilize the region.

The second step we are urging India and Pakistan to take in the near future is to halt all production of fissile material, which constitutes the essential building block of nuclear weapons. On this point, too, there have been some encouraging developments. The agreement earlier this year of India and Pakistan to join talks at the Conference an Disarmament in Geneva on a fissile material cutoff treaty allowed those long-stalled discussions to go forward. ...

But even if, as we hope, those negotiations go well and move forward quickly, completion and formal entry into force of a cutoff treaty is still several years away. To prevent accumulation of fissile material during that time, we urge India and Pakistan to join the other nations that have conducted nuclear test explosions in announcing that they will refrain from producing fissile material for nuclear weapons, pending conclusion of a treaty.

The third key objective of our discussions with the Indians and the Pakistanis involves limitations on the development and deployment of missiles and aircraft capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction. The point here is that the testing of explosive devices is not the only threat to peace. Unless both India and Pakistan exercise genuine restraint and great care, the delivery systems themselves could become a source of tension and could, by their nature and disposition, increase the incentive to attack first in a crisis. They could also increase the risk that weapons would be used as a result of accident or miscalculation. That's why, in keeping with their stated desire to define their security requirements at the lowest possible levels, we have urged our Indian and Pakistani counterparts to consider strategic measures - a package of prudent constraints on the development, flight testing, and storage of missiles, and also on the basing of nuclear-capable aircraft.

The principles of prudence and restraint also apply to the fourth issue we have raised with our Indian and Pakistani counterparts: tightened export controls on sensitive materials and technologies that could be used in the development of weapons of mass destruction. Both countries have good track records on which to build in this regard, and both have agreed that it makes sense to bring their existing policies and regimes up to international standards. Hence, our discussions have moved beyond the realm of principle into that of the practical, including the exchange of information and expertise.

While the first four benchmarks deal with the overt manifestations of the Indo-Pakistani nuclear competition, the fifth deals with the underlying causes: the long-standing tensions and disputes between the two. ... In this crucial respect, we have seen some favorable developments, especially the resumption of talks between the two foreign secretaries in Islamabad last month. They are talking about Kashmir; they are talking about confidence-building measures, about better communications between civilian and military experts, about bus lines across the border, about trading in energy.

Moreover, India and Pakistan are far more likely to move toward stabilizing their military competition - and, we would hope, ultimately meeting the non-proliferation benchmarks that we and the international community are urging them to take - if each knows, through bilateral dialogue, what the other is doing and planning.

In that spirit, we hope that direct contacts between India and Pakistan will not only complement but eventually supersede the efforts of the United States. We hope that for two reasons. First, it would be as it should be: two great countries dealing directly, normally and peacefully with each other, to their mutual benefit and in pursuit of their many mutual interests. Second, a breakthrough between India and Pakistan would allow us, the United States, to get on with the task that President Clinton set for us before the tests, developing the kind of broad-gauge, forward-looking bilateral relationships with these two countries, each in its own right, that they, and we, want and deserve. ..."

Source: Text - Talbott remarks at Brookings Inst. on South Asia, Nov. 12, United States Information Service, 12 November.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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