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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

President Clinton's South Asia visit

The Build Up

On March 7, President Clinton announced that he intended to include Pakistan on the itinerary of his forthcoming South Asia visit. As reported in the last issue, on February 1 the President announced he would be visiting India and Bangladesh, with no further venues confirmed or excluded. The decision was taken after concerted lobbying, principally from the military Government of Pakistan but also from within the United States Congress. On February 17, six Democratic members of the House of Representatives, including the second highest ranking Democrat, David Bonior, wrote to the US President arguing that "a failure to meet with officials of the Pakistani Government might set back America's ability to serve a useful mediating role" in the dispute over Kashmir. The President has repeatedly made clear both that he is willing to mediate on the Kashmir issue and that he cannot intervene without an invitation from both sides. On February 22, a similar letter was sent to the White House by nine Democratic senators, including Minority Leader Thomas Daschle. The letter argues: "[W]e would urge you only to visit either country if there can be assurance of progress… However, if there can be progress, we would urge you, equally strongly, to include both India and Pakistan on your itinerary."

In announcing the decision to visit Islamabad, if only for a few hours, the White House stated: "The President expects to address a number of issues of common concern with Pakistan's leaders. These include a return to civilian, democratic rule, the need to fight terrorism, and measures to avoid a nuclear and missile arms race and prevent conflict in the region. The President's decision reflects the importance of making efforts to continue dialogue with an important nation of the region, despite our serious concern about the lack of an elected Government there." The dim prospect of a return to civilian rule in Pakistan was underscored on March 15 when the Government of General Pervez Musharraf announced "a ban, with immediate effect, on all political meetings in public places, strikes and processions, as the country cannot afford the luxury of agitation and violence-prone politics… Indoor meetings are permitted. However, the use of loudspeakers for such political meetings is prohibited." (Note: on March 23, General Musharraf announced that district level elections would take place from December 2000-May 2001, with further local elections in July 2001).

Both India and Pakistan have been at pains to stress that the President's visit is not linked to any imminent major concession on nuclear policy, particularly with regard to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which neither side has either signed or disavowed. US officials clearly have no expectation of a breakthrough, particularly in the wake of the October 1999 rejection of the accord by the Senate. On March 15, the prominent Indian analyst K. Subrahmanyam expressed what seems to be a widespread sentiment in India, not just in Government circles but across the mainstream political spectrum: "They [the Senate] killed the treaty… It's rather indecent to ask us to sign a dead treaty." However, on March 14, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made clear that the US would continue to prioritise non-proliferation issues in its discussions with New Delhi. In a speech to the Asia Society in Washington, Albright observed: "Our approach to non-proliferation is global. We cannot abandon it simply because we desire an improved relationship… [We will aim to] reconcile to the greatest extent possible our non-proliferation concerns with India's appreciation of its security requirements. … The United States does not regard India's missiles or nuclear weapons as a direct threat to us. But we do regard proliferation as our Number One security concern. For this reason, we must accept that significant progress in this area is necessary before India and the United States can fully realize the vast potential of our relationship…" Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson R. S. Jassal, questioned about Albright's remarks on March 15, noted: "We have been engaged in a high-level intensive dialogue…focused on non-proliferation and disarmament…[which was] meant to harmonise the views of India and the United States on these issues. And obviously our dialogue has been predicated with India having a credible minimum deterrent… [T]here is now a much better understanding of views and concerns as a result of this dialogue…"

The following day, an open letter to the President from a Task Force on US Policy Toward South Asia co-sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned against trying to force a breakthrough: "It is essential to resist the temptation to place ambitious, nuclear-weapons-related goals at the center of US aims… Any attempt to persuade India to eliminate its nuclear arsenal will fail…given Indian concerns about both China and Pakistan and the inclination of many Indians to associate nuclear weapons with great power status…" Seeming to confirm this defeatist analysis, on March 5 Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told reporters: "Till all weapons of mass destruction are dismantled, we will continue to be guided by the imperative of India's strategic autonomy and the need to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent."

In Beijing on March 6-7, senior Chinese and Indian officials discussed a range of security issues; the first meeting of its kind. Quoted on March 8, Jassal told reporters: "We did convey our concerns that China's assistance to Pakistan's nuclear and missile programme had an adverse impact on regional stability to which we have been obliged to respond in a responsible and restrained manner. … We conveyed to the Chinese side our overall security objectives, including our nuclear policy…[and stressed India's] sovereign right…to determine its own security needs and to take whatever steps are essential for national security requirements." Speaking on March 7, Zhu Bangzao, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, stated: "As to the nuclear issue, the UN Security Council has adopted…resolution 1172, which should be sincerely and fully implemented by India… As big powers in Asia, China and India bear significant responsibility in safeguarding regional peace and stability." Both sides stated that the bilateral discussions would continue, though no further dates were announced.

The first stop on the President's visit will be Bangladesh, which on March 8 became the 54th state to ratify the CTBT. Bangladesh is also one of the 44 states whose ratification is required for the accord to enter into force; with its accession, 28 of these countries are now States parties.

The Visit

Writing in The Washington Times on March 2, President Clinton set out the goals of his trip to South Asia, stating: "… I will address directly our serious concerns. The 1998 nuclear tests by India and then Pakistan shook the world, intensifying global worries about the spread and potential use of nuclear weapons. Only India and Pakistan can decide how to protect their security. As they do, I hope they will ask themselves: Are they safer today than before they tested nuclear weapons? Will they benefit from expanding their nuclear and missile capabilities, if that spurs their neighbors to do the same? Can they achieve their goals for economic development while making a sustained investment in both nuclear and conventional military forces?" He went on to urge India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT, and called for a narrowing of differences on non-proliferation describing this as "important to realizing the full potential of our relationships".


In a joint statement entitled "India-US Relations: A Vision for the 21st Century", issued on March 21, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Clinton agreed that India and the United States shared a commitment to "reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons", while acknowledging that they had not always agreed on how to reach this common goal. After reiterating the United States' belief that India should forgo nuclear weapons, and India's belief in the need to maintain its own "credible minimum nuclear deterrent", the statement described how India and the US were prepared to work together to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery: "To this end, we will persist with and build upon the productive bilateral dialogue already underway".

Both countries reaffirmed their respective commitments to forgo further "nuclear explosive tests", pledging to "work together and with others for an early commencement of negotiations on a treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons … [and] to prevent the spread of dangerous technologies", and also promising that both would pursue their security needs "in a restrained and responsible manner and will not engage in nuclear and missile arms races". The joint statement concluded with agreement that the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of India should meet regularly to institutionalise a dialogue along with "high-level consultations and joint working groups across a broad spectrum…".

On March 22 President Clinton addressed the Indian Parliament highlighting the dangers of the spread of weapons of mass destruction "to those who might have no reservations about using them", describing it as the greatest threat to security in the 21st century. Noting that the United States has possessed nuclear weapons for some 55 years he turned to the US record of disarmament and assistance given to Russia in dismantling its stockpile: "From South America to South Africa, nations are foreswearing these weapons, realizing that a nuclear future is not a more secure future. Most of the world is moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. That goal is not advanced if any country, in any region, it moves in the other direction".

Harking back to the Cold War he recalled that the US and the Soviet Union, "came far too close to nuclear war … [and] learned that deterrence alone cannot be relied on to prevent accident or miscalculation". India's nuclear policies, he said, would inevitably have consequences beyond its own borders, eroding the barriers against nuclear proliferation, discouraging nations that have given up their own nuclear weapons, and encouraging others to keep their options open.

He thanked India for undertaking not to conduct any further nuclear tests and spoke of his belief that both nations should join the CTBT, work to launch negotiations on a treaty ending the production of fissile materials and strengthen the export controls regime.

Closing on regional tensions he said that, "Engagement with adversaries is not the same thing as endorsement. It does not require setting aside legitimate grievances" and recalled how America had urged Pakistan "to go back behind the line of control in the Kargil crisis. …".

Prime Minister Vajpayee replied to the President's address saying that India remained committed to a world free of nuclear weapons, believing that this is the way to enhance global security. "We, however, find that our environment continues to witness proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles". He justified India's decision to maintain a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent" as prompted by a realistic assessment of India's security needs whilst at the same time continuing "our traditional policies of acting with restraint and responsibility".

Alluding to tensions in Kashmir, India had, he said, always tried to develop relations with its neighbours in an atmosphere of mutual trust and on the basis of mutually advantageous initiatives. Recent developments had unfortunately eroded that relationship with Pakistan, but he noted that, "Aggressive use of force is no longer an acceptable language in international relations. …"


In his March 25 address to the people of Pakistan, President Clinton welcomed General Musharraf's announcement of a date for local elections, but commented that "…the return of civilian democratic rule requires a complete plan, a real road map." Turning to nuclear weapons he said, "Another obstacle to Pakistan's progress is the tragic squandering of effort, energy and wealth on polices that make your nation poorer, but not safer. That is one reason we must try to resolve the differences between our two nations on nuclear weapons… Again, you must make the decision. But my questions to you are no different from those I posed in India. …"

Noting that nations around the world have renounced nuclear weapons, the President asked Pakistan, ironically, to become a leader on non-proliferation: "In your own self-interest, to help us to prevent dangerous technologies from spreading to those who might have no reservations at all about using them, take the right steps now to prevent escalation, to avoid miscalculation, to reduce the risk of war."

After calling on Pakistan to sign the CTBT he turned to tensions with India, he spoke of the need for Pakistan to help create the conditions that allow dialogue to succeed: "For India and Pakistan this must be a time of restraint, for respect for the line of control, and renewed lines of communication". He concluded by saying that a stark truth must be faced, and that "There is no military solution to Kashmir… ".

General Musharraf's statement marking the visit, issued the same day, echoed Clinton's call for defusing tensions in the region, but asserted that "It is widely recognised that Kashmir is the root cause of tensions in the region". He also assured the United States that "Pakistan is ready for a dialogue anywhere at any time and at any level".

Turning to nuclear issues, the General reaffirmed what he called Pakistan's "policy of restraint and responsibility on nuclear matters", and "long standing policy of preventing nuclear proliferation". Predictably he claimed that "Pakistan's nuclear deterrence is indispensable for our security" but went on to propose a resumption of dialogue with the United States on nuclear issues.

Note: The Acronym Institute runs a regularly updated special feature, The South Asian Nuclear Crisis, which includes full texts or substantial extracts from many of the statements and documents referred to in the News Review section: http://www.acronym.org.uk/special.htm

Reports Clinton urged to go to Pakistan, Associated Press (AP), February 17; Pakistan Embassy releases letter to President Clinton from Senate Minority Leader Daschle urging visit to Pakistan, PR Newswire, February 23; India to maintain nuclear arsenal, AP, March 5; China urges India to halt nuclear program, Reuters, March 7; Statement by the Press Secretary, The White House, March 7; India warns China over nuclear and missile assistance to Pakistan, Agence France Presse (AFP), March 8; Bangladesh ratifies Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, CTBTO PrepCom Press Release PI/rat.54, March 10; Nuclear arms on Clinton agenda, AP, March 15; India hopes to resolve nuclear differences with United States, AFP, March 15; Nuclear worries mark Clinton's India visit, Reuters, March 15; Washington, Delhi poles apart on nuclear control, Reuters, March 15; Text of Pakistan Government statement, BBC News Online, March 15; Pakistan sets election timetable, BBC News Online, March 23.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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