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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 64, Cover design by Paul Aston

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 64, May - June 2002

News Review

Musharraf Aims to Reassure on Nuclear Danger

In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published on April, Pakistan's military leader General Pervez Musharraf - now planning to extend and legitimise his rule in a referendum - addressed the issue of possible nuclear conflict in South Asia: "Using nuclear weapons would only be a last resort for us. We are negotiating responsibly. And I am optimistic and confident that we can defend ourselves using conventional weapons... Only if there is a threat of Pakistan being wiped off the map, then the pressure from my countrymen to use this option would be too great".

Although the General's remarks were designed to reassure his audience about the low probability of a nuclear exchange, they were interpreted in some quarters, in India and elsewhere, as either provocative or alarming. At a press conference in New Delhi on April 17, Christine Rocca, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, was asked about the comments by Ranjan Gupta of CBS news:

"Question: 'General Musharraf's threat to India about using nuclear weapons, how seriously do you take it?'

Rocca: 'Let me say...that we've urged both countries to moderate the rhetoric and we continue to make that point. I can just leave it at that.'"

Speaking in Washington on April 16, John Wolf, US Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation, was more forthcoming when pressed about the general policy of the Bush administration towards the nuclear confrontation in South Asia:

Question: 'It is not clear to me how you view the nuclear issue in South Asia. I was under the impression that after September 11, India, as an ally, assuredly the world's largest democracy - the populace now at a billion - needs all the modern weapons, just like the US or Britain or France or any of them. ... Also, India has said from the beginning that it is for the complete...dissection [disarmament] of all the nuclear weapons, where the nuclear posture statement of the United States appears to clear the ground for expanding nuclear weapons in the tactical field and use them even against Third World countries.'

John Wolf: 'I think that the situation in South Asia remains still one that is very worrisome. Two countries...are facing each other across the Line of Control [in Kashmir] and the international border, with nearly a million troops. Yes, the tensions have reduced, but the fact is that both countries are armed with nuclear weapons and missiles, and that is...of concern. Hopefully, as the tensions ease, both countries will look at this crisis and look at ways to adopt the kinds of confidence-building measures that would reduce the risks of a nuclear exchange in South Asia. I'm not saying that that's where things are going, but there is the risk. These are new capabilities. The doctrine is still to be well defined, and I think it's important that both countries, separately and together, over time find ways to reduce the risks of accidental warfare. ... [T]he risks of proliferation from South Asia are real. I think both Pakistan and India need to...pay continuing close attention to the risks that individuals may seek to exploit export controls that are not sufficient for the task.' ...

Question: 'I take it that you don't expect either India or Pakistan to roll back their nuclear weapons and become non-nuclear weapon powers. And if that is so, realistically, won't it serve your purpose of subjecting them to the same regulations, restrictions and responsibilities as the five nuclear powers by inducting them formally as members? And I know the problem with the Non-Proliferation Treaty was [that the definition of a nuclear-weapon state was]...set in stone. Surely what has been written can be revised?'

John Wolf: 'No. It doesn't serve our purpose. It undercuts the treaty in ways that would cause fundamental harm to what we're trying to achieve worldwide.'"

Reports: Musharraf ready to use nuclear arms, The Guardian, April 6; Musharraf says nuclear arms last resort in stand-off over Kashmir, Reuters, April 7; Pakistani leader says use of nuclear weapons against India would be 'last resort', Associated Press, April 7; Transcript - Assistant Secretary Wolf on Non-Proliferation issues, Washington File, April 16; Transcript - State Department says US-India relationship solid, Washington File, April 17.

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