Indian Ambitions and the Limits of American Influence

May 1998

By Aaron Karp

The nuclear detonations in May by India and Pakistan have provoked a new rush for tidy solutions to South Asia's long-simmering nuclear stalemate. Some would rely on draconian sanctions to force both self-declared nuclear-weapon states to comply with international nuclear non-proliferation norms. Others view the tests as a warning to get on with global nuclear disarmament immediately. Such thinking should remind one of H. L. Mencken's quip that for every difficult problem there is a solution that is simple, easy and wrong. Sanctions are unavoidable and global disarmament may be an essential goal, but neither will solve South Asia's nuclear dilemmas.

The greatest hurdle to be overcome now in South Asia is to distinguish between what can be accomplished in the short term without ceasing to emphasize what must be accomplished in the long term. It is tempting to agree with Indian spokesmen who insist that South Asian nuclear disarmament only makes sense in the context of global denuclearization. But the dangers of nuclear competition in South Asia leave no time for wishful thinking; South Asia is the only place on Earth where war between nuclear-armed states is a real possibility today.

For the United States, the short-term agena is dominated by the need to restore outside influence to avoid nuclear war and any further escalation of the strategic competition in the region. Winning Indian and Pakistani accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the proposed fissile material cutoff treaty would be invaluable, as would any restraint with regard to ballistic missiles. Globally, there is no substitute for a no-first-use treaty to minimize the dangers of nuclear weapons. Modest though they are, even these steps may not be fast in coming. Such steps would require a regional dialogue encouraging India and Pakistan to settle their disputes and India and China to mend their relations.

Before any of these objectives can be accomplished, the United States must find an effective relationship with New Delhi, something that has yet to happen despite a half-century of experience since India's independence. Above all, American diplomacy must appreciate the domestic forces that compelled India to make the leap to become an acknowledged nuclear weapons power. It is these domestic forces—not orthodox assumptions about regional security or global disarmament—which will determine what can and cannot be achieved in the years ahead.


India First

The weapons tested on May 11 and 13 by India and on May 28 and 30 by Pakistan were the result of over 50 years of conflict in South Asia that has defied the best intentions of global diplomacy. These conflicts are bitter ones which must be managed now with more care than ever. Having taken years to get into the current situation, neither India nor Pakistan will retreat in haste. Policy-makers in Washington and elsewhere cannot influence nuclear issues in Islamabad or New Delhi until they first accept that the status quo will only yield gradually.

Although both India and Pakistan have tested, resolving their nuclear tensions will require the biggest steps to come from India. Not only did it go first with nuclear testing in 1974 and 1998, but India alone insists that its security requires nuclear weapons. Pakistan is an inherent part of the regional problem, but it is a derivative part with an explicitly reactive nuclear weapons policy. Whereas India absolutely refuses to join the existing nuclear non-proliferation system, Pakistan holds compliance with international treaties as being conditional on what India does. While this does not excuse Pakistan's testing or lessen its obligations, it leaves India the key to unraveling their nuclear confrontation. In the short run, India and Pakistan must be dealt with now more than ever as equals, if only because of their comparable nuclear weapon capabilities. In the long term, however, international diplomacy must emphasize India as the linchpin to hopes for regional nuclear restraint.

If India is at the center of regional nuclear issues and Pakistan its unpredictable challenger, China remains the most elusive element in regional disarmament hopes. The short-run arms control agenda may be dominated by bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, but nuclear disarmament in South Asia ultimately will have to be pursued through a regional formula that includes China.

Although relations between India and China have warmed in recent years, especially since Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin visited New Delhi in 1996, Indian opinion-leaders still are acutely suspicious. Memories of the Indo-China war in 1962, when China crushed Indian resistance, have lost none of their sting in New Delhi. Nor is it forgotten that China introduced nuclear weapons into he region in 1964 and still aids Pakistan as a strategic partner. Indian observers were quick to note that the Chinese government reacted to India's May tests by declaring that it was "deeply shocked" and calling the tests acts of "outrageous contempt." After Pakistan tested, China expressed only its "deep regret."[1]

There is a long-standing debate over the threat—if any—that China presents to India today. Most informed observers agree that Indian fears of Beijing's military capabilities are exaggerated, and that if there is a Chinese challenge it lies mostly in China's much faster economic growth and greater foreign investment. Even if Indian anxieties are exaggerated, they are not groundless. The very existence of those fears and sensitivities means that sooner or later they too must be taken seriously.


India's Decision to Test

A productive U.S. relationship with New Delhi—one strong enough to sustain a nuclear dialogue—starts with an understanding of how the Indian government made the decision to become a self-declared nuclear-weapon state. The seed of India's nuclear program was planted by Homi J. Bhabha, its visionary creator who died in 1966. Even more than his counterparts in the United States and the former Soviet Union—Robert Oppenheimer and Igor Kurchatov—Bhabha was personally responsible far every major aspect of India's nuclear program. Although he himself was ambivalent about the nuclear weapons potential of his work, leaning toward advocacy after China tested in 1964, it was the people he trained and the facilities he created that would allow India after his death to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Even after testing in 1974, however, India remained profoundly ambivalent about its capability, enjoying the political advantages of its undeclared capability.

New Delhi's decision to resume testing in 1998 represents a fundamental shift in national policy. It was the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elected in March 1998 that made the final decision, but there is much more to the decision than the BJP. The May tests were the result of a new consensus among Indian leaders that nuclear weapons are essential to security and of a widespread public thirst for international recognition. This consensus is so strong that another Indian government may well have done the same sooner or later.

For India, a nuclear weapons capability is an issue that defines national uniqueness. The end of the Cold War provoked a crisis of credibility for Indian foreign policy, which found itself unable to adjust to a world without the Soviet Union, dominated by economic globalization and American political leadership. India's attempt at economic liberalization began in 1991 but quickly stalled, keeping foreign investment low and suppressing growth. Indian commentators have been highly critical of the country's indecisive foreign policy that is seemingly based only on opposition to the United States. This policy manifests itself in areas as diverse as opposition to pressure on Iraq, criticism of NATO expansion and particularly with regard to arms control and disarmament issues.

One clear cornerstone of New Delhi's foreign policy—something on which Indians of every political stripe can agree—is opposition to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The vast majority of the world's sovereign states have accepted the logic behind the NPT—that is, limiting to five the number of nuclear-weapon states—either by signing the treaty (as 185 have done; Taiwan has also signed) or joining regional arrangements such as nuclear-weapon-free zones. Only three major countries remain completly outside the international nuclear non-proliferation regime: India, Israel and Pakistan.

Where India stands apart is in its long-standing moral opposition to what it considers to be the discriminatory basis of the NPT—dividing the world in the "haves" and the "have-nots." Indians across the political spectrum, especially the country's powerful nuclear weapons establishment, are critical of the NPT, arguing that it unfairly warps international hierarchies to the disadvantage of the non-nuclear-weapon states. Although several states have expressed dissatisfaction with the NPT, India is the only country to fully articulate its outright rejection of the treaty. Most states party to the NPT accept the unfairness of the treaty as a trade-off that serves their own and global interests. India's leaders insist that fair and genuine nuclear disarmament must start with the nuclear-weapon states themselves, a demand formalized by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in his 1990 global nuclear disarmament initiative.

Indian spokesmen have been especially critical of proposed regional solutions, consistently rejecting a South Asian nuclear-weapon-free-zone accord. Instead, they maintain that regional settlements should wait until the broader problem of international disarmament is resolved. The Indian position offers an engaging twist on orthodox Western understandings of self-interest and the priorities of disarmament. In this view, regional nuclear settlements like that between Argentina and Brazil are at best irrelevant and at worst a betrayal of global disarmament for narrow self-interest.

This emphasis on global solutions led India to reverse its traditional support for the CTBT, an idea pioneered by the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1954 and strongly advocated by Homi Bhabha. As recently as 1993, India supported UN resolutions for a nuclear test ban. Only in 1994 did opposition voices begin to receive widespread recognition as the negotiations accelerated at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). The critical shift came in a speech by then-Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao of the Congress Party at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in October 1995, when he stated that India would support a CTBT but only if it came with a clear commitment to global nuclear disarmament.[2] The final break came in a speech by India's ambassador to the CD, Arundhati Ghose, in January 1996 when she said a test ban would make sense only if part of "a specific time-bound procedure for carrying out disarmament."[3]

India's controversial position has exacerbated its diplomatic isolation. Some accuse India of wanting too much too soon. Others suspect the switch was intended mostly to preserve its own nuclear weapons option. What is not in dispute is the enormous popularity of this position in India, where opposition to the NPT long ago became orthodoxy, and the CTBT and the proposed fissile materials cutoff treaty are seen as consolidating the hegemony of the nuclear-weapon states.

A Shifting Elite Consensus

Although China is cited as the primary justification for India's nuclear weapons and Pakistan secondarily, in reality the challenge to Indian security was dissipating. New Delhi's relations with Beijing have been improving; China recently abandoned its only weapons program specifically targeted at India, the Dong Feng-25 ballistic missile. Even after Islamabad acquired the 300-kilometer range M-11 ballistic missile from China and, more recently, tested the 1,500-kilometer-range Ghauri missile, no one disputes that Pakistan continues to fail behind India military.[4]

It was not regional threats to Indian security but domesic pressures which transformed Indian opinion regarding the country's nuclear weapons program. The rising parliamentary presence of the nationalist BJP became an important force, altering the character of public debate. Many observers also point to the effects of the nationally televised serialization of the Mahabharata, India's greatest epic, strengthening a widespread desire for global recognition of the nation of some 1 billion people.

Pressure to overtly nuclearize has been growing since the 1988-87 and 1990 confrontations with Pakistan. The first grew out of an Indian military exercise called "Operation Brasstacks." The second was the result of rising tensions over Kashmir. While both involved an undeniable risk of war, the role of nuclear weapons in both crises is obscure and probably exaggerated. What cannot be exaggerated, however, is the effect on India's nuclear weapons consensus.

Initially, neither crisis was much acknowledged and Indian spokesmen—such as General K. Sundarjl, the army chief of staff responsible for Operation Brasstacks—tended to deride both events. But subsequent revelations and scholarly writing have fashioned a new consensus. Previously all but forgotten, the two incidents have become the well-spring of India's new security debate. In private, and increasingly in print, Indian (and Pakistani) defense experts are more self-congratulatory, describing the crises as overwhelming successes for nuclear deterrence. India and Pakistan, this argument goes, fully appreciated the risks involved. They avoided humiliating retreat while averting war and keeping nuclear dangers under control.[5] The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from their closest experience, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, shaken and determined to control their unrestrained confrontation. This started a process that led to detente and arms control. In contrast, India, and to a lesser degree Pakistan, emerged from their confrontations more confident in their accomplishments and convinced of their ability to manage nuclear deterrence successfully. In its most extreme form, this attitude leads to an insistence that nuclear weapons are benign, as Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes suggested when he argued that "even at the height of the Cold War, everybody kept their cool, even at the eleventh hour," implying that India could do the same.[6]

For Indian defense leaders and specialists, this interpretation of these crises, combined with the rising nationalist atmosphere, strengthened beliefs that India is entitled to nuclear weapons. Within its Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), there is strong support for advanced nuclear weapons. This was the force behind the incidents in 1995 when India was discovered making preparations for nuclear tests. Nor is this attitude restricted to a small faction. By the mid-1990s, the range of elite opinion had shifted so that it was impossible for anyone praising the NPT or CTBT to be taken seriously in New Delhi. Voices in favor of nuclear ambiguity or restraint became fewer and circumspect. The advocates of overt nuclearization dominated Parliament backbenches and the media.

Solidifying this new consensus was a series of semi-official revelations clarifying the full extent of India's nuclear capabilities. These revelations, especially about the nuclear submarine program and previous nuclear bomb developments, strengthened pride in the nation's capabilities. The most important revelation was a speech by Raja Ramannan, chief designer of the nuclear device tested in 1974. After years towing the official line that the 1974 test was a "peaceful nuclear explosive," in October 1997 he admitted it actually was a deliverable weapon.[7]


The Role of Prithvi and Agni

While regional security anxieties created the general environment for nuclear testing, domestic politics were in the forefront. The direct catalyst came from India's ballistic missile programs. First was the controversy surrounding the Prithvi short-range ballistic missile. Development of this missile (in its current 150-kilometer-range version) was completed in 1994, leading to debate over deployment. Although it is ostensibly intended to deliver conventional payloads, the Prithvi's nuclear potential has never been in doubt. For the first time, an Indian government was forced to publicly reconsider the policy of non-weaponized deterrence.

A strong government might have finessed the issue. Instead, the Congress Party government of P. V. Narasimha Rao shifted back and forth on Prithvi deployment, appearing incompetent and clinging to a policy which its main weapons programs rendered obsolete. Deployment seemed too provocative, especially as Pakistan was halting deployment of its comparable M-11 missiles. Nor could the Indian government allow itself to be seen as submitting to international pressure. After a storm of domestic criticism, the Prithvi finally was "stored" (a step just short, apparently, of deployment) near the Pakistani border by the subsequent United Front government in 1996-97. But the credibility of the United Front and its two prime ministers—H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral—had been seriously wounded as well. The Prithvi fiasco would make other advanced weapons much harder to resist.

The decision to test nuclear weapons came in two parts. First was the basic decision to weaponize. This was strongly influenced by India's debate over the future of the Agni ballistic missile in 1996-97. The 2,500-kilometer-range Agni was tested three times beginning in May 1989 as a "technology demonstrator." After the last test in February 1994, Rao declared the program "complete." The director of the DRDO, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, sought approval for additional tests to prepare the Agni for deployment, but got no response. Meanwhile, pressure to complete the Agni program grew in Parliament, which produced a report in March 1996 urging series production. Inheriting the Agni much as it inherited the Prithvi, the United Front began to waiver. Then-Defense Minister Mulayam Singh Yadev initially stated that "Agni has been successfully completed. Agni is not a missileprogramme."[8] Pressure from Abdul Kalam and Parliament, already intense, received a sudden boost from Pakistan, which announced in the summer of 1997 that it had a new missile, later revealed to be the Ghauri. A few weeks later Yadev would state that "the programme will proceed on a priority basis."[9] By November 1997, final development and initial production of the Agni was assured. The number to be deployed and the deployment schedule remained to be worked out, but the principle of deployment was resolved.

Because the Agni always was considered to be exclusively a nuclear delivery vehicle, the decision to fully develop it had momentous implications for India's nuclear weapons program as well. The Agni decision made nuclear weapons testing virtually inevitable. The symbiotic nature of the Agni and the nuclear weapons program confused some observers, who later mistakenly thought nuclear test preparations were for the Agni. But if the Agni needed time before resuming flight tests, nuclear tests had been ready for years. AEC and DRDO engineers simply returned to the facilities intended for the tests that were cancelled in 1995.


Countdown to Pokhran

What the Agni decision did not clarify was the timing of nuclear tests. Even after India's national security establishment—led by the Ministry of Defense, the DRDO and the AEC—was ready, a political decision was necessary. In 1995, testing was averted not so much by prompt U.S. action as by the fact that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was not fully convinced. Could the United States or any other outside power have acted more forthrightly to stop India in 1998? Would stronger statements from the international community have made any difference? Despite a deluge of self-criticism, there is no evidence that the United States could have stopped India's May tests. The critical events which led to the decision to test occurred not in the international arena, but within the Indian Cabinet in the weeks immediately after the March 1998 election.

Initially, the BJP-led government seemed unsure of its intentions. Its election manifesto declared that the party would "re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons." The language contained considerable ambiguity. The document said nothing about nuclear testing or delivery options, nor did it explain what it meant by "induct." The word in the report emerged as a compromise between hardliners and moderates, suggesting there still was some doubt about what to do. At the same time, Vajpayee, his Cabinet and aides started a charm offensive, reassuring a suspicious world, implying that nothing precipitous would happen. The new government's hesitation came partially because the newly elected leaders did not know the resources at their disposal. As they learned more about the advanced state of Indian preparations, enthusiasm for testing grew. Vajpayee, a consensus figure who never dominated his party, allowed himself to be overshadowed by more truculent BJP ministers. The charm offensive ended as Defense Minister George Fernandes became the first Indian official to explicitly criticize China.[10]

Pakistan's unexpected launch of the Ghauri missile on April 6 surprised observers outside South Asia. The poorly timed test was provocative, but its relationship to subsequent nuclear tests has probably been exaggerated. Indian leaders have consistently justified their nuclear ambitions in terms of the threat from China, not Pakistan. Initial Indian reactions to the Ghauri test were restrained. While the missile test undoubtedly influenced Cabinet deliberations in New Delhi, it cannot have been decisive. The engineering requirements of nuclear testing, moreover, lead to the conclusion that India's nuclear tests were authorized several weeks earlier, probably within days after the March election.

According to Abdul Kalam, the government made its final decision to conduct five tests, code-named Shakti-1 (Hindi for "divine power"), 30 days before the actual event. Little preparation was needed. Not only were facilities ready from previous preparations, but an inventory of completed weapons was available to choose from.[11] In the interim, the Indian government acted with great aplomb to deceive the world as to its intentions. It is revealing that even prominent Indian defense experts like Jasjit Singh of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and Raja Mohan, a columnist at The Hindu, did not anticipate the tests. Advocates of overt nuclearization assumed that it was at least a year off.

The controversy over the intelligence failure to detect the Indian preparations misses the most important point: The preparations escaped notice partially due to Indian deception, but even more because outsiders—even in India"August 24, 1998umed that nothing was going to happen. Like all good deceptions, it worked because its audience wanted it to work. Most of the world was hoping that there would be no tests and was looking for ways to build a healthy relationship with the BJP. Whether Indian officials lied to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson when they met in New Delhi on April 15, he was ready to be deceived.


An Indian Nuclear Force

As a result of its actions, India now finds itself a virtual diplomatic pariah. Not only has India consistently rejected the nuclear non-proliferation philosophy accepted by almost every other country in the world, it has overtly challenged one of the most important taboos of global security—the norm against testing. In the process, it has shown itself to be less than trustworthy. Not only have India and Pakistan lost aid and trade, but New Delhi's hope for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council—perhaps its highest foreign policy goal—has been sacrificed. Its foreign policy continues to be based on its Cold War-era friendship with Russia, now its only source of advanced technology for nuclear reactors and fighter aircraft. Far from encouraging restraint, however, isolation strengthens the hand of those who insist that India cannot be secure until it weaponizes and deploys a nuclear force.

Aside from assuring the Parliament that weaponization is being completed, the Indian government has been vague about the force it is creating. The detailed paper presented by Vajpayee to Parliament two weeks after the tests, Evolution of India's Nuclear Policy, mostly deals with international treaty negotiations, restating well-known Indian positions. On actual weapons policy, the paper says only that India will not make nuclear threats or engage in an arms race, statementsbelied by the bellicose outbursts of government officials like Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who declared that now having proven its nuclear weapons capability, "India is prepared to deal firmly with Pakistan's hostile activities in Kashmir," and Madan Lal Khurana, minister of parliamentary affairs, who said that not only was India ready to fight a fourth war with Pakistan, but that it would triumph.[12] Indian officials have been careful to avoid clarifying whether these missiles will be nuclear armed at first, but they have stated that in the words of Abdul Kalam, "Nuclear warheads for Prithvi and Agni are available." According to Murli Manohar Joshi, minister for human resources (who is in charge of science and technology policy), India "will put a nuclear warhead on missiles as soon as the situation requires."[13]

What might an Indian nuclear force eventually look like? Nuclear weapon advocates like K. Sundarji, the retired army chief of staff, typically call for accelerated production of weapons usable fissile material; a sustained testing program to create a dependable, high-yield nuclear capability; and the establishment of a mixed force of delivery systems. Although China may be described as India's geostrategic nemesis, there have been virtually no calls to match Chinese nuclear capabilities, which currently include at least 46 deployed intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and 17 ICBMs.[14]

The size of the nuclear force is determined primarily by the supply of reprocessed plutonium from the unsafeguarded Cirus and Dhruva heavy water research reactors at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Trombay. According to a prominent study, by the year 2000 India will have roughly 450 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, sufficient for approximately 90 weapons.[15] In an emergency, additional material could be taken from other unsafeguarded reactors, although there is no evidence this has ben done. A uranium enrichment program near Mysore reportedly has yet to show significant results.

Aircraft undoubtedly would be India's easiest and most versatile nuclear option. Likely platforms include British-supplied Jaguar bombers, French Mirage-2000s and recently acquired Russian SU-30MKs, possibly the best performing attack aircraft anywhere. Most of the public debate, however, focuses on the Prithvi and Agni ballistic missile projects. A reasonable nuclear force, in the view of Indian advocates, would include at least one nuclear attack squadron, 60 to 100 nuclear-armed Prithvi missiles (with 150- to 250-kilometer ranges) and 12 or more Agni-type IRBMs (with ranges between 2,000 and 3,000 kilometers). A nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine also features on many wish lists. Long-term planning stresses development of a sea-based deterrent, including at least one nuclear-powered submarine armed initially with the Sagarika missile (with a range of roughly 300 kilometers). Even the shrillest voices from India's "bomb lobby," it should be noted, have yet to call for development of an ICBM.

Cost may be the greatest barrier to large-scale nuclear weapon deployments. Indian finances are better than crisis-stricken Southeast Asia, but the country is mired in low growth and investment, high government spending and deficits. India's 1997-1998 defense budget of $9.1 billion is roughly equal to that of Canada or Spain. While this is higher than most regional powers, given the scale of India's armed forces—the world's fourth largest in terms of personnel levels—there is little flexibility for adding major new programs, and institutional politics make it virtually impossible to delete old ones. Even promised budget increases of 14 percent will not alleviate these pressures because most will go for desperately needed salary increases. For budgetary reasons alone, changes in India's defense posture will be gradual.


Sanctions: Pain Without Gain?

It was inevitable that India's nuclear tests would meet with global condemnation and sanctions, especially from the United States. Despite the tide of reprehension, though, it is doubtful that sanctions will have any positive effect. Indeed, the longer they remain in place, the more counterproductive they will be.

Although sanctions are unavoidable, they serve mostly to express U.S. displeasure and to strengthen international precedents. The effect on India will be marginal at best. The country's civilian economy is simply too large to be dramatically affected. Too many other countries will continue to supply capital and restricted goods and it is unlikely the sanctions will be strengthened very much. India has made itself a diplomatic pariah, but it is not a rogue state; it is too large and too important to be excluded from the international system.

One effect of sanctions will be to gradually bring to a halt India's indigenous conventional weapons programs, such as the Arjun tank and the Light Combat Aircraft programs which depend on subsystems from Germany, the United States and other countries no longer supplying military technology. Unable to build all of its own conventional armaments and cutoff from the West, India will have no alterative but to turn instead to Russia for its major weapon systems.

Above all, sanctions cannot have much effect on India because of the great strength of its democracy. Sanctions were originally conceived of, and remain, as essentially a tool to use against unpopular dictators, leaving no doubt of the cost of their policies. But when the electorate stands strongly behind its leaders, sanctions cannot accomplish much. As difficult as it is dealng with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro, dealing with democratically elected leaders can be much harder.

India came to the decision to test nuclear weapons by slowly creating a national consensus. It will not rejoin the global consensus overnight. International pressure is not irrelevant, but it must be used carefully because it can be effective only by influencing India's attitudes about itself.


Restoring U.S. Influence

One of the tragedies of the Indian and Pakistani tests is that they came just as Washington was acknowledging the importance of the region in global affairs. Led by Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, the United States was seeking to rebuild a relationship with New Delhi all but ignored for years. The one unquestionable result of the tests is that it has focused unprecedented attention on the region. Unfortunately for U.S. policy-makers, it also means having to start virtually from scratch. Faced with dangerous events in a distant region, Washington instinctively tries to isolate the countries involved. India and Pakistan, however, require more attention, not less. There is no alterative to broader diplomatic contact.

High-level visits of all kinds should be encouraged, emphasizing objectives that are readily achievable, especially in non-controversial trade. Such cooperation may be impossible now, forbidden by U.S. sanctions laws and public opinion on both sides, but the approach remains as valid as before. Even modest military-to-military contacts serve the interests of both countries by building trust and confidence. Eventually, this cooperation could be upgraded to permit more extensive exchanges and joint operations for missions such as search and rescue.

Despite Washington's preference to justify international summit meetings with major agreements, U.S. officials have to learn to deal with India by starting small. Major proposals inevitably generate mostly skepticism or even mockery in New Delhi. This is especially true of arms control proposals, which are perceived with suspicion, judged not for their stabilizing merits but as hypocritical efforts to promote U.S. strategic interests. In particular, the Western-dominated Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime are seen by Indians as bald attempts to repress the country's power, prestige and influence. Moreover, the anger generated by President Eisenhower's embrace of Pakistan in 1954 and the U.S. dispatch of a carrier battle group to the region in 1971 remains a highly emotional issue with Indians. If Washington must work to dispell Indian suspicions, officials in New Delhi must not forget how they often appear in American eyes, where an image of unwillingness to negotiate or bargain must be overcome. The holotype remains President Kennedy's disasterous meeting with Nehru in 1961, when the prime minister lectured the president on America's failures.

India's May tests have only increased the need for a frank and productive dialogue. Before any other objective can be accomplished, the United States must find a new and more effective way to deal with New Delhi. Although India is acknowledged as an important regional power and an emerging global actor, Washington and New Delhi have yet to develop a comfortable working relationship, a task now made that much more difficult—and more of an imperative—as a result of the nuclear tests. While many observers hope that India will see its nuclear tests as an opportunity to sign the CBT, there is little the international community can do to encourage this. The West has nothing to offer in exchange, in the view of Indian officials, that is comparable to the country's nuclear deterrent. Given the current nationalist enthusiasm in New Delhi and the distaste for making deals with Washington, persistent and patient prodding is the only way to encourage India to sign the CTBT.


A New U.S.-Indian Dialogue

The first requirement for U.S. diplomacy in South Asia is the restoration of outside influence. Having witnessed the failure of old approaches based on traditional non-proliferation diplomacy—sanctions and export controls—a new approach is desperately needed. The problems are too serious to resolve through a single "grand bargain." The arms control agenda in South Asia is based on four well-known elements. These are, first, bilateral assurances to avoid nuclear war in the region, especially declarations of nuclear no first use. Second, restraint on provocative deployments of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Third, winning Indian and Pakistani accession to the CTBT and a fissile material cutoff treaty. Fourth, minimizing the sources of regional conflict by resolving the disputes over Kashmir and Chinese border areas.

Although these ideas have been championed by virtually every international leader outside the region, none are likely to be achieved in the near term. Regional confidence-building measures, such as no-first-use declarations, are difficult for Pakistan to accept as long as its conventional forces lag far behind India's. Islamabad may need to modernize before it can compromise. Despite widespread hope elsewhere, India is not likely to severely limit its options for its newly declared nuclear deterrent capability. Indian governments also will avoid restrictions on the country's right to deploy ballistic missiles.

Rather than starting with good ideas, it may be better to begin with good intentions. The first step in averting further South Asian nuclearization is restoring bilateral relations and productive dialogue. This alone will enable the United States to speak with India and Pakistan in an atmosphere free of condescension and over-sensitivity and to engage in the give-and-take that distinguishes healthy diplomacy. Not only should the temptation to isolate South Asia be avoided, but diplomatic contacts should be broadened. President Clinton can take the lead by visiting the region as tensions subside, making the point that the United States is determined to remain involved. Excessively rigid sanctions tend to become barriers to disarmament, inhibiting dialogue and progress. In South Asia as elsewhere, diplomacy and disarmament require flexible instruments, stressing carrots as much if not more than sticks. While some will complain—with justification—that such a visit rewards India and Pakistan for violating the international no-testing norm, there is no more effective way to begin rebuilding essential bilateral relations. Private investment in civilian endeavors should be encouraged and non-military sanctions, such as those affecting World Bank loans, should be relaxed in recognition of their limited effectiveness. Even modest military contacts and joint activities should be allowed to continue.

In the long term, there is no alternative to a regional security dialogue that includes China. Only this way can India and Pakistan settle their differences. Political accommodation will make nuclear disarmament possible, not the other way around. Although the international commnity cannot allow India to bludgeon it into disarmament through the threat of proliferation, progress in global disarmament efforts will be essential to South Asian security.



1. Rebecca Johnson, "Indian and Pakistan nuclear tests," Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 26, May 1998, pp. 11, 15.


2. Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, "Testing Times: The Global Stake in a Nuclear Test Ban," Uppsala, Sweden: Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1996.


3. Arundhati Ghose, "Negotiating the CTBT," Journal of International Affairs, Summer 1997, pp. 239-261.


4. Sumit Ganguly, "India's emergent relations with the People's Republic of China and South-East Asia," paper presented at the 1997 India Symposium, National Defense University, 3-4 December 1997.


5. Kanti P. Bajpai, et al., Brasstacks and Beyond: Perception and Management of crisis in South Asia, New Delhi: Manohar, 1995.


6. John F. Burns, "India defense chief calls U.S. hypocritical," The New York Times, June 18, 1998, p. A10.


7. Dhirendra Sharma, "The smiling Buddha," The Hindustan Times, December 5, 1997.


8. Dinesh Kumar, "More tests needed," Times of India, August 9, 1996.


9. Dinesh Kumar, "Top priority to Agni: Mulayam," Times of India, August 28, 1997.


10. John F. Burns, "India's new defense chief sees Chinese military threat," The New York Times, May 5, 1998, p. A5.


11. Dinesh Kumar, "Prithvi, Agni can now be armed with nuke warheads," The Times of India, May 18, 1998.


12. Kenneth J. Cooper, "India warns Pakistan over Kashmir," International Herald Tribune, May 19, 1998, p. 5; and "More heat than light," The Economist, May 30, 1998, pp. 40-41.


13. Seema Mustafa, "Next step if Pak tests bomb," Asian Age, May 13, 1998.


14.The Military Balance 1997/98, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, October 1997, p. 176.


15. David Albright, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 264-271.



Aaron Karp is a senior faculty associate with the Graduate Programs in International Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.