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June 2, 2022
Confrontation and Retreat: The U.S. Congress and the South Asian Nuclear Tests
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In May 1998 was not a good month for U.S. non-proliferation efforts. On May 11 and 13, India detonated five nuclear devices, its first nuclear tests in nearly a quarter century. Not to be outdone, its bitter rival Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests of its own toward the end of the month. These sudden developments, long feared but nonetheless catching American officials and intelligence analysts by surprise, effectively blew U.S. policy toward the South Asian subcontinent to smithereens and laid down a direct challenge to the global non-proliferation regime.

Within the U.S. Congress, non-proliferation advocates like Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) and India-bashers such as Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) voiced outrage and called for the immediate triggering of sanctions under Sec. 102(b) of the Arms Export Control Act, universally known as the Glenn amendment. New Delhi's actions were "reckless, shameful and irresponsible," Markey insisted. Burton urged his House colleagues to "stop subsidizing India's nuclear progress" by cutting U.S. economic assistance to New Delhi. "India took a terrible, terrible step yesterday," Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told the Senate the day after India's first round of tests. Paraphrasing Franklin Roosevelt, the Iowa Democrat declared that "yesterday is a day that will live in infamy for the Nation of India."<1>

Of greater interest was the response of those who earlier had been among India's most vocal supporters. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), perhaps New Delhi's leading champion on Capitol Hill, expressed regret at the tests but insisted they should not derail the U.S.-India relationship. But other lawmakers usually sympathetic to India were less supportive. Many of the leading members of the House's India caucus remained noticeably silent, and some privately suggested that the caucus publicly condemn India. Several legislators, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), canceled plans to visit India. "In light of the nuclear tests," a Gephardt spokesman explained, "we did not want there to be the appearance of business as usual."<2>

The situation was exacerbated 17 days later, when Pakistan conducted its own tests. Aside from the expected condemnations of Pakistan and criticism of the Clinton administration for allowing events to get so out of hand, a number of members voiced anxiety that South Asian tensions could spiral out of control. "This is the most serious situation since the Cuban missile crisis," Senator John McCain (R-AZ) warned, a judgment seconded by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).<3>

Only days after the tests, President Bill Clinton responded as he was legally obligated under the Glenn amendment, slapping wide-ranging economic and military sanctions on New Delhi and Islamabad. Yet no sooner had Washington taken this stand on behalf of global non-proliferation norms than it began to walk back from its position. Within 18 months, the U.S. Congress swung from applauding strict sanctions to urging the president to waive not only the Glenn amendment, but also the Pressler and Symington amendments, which mandate further penalties for states engaged in certain nuclear activity. (For more information on this legislation, see sidebar.) Earlier convinced of the need to maintain a tough stance as an object lesson for other nuclear threshold states, by the end of 1999 U.S. lawmakers had completely turned their backs on sanctions as a tool of non-proliferation policy. Congressional anger over the South Asian tests had given way to acceptance, even understanding. Congress, it would appear, had abandoned 25 years of non-proliferation activity.

The U.S. Congress was trying to achieve multiple objectives that were not entirely compatible. Concerned about proliferation and wanting a voice in foreign policy that would compete with the executive branch, it had mandated the sanctions. But when faced with post-Cold War national interests, the growing influence of the domestic South Asian-American community and an increasing interest in the subcontinent by U.S. business, the legislators moved non-proliferation to the back burner and renounced with dizzying speed the sanctions on India and Pakistan they had so recently supported. The impact of these steps on the non-proliferation regime is not yet clear. But what is apparent is that Congress' love-hate relationship with sanctions as a tool of foreign policy is far from over.

The Retreat

Discomfort with the Glenn amendment sanctions surfaced shortly after they were imposed on Pakistan and served to trigger a broader discussion of the utility of sanctions in general. It was time "to engage in a serious debate on the merits of using unilateral economic sanctions to achieve foreign policy goals," Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) declared. Observing that the threat of sanctions had deterred neither India nor Pakistan from testing, he worried that U.S. sanctions could destabilize a Pakistan already burdened with enormous economic and political problems. "An unstable Pakistan with nuclear weapons," he added, "is not in our interests."<4>

Other comments focused more narrowly on U.S. economic interests. "Pakistan is not a trading partner we can afford to lose," cautioned the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Robert Smith (R-OR), reflecting sentiment especially pronounced in wheat-growing areas of the Pacific Northwest. "There is no leverage in cutting off our sales," complained Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "It does not make a difference on the dinner table in Islamabad, but it sure will in Topeka."<5>

Recognizing this widespread dissatisfaction with sanctions, the Senate leadership created a special 18-member task force, headed by McConnell and Joseph Biden (D-DE), to examine both the way the India and Pakistan sanctions were working, and the larger question of how effective sanctions are in influencing the behavior of other nations. "There's a feeling on both sides of the aisle that perhaps the proclivity to place economic sanctions on countries around the world and with not a clear way of ending those has become a problem," explained Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) in what was clearly an understatement.<6>

It did not take long for this uneasiness over the Glenn amendment sanctions to translate into congressional action. The initial breach in the sanctions regime came in early July, less than two months after the first Indian test. The impetus behind this move was readily apparent. Pakistan was the leading foreign buyer of U.S. white wheat, and the third largest overseas purchaser of all U.S. wheat. But unless Congress acted to permit export financing, U.S. farmers would be unable to participate in winter wheat auctions in Pakistan, scheduled for mid-July.

"We are six days away from a disaster," warned Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) in early July. "Farmers around the country are staring an economic train wreck in the eye."<7> The full Senate apparently agreed, rushing through legislation without the normal committee review and voting 98-0 to give both India and Pakistan a one-year exemption from Glenn amendment restrictions on Department of Agriculture financing for the purchase of agricultural commodities from U.S. farmers.<8> The Senate bill originally contained authority for the president to waive other sanctions as well, but a filibuster threat by Senator John Glenn (D-OH), author of the Glenn amendment and perhaps the Senate's leading non-proliferation expert, succeeded in getting this provision dropped.

Action in the House was equally swift and revealing of congressional priorities. Representatives Robert Livingston (R-LA) and David Obey (D-WI), the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Committee, urged a more considered approach, but not even these senior power brokers could slow the stampede. This legislation, its supporters argued, did not indicate any lessening of the U.S. commitment to non-proliferation. To the contrary, by crafting a more focused sanctions policy, it would help secure the domestic base for maintaining sanctions.

Such elaborate rationalizations could not hide the actual intent of most members, however. Hardly a word about non-proliferation figured in the House debate. No one displayed anger at India or Pakistan for violating long-standing international norms against testing. Instead, the debate was all about helping the U.S. farmer, about not losing markets or penalizing American wheat growers. The House's leading non-proliferation proponents were noticeably absent during the debate. Not surprisingly, the House followed the Senate's lead and adopted the measure in time for American farmers to take part in the Pakistani wheat auction.<9>

This modest step was quickly followed by others. The day after the House's approval of the wheat relief bill, the Senate, with the blessing of the administration, adopted the Brownback amendment. The Brownback amendment-named for its author, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs-provided the president with the authority to waive, for a period of one year, Glenn, Symington and Pressler amendment sanctions, except for those pertaining to military assistance, dual-use exports and military sales.

Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, complained that the Senate had "rushed forward, willy nilly," without adequate review or committee hearings, but chose not to block passage.<10> Glenn, who might have been expected to protest this gutting of his namesake legislation, was conveniently away from Washington training for the space shuttle flight he was to make later in the year. Recalling Glenn's absence sometime afterward, one insider conceded that while not deliberately planned, Senate action on the legislation at the very moment its primary opponent was preoccupied with other matters was more than simply a happy coincidence.

The Brownback amendment (formally known as the India-Pakistan Relief Act of 1998) was incorporated into the fiscal 1999 omnibus appropriations bill and signed into law in October 1998. Following its adoption, President Clinton quickly restored funding for U.S. military training programs in India and Pakistan, as well as government-backed financing and credit guarantees for U.S. firms doing business there. Clinton also lifted restrictions on U.S. commercial loans and credits to both countries and announced that Washington would support a pending Pakistani request before the International Monetary Fund. Encouraged by the absence of opposition to these steps, Clinton then moved to eliminate another long-standing irritant in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship by agreeing to pay Islamabad $325 million in cash and $140 million in goods as compensation for 28 F-16 aircraft that Pakistan had earlier bought, but whose delivery had been prevented by the 1990 triggering of the Pressler amendment. Once more, Capitol Hill acquiesced virtually without dissent.

In October 1999, Congress took a further step by adopting, as part of the defense appropriations bill, another, more sweeping Brownback amendment-sometimes called Brownback II. This measure gave the president permanent authority to waive, with respect to India and Pakistan, all the provisions of the Glenn amendment. In addition, it authorized the president to waive the Symington and Pressler amendment sanctions, which had prohibited almost all U.S. economic and military assistance to Pakistan since 1990. Finally, the legislation stated that the "broad application" of export controls on Indian and Pakistani government agencies and private companies suspected of having links to their country's nuclear or missile programs (the so-called "entities list") was "inconsistent" with U.S. national security interests. Instead, the lawmakers urged the executive branch to apply U.S. export controls only to those agencies and companies that made "direct and material contributions to weapons of mass destruction and missile programs and only to those items that can contribute to such programs."

Brownback II represented an extraordinary reversal of American policy. The measure handed the president the authority to lift all sanctions imposed upon India and Pakistan as a result of their 1998 nuclear tests. More remarkably yet, Congress abandoned even those sanctions it had placed upon Pakistan prior to Islamabad's tests. Seventeen months after its nuclear detonations, Pakistan found itself far better off vis-à-vis American nuclear non-proliferation law than it had been at any time since 1990. Finally, with its statement on export controls, the U.S. Congress appeared to condemn rigorous steps to prevent the transfer of sensitive technology that might be used in the nuclear weapons or missile programs of India or Pakistan, and implicitly authorized the export of materials that might indirectly assist those programs. It was a stunning retreat from Capitol Hill's decades-long reliance on punitive measures to block the spread of weapons of mass destruction.<11>

Never happy about being forced in 1990 to trigger the Pressler amendment, the executive branch saw Brownback II as the achievement of a long-desired objective. Administration officials were pleased with the measure in another respect as well. An earlier draft of the legislation would have suspended for five years the Glenn, Symington and Pressler sanctions, whereas Brownback II, as finally adopted, gave the president the latitude to lift the sanctions only when and if he saw fit. This flexibility, the State Department believed, would strengthen the president's hand in subsequent negotiations with India and Pakistan.

The timing of these proceedings also merits mention. A House-Senate conference committee adopted the defense appropriations bill containing Brownback II on October 11, 1999. The following day the Pakistani military dismissed the civilian government in Islamabad and seized power. On October 13 and 14, the House and Senate respectively took up the defense bill. Both houses adopted the measure by substantial majorities. The military coup in Pakistan was all but ignored during debate over the bill, with only one member of either house troubling to go to the floor to express skepticism about the wisdom of a wholesale abandonment of sanctions against Pakistan at the very moment the Pakistani military was throwing out a democratically elected government. True, Brownback II was but one small provision in a huge bill appropriating over one-quarter of a trillion dollars. Nonetheless, this silence about contemporaneous events in Islamabad suggests just how far Congress had traveled since the South Asian tests 17 months earlier.

South Asia in the Congressional Mindset

All in all, it had been a remarkable year and a half. The United States had imposed extensive sanctions and then just as quickly lifted not only Glenn amendment sanctions, but Symington and Pressler amendment restrictions as well. Initially expressing concern for the global non-proliferation regime, Congress, in less than 18 months, had moved to the position that it should not jeopardize other interests in pursuit of unobtainable non-proliferation objectives. How does one explain this dramatic transformation in congressional attitudes and actions?

The Indian-American community

Part of the explanation is political. As the 1990s unfolded, South Asia, and India in particular, gained increasing prominence on the congressional agenda. This new politically inspired concern for the region partly reflected changes in the Asian-American community. As recently as 1980, there were only 387,000 Indian-Americans in the United States. But the next two decades saw a dramatic increase in the size of this community. By 1997, this number had more than tripled, to 1,215,000. (The total U.S. population during the same period grew by 17.8 percent.) By the later date, the Indian-American community comprised the third largest Asian-American population in the country, surpassed only by Chinese- and Filipino-Americans.

Numbers tell only part of the story. The Indian-American community is also highly educated and prosperous. Fifty-eight percent of the adult community has at least a bachelor's degree. A larger percentage of the Indian-American work force holds a managerial or professional position than any other group in the country, with especially high representation among well-paid doctors, engineers, scientists, architects and computer professionals. As a result, the Indian-American per capita income exceeds that of every other group in the country, including whites.<12>

Until recently, this wealth and status had not translated into political clout, but that is rapidly changing. Since the community is widely and relatively evenly distributed throughout all parts of the country, few congressional districts are without at least a handful of Indian-American families. Even in states such as Kansas, where the Indian-American community is negligible, Senator Brownback notes that they make their presence felt.<13> The largest concentrations, however, reside in the major industrial-urban states of New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts. As a whole, the community has avoided identification with either of the two major political parties and gives generously to both. Indian-Americans raised $4 million on behalf of political candidates for the 1992 election, and the figures are almost certainly significantly higher today.<14> "By their engagement and their aggressiveness," Brownback has observed, "they're able to influence things beyond their numbers."<15>

Indian-American organizations now deliberately reach out to their Washington representatives. Professional groups, such as the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, increasingly invite leading congressional supporters to address their meetings. The Indian American Friendship Council-to take but one example-sponsors a legislative conference in Washington each year, which prominent U.S. lawmakers are invited to address. The July 1999 conference, for instance, was attended by nearly 40 U.S. lawmakers and featured speeches by House Minority Leader Gephardt; House International Relations Committee Chair Benjamin Gilman (R-NY); and Doug Bereuter (R-NE), chairman of the House Asia subcommittee.

These congressional addresses do not always feature careful or measured discussion of U.S.-Indian ties. Instead, these events encourage an outpouring of praise for India, condemnation of Pakistani policies and devotion to strong Indian-American ties. The U.S.-Indian relationship, Gephardt told council members at the 1999 conference, is possibly the most important bilateral relationship in the world. Though perhaps harmless, such exuberance may serve to mislead members of the Indian-American community about the current state or future direction of U.S. policy.

An important development for the clout of the Indian-American community on Capitol Hill occurred following the 1992 elections. That autumn, Representative Stephen J. Solarz (D-NY) fell victim to redistricting and lost his congressional seat. The influential chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia had been widely regarded as India's most energetic advocate in the Congress, and over the years had, almost alone among his congressional colleagues, raised large sums of money in the Indian-American community. Solarz's defeat opened the door for a junior New Jersey Democrat, Frank Pallone, who up to this time had displayed no particular interest in either American foreign policy or the Indian-American community.

At first the loss of Solarz was seen as a blow to the community's influence, but Pallone was a shrewd politician who had a need and recognized an opportunity. The need arose from the vicissitudes of redistricting, which had thrown a large Indian-American population into his new congressional district. The opportunity arose from the vacuum created by Solarz's departure. A few weeks after the 1992 elections, Pallone enlisted six other Democrats and Florida Republican Bill McCollum to organize the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. One of the first congressional caucuses devoted to promoting relations with a single country, the group grew far more rapidly than Pallone could have envisioned in even his wildest fantasies. By mid-1999, the India caucus, as it was invariably called, boasted a membership of 115 members, over a quarter of the entire House of Representatives.

Galvanized by Pallone's energetic leadership and considerable skills for publicizing both the caucus and his own role in Indian-American affairs, the organization aggressively argued the case for better U.S.-Indian relations. Pallone's office established an effective information and communications network and made certain that caucus members knew whenever the House was slated to vote on issues of interest to the Indian-American community. The caucus distributed talking points, enlisted floor speakers and lined up votes. It provided India, for the first time, with an institutional base of support on Capitol Hill and, according to one analyst, an "anchor to windward."

The Pakistani-American community

The Pakistani-American population is only one-tenth the size of the Indian-American community. Not surprisingly, it lags far behind its larger rival in its visibility and its clout on Capitol Hill. Pakistan has no congressional equivalent of the India caucus. Various efforts to organize a Pakistan caucus have foundered on congressional indifference and the hard political reality that publicly aligning themselves with Pakistan holds few political incentives for most members of the U.S. Congress.

Throughout the 1980s and the close Pakistani-American partnership against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Texas Democrat Charlie Wilson was an energetic and effective advocate for Islamabad in the House of Representatives. But since Wilson's retirement from Congress in 1996, no one has stepped forward to take his place. The situation is slightly more favorable for Pakistan in the Senate, where several members, including Brownback, Harkin and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), are viewed as particularly sympathetic to Islamabad. Pakistan's marginally stronger position in the Senate has influenced the legislative strategy of the Clinton administration as it has sought statutory relief from congressionally mandated sanctions against Islamabad. In both 1998 and 1999, with Brownback I and II, the administration focused its efforts on securing adoption in the Senate. Since the equivalent House measure contained no comparable provision, a Senate-House conference committee resolved the issue, neatly sidestepping the potential obstacle represented by a separate House vote and a mobilized India caucus.

The U.S. business community

Constituent pressure, of course, constitutes only one of many sources of influence on members of Congress as they deal with South Asian issues. In recent years, since India began opening up its economy in 1991, economic considerations and the American business community have also assumed a larger role on matters pertaining to the subcontinent. Although its promise still far exceeds its actual performance, the Indian market, with its alluring prospect of several hundred million middle-class consumers, has increasingly attracted the attention of both Wall Street and Main Street.

This new business interest has been reflected on Capitol Hill. Many members of Congress, constantly on the lookout for fresh sales and investment opportunities-which can mean more jobs for constituents and greater profits for local businesses-find their gaze more and more drawn to South Asia and to India above all. Paeans to India's economic reforms have replaced denunciations of Nehruvian socialism as standard congressional rhetoric. Traveling legislators, who once shunned the subcontinent, now regularly pass through New Delhi, the financial center of Mumbai (Bombay) and the Indian Silicon Valley in Bangalore.

Private groups such as the U.S.-India Business Council and the India Interest Group lobby individual members of Congress on behalf of sanctions relief and U.S. government credits and investment guarantees. According to several of Capitol Hill's most knowledgeable South Asia experts, U.S. business and agricultural groups were "key" to the July 1998 rollback of some of the Glenn amendment sanctions.<16> These same organizations also supported the 1998 and 1999 Brownback amendments that further loosened legislative restrictions on India and Pakistan. Combined with a larger, more politically active Indian-American community, American business interests over the past seven or eight years have pushed the U.S. Congress to pay more attention to South Asia and, most strikingly, to foster a more cordial U.S.-Indian relationship.

New threats to American security

Security considerations have contributed as well to this newfound interest in U.S.-Indian partnership. For many years, most members of Congress saw the region primarily in terms of the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union. Pakistan was a valued ally, while India, for reasons most legislators found utterly inexplicable, was entirely too cozy with Moscow. With the disappearance of the Soviet threat, however, congressional anxieties have increasingly centered on two other potential challenges to American security: China and Islamic fundamentalism. The result has been a shift in attitudes toward India and Pakistan.

Confronted with the grim scenes from Tiananmen Square at the very moment the Cold War was coming to a close, many members of Congress, both conservatives and liberals, almost effortlessly replaced their concerns about a Soviet threat to American ideals and interests with similar worries about the People's Republic of China. In the eyes of some, India took on a new importance as a hedge against a China turned aggressive. Others asked if the world's largest democracy and its most powerful democracy did not share a value system fundamentally at odds with that espoused by the communist regime in Beijing. Brownback, for one, is outspoken in his criticism of the manner in which the Clinton administration has handled relations with China and India. The White House, he charged in a speech to the U.S.-India Business Council in June 1999, has consistently rewarded China, "a country that has openly and continually challenged U.S. interests and values," while "first ignoring, and now punishing" India. "The inequity in this situation," he contended, "is both striking and counterintuitive. Why reward the country which is aggressively working against everything we stand for, and at the same time punish and blackmail a country with which we share basic values and interests?"

A growing concern about terrorism sponsored by radical Islamic groups matched this uneasiness about the future course of U.S. relations with China. And fears about Islamic terrorism served to promote anxieties about Muslim Pakistan and, in some quarters, new support for India. More and more, U.S. legislators equated Pakistan with an Islamic fundamentalism that, in their view, posed a serious threat to American interests at home and abroad. Islamabad's support for the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir and, even more, for the radical Taliban in Afghanistan only reinforced such concerns.

Congressional backing for Israel entered into the equation as well. Some of Israel's friends on the Hill voiced concern that Pakistan might share its nuclear know-how with Iran or other Arab states hostile to Israel. Shortly after Pakistan's nuclear tests, a group of legislators circulated news reports highlighting a visit to Pakistan by Iran's foreign minister, and pointedly speculated whether the trip, coming on the heels of Islamabad's nuclear tests, was mere coincidence. "We believe it is vital for the Congress to learn the full story about Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and any possible illegal transfers of information and technology to Iran," they wrote. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) warned his House colleagues that "Pakistan's decision to test a nuclear weapon has raised the frightening specter of an 'Islamic bomb' being directed at Israel."<17>

Limits to U.S. Sanctions

The net effect of this rapid shift on sanctions policy toward South Asia is difficult to determine. At the most basic level, it is hard to escape the conclusion that U.S. non-proliferation policy toward South Asia-the policy of the executive branch as well as of the Congress-has utterly failed if success is defined as keeping nuclear weapons out of the region. A quarter century of American threats, blandishments and exhortations deterred neither India nor Pakistan from moving forward on a nuclear weapons program. The certainty of sanctions did not stop either country from conducting nuclear tests. And having crossed that nuclear Rubicon, neither New Delhi nor Islamabad was compelled to roll back its weapons program because of U.S. sanctions.

These bald judgments, however, demand qualification. The fact that U.S. policy ultimately failed to keep nuclear weapons out of South Asia does not mean that it was without impact. Absent U.S. opposition, India and Pakistan might well have accelerated their weapons programs. The South Asian nuclear race might have heated up far sooner, and with results far more dangerous, had the United States not invested considerable time, energy and diplomatic capital in trying to prevent the spread of nuclear weaponry to the subcontinent. In truth, definitively evaluating the success or failure of America's non-proliferation policies in South Asia is not as easy as it may first appear.

Moreover, in gauging the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions-both the threat and their actual imposition-in influencing the behavior of Islamabad and New Delhi, one must also recognize that the United States never attempted to wield the full force of its economic might. Glenn amendment sanctions were perhaps more notable for their gaps than their comprehensive nature. India, for instance, had been scheduled to receive $54.3 million in development assistance in fiscal year 1998. Of this total, $36.3 million was for activities exempt from the Glenn amendment sanctions-child survival projects, health and family planning programs, environmental projects, and related programs. U.S. food aid to India, which totaled approximately $92 million a year, was also permitted under the Glenn amendment. Ultimately, India lost only $12 million in direct aid and $9 million in housing loan guarantees from its 1998 aid package, and $4-5 million in deobligations from money appropriated in earlier years. Even U.S. opposition to World Bank loans was hedged, as Clinton administration officials argued that the ban did not extend to humanitarian assistance. Pakistan similarly escaped many of the more draconian aspects of a full aid cutoff.<18> For all the hue and cry about inflexible sanctions, the Glenn amendment proved remarkably flexible.

In part, this reluctance to use all the means at its disposal to wreck the economies of India and Pakistan reflected a U.S. recognition that as important as non-proliferation was, the United States had other critical interests in South Asia that deserved protection as well. India and Pakistan occupy a strategic corner of the globe, and regional instability could threaten American political and security interests in the Middle East, central Asia and the Indian Ocean. Important U.S. economic interests required safeguarding. Washington sought to promote economic development for the region and to address pressing social needs. Good governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions were key American objectives. Fostering regional cooperation and combating terrorism and narcotics trafficking were other priorities. In other words, no one objective, no matter how worthy, was so vital as to justify jeopardizing Washington's ability to pursue its many interests in the region.

Pakistan's precarious political and economic situation also placed limits on how hard Washington could lean on Islamabad. Ever mindful of the fact that an economic or political collapse in Pakistan might contribute to the rise of Islamic radicalism, U.S. officials drew back from actions that might push Pakistan over the edge. Augmenting these fears, moreover, was the concern that an impoverished Islamabad might look for ready cash by selling its nuclear technology to Iran or other "rogue" nations, thereby contributing to the very proliferation Washington sought to block.

Finally, the refusal of the international community to follow the American lead in imposing penalties on India and Pakistan undercut the impact of U.S. sanctions and reduced congressional incentives for plugging the loopholes in the American sanctions regime. Japan and several European nations did suspend loans and grants or apply other economic sanctions following the May 1998 tests, but like U.S. sanctions, the global regime was noteworthy more for its exceptions than its inclusiveness.

This combination of circumstances has led most South Asian experts-though not necessarily non-proliferation specialists-to conclude that a U.S. policy built around the threat or use of sanctions has failed to advance the American national interest.<19> This judgment reflects the congressional consensus as well. In a speech on April 3, 1999, Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), who had replaced Pallone as the Democratic co-chair of the Indian caucus earlier that year, spoke for many of his congressional colleagues when he observed, "Sanctions are too blunt a weapon to be used by us against a sister democracy such as India. Sanctions aren't good for India; and they aren't good for America either."

Not even new Indian and Pakistani provocations slowed Capitol Hill's headlong repudiation of sanctions. The publication by India in mid-1999 of a draft nuclear doctrine envisioning the creation of a nuclear triad of air-, sea- and ground-launched nuclear weapons-a plan roundly condemned by the Clinton administration and a handful of legislators-had absolutely no effect on congressional support for Brownback II. Instead, India partisans such as Pallone took the publication of the draft doctrine as another indication of New Delhi's transparency and political maturity. India, Pallone insisted, had good reason to seek a credible deterrent, considering the provocations of Pakistan and China.<20>

Similarly, Pakistan's reckless involvement in and responsibility for the Kargil incursion, which in the summer of 1999 briefly revived fears of a full-scale conflict between South Asia's nuclear-armed rivals, failed to derail congressional approval for Brownback II. Tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles by both countries went largely unnoticed on the Hill. Finally, the October 1999 coup in Islamabad did not halt the drive to free Pakistan from Pressler as well as Glenn amendment restrictions. Congress, it would seem, was hell-bent on lifting sanctions on its South Asian friends, come what may.

The Sanctions Paradox

Given the remarkable backpedaling that so rapidly followed the imposition of the Glenn amendment sanctions, one might reasonably ask why Congress adopted legislation mandating such sanctions in the first place. Few regional specialists believe Washington's nuclear-related sanctions have worked. Most contend that congressional legislation has produced faulty policy based on a failure to understand South Asia's regional dynamics. Sanctions, many would add, have even been counterproductive to the achievement of U.S. non-proliferation objectives. So has the South Asian experience disillusioned Congress about the utility of sanctions as a foreign policy tool?

On the contrary, there has been a dramatic increase in sanctions legislation in recent years. From a congressional perspective, sanctions and the threat of sanctions are not the illogical or misinformed initiatives many foreign policy experts assume. Such measures meet various congressional needs. First, they give Congress a voice in determining U.S. foreign policy, in a sphere in which the executive branch wields most of the power. To complain, therefore, that sanctions are a blunt instrument, as many critics do, misses the point. They are better than no instrument at all.

Second, sanctions can represent a legitimate effort to warn foreign governments not to take particular actions or cross certain lines. Few people in 1985 thought that the Pressler amendment would ever be triggered. Its principal purpose was to caution Islamabad not to push its nuclear development too far.

Third, sanctions sometimes reflect a congressional distrust of the executive branch. Congress might legislate non-proliferation sanctions, for instance, because it believes that the White House is not giving this issue sufficient priority.

Finally, the enactment of sanctions can serve political or partisan needs. By including a presidential waiver in sanctions legislation, Congress can in effect have it both ways. Legislators can appear to be taking a tough stand on an issue while actually placing ultimate responsibility upon the president for imposing sanctions and for the negative consequences the sanctions might produce.

Although South Asian developments suggest that some members of Congress have now begun to rethink the wisdom of this wholesale reliance on sanctions, particularly those of a unilateral nature, legislation threatening sanctions meets too many congressional needs to be removed from the legislative arsenal in the near future. Indeed, in the very month that Clinton imposed Glenn amendment sanctions on India and Pakistan, the House adopted the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which by some estimates could result in new sanctions on as many as 75 countries.<21>

So we are left with something of a paradox. Congress appears to have little stomach for maintaining sanctions against India or Pakistan, either to punish them for their tests, to coerce them into reversing the direction of their nuclear programs, or more generally, to send a message to other nuclear threshold states that may be tempted to emulate the Indian and Pakistani examples. Nor does the Hill appear prepared to hold out for a deal in which the United States would lift sanctions in exchange for specific Indian or Pakistani steps short of a complete nuclear rollback, such as signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Legislators are unwilling to pay the domestic price sanctions frequently entail, particularly since sanctions hold no assurance of success in achieving U.S. non-proliferation objectives. Members, moreover, have a legitimate fear that a punitive approach toward Islamabad and New Delhi will preclude the achievement of other important U.S. objectives in South Asia, strain Washington's relations with friends and allies, or push Pakistan over the precipice into the clutches of Islamic radicalism.

Nonetheless, members of Congress will almost certainly continue to insist on their right and responsibility to exercise a voice in the conduct of the nation's foreign policies, as indeed they should. With different political constituencies and constitutional duties than the president, they will frequently disagree with the executive in their definition of the national interest, and in their judgments as to the best means for preserving and promoting that interest. And they will remain attracted by the apparent advantages sanctions legislation offers.

So the paradox is likely to remain, recalling the old adage that everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die. Congress will continue to encroach upon the executive's freedom of action, to mandate sanctions-and to recoil at the consequences. U.S. policy, in short, is likely to replay the strange gyrations that marked congressional efforts in 1998 and 1999 to fashion a policy to meet both the new nuclear realities of South Asia and the new political realities of Washington. Whether American policy will also advance the global non-proliferation agenda is rather more in doubt.


1. Edward Markey, draft letter to President Clinton, May 12, 1998; Dan Burton, Dear Colleague letter, May 12, 1998; Tom Harkin, Congressional Record, May 12, 1998, p. S4680.

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2.Congressional Record, May 12, 1998, p. H3081; Eliza Newlin Carney, "Another Kind of Arms Race," National Journal, June 6, 1998, p. 1306.

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3. Jim Abrams, "Asia: U.S. Says Situation Serious, Calls for Global Efforts," Associated Press, June 1, 1998.

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4. Richard Lugar, Dear Colleague letter, June 4, 1998.

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5. Robert Smith, Congressional Quarterly, June 6, 1998, p. 1544; Mitch McConnell, Congressional Quarterly, July 11, 1998, p. 1891.

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6. Tom Raum, "Senate Panel to Study Effectiveness of U.S. Sanctions," Associated Press, June 27, 1998.

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7.Congressional Quarterly, July 11, 1998, p. 1891.

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8. In addition, the legislation permanently removed medicines, medical equipment and fertilizer from the application of sanctions.

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9. Public Law 105-194, the Agriculture Export Relief Act. U.S. wheat farmers won the contract.

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10.Congressional Record, July 15, 1998, p. S8184.

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11. The export control provision of this measure was even more startling for coming at a time when congressional Republicans were inflamed over possibly illegal transfers to China that might have assisted Beijing's missile development efforts.

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12. Sharon M. Lee, "Asian Americans: Diverse and Growing," Population Bulletin, June 1998; Karen Isaksen Leonard, The South Asian Americans (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997). The author is indebted to Joanna Yu for her research assistance in compiling these statistics.

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13. Author interview with Senator Sam Brownback, August 3, 1999.

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14. Carney, "Another Kind of Arms Race," p. 1306.

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15. Brownback interview.

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16. Barbara Leitch LePoer, et al., "India-Pakistan Nuclear Tests and U.S. Response," CRS Report for Congress, November 24, 1998, p. 35; Brownback interview.

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17. Gary Ackerman, et al., Dear Colleague letter, June 11, 1998; Robert Menendez, Dear Colleague letter, June 16, 1998.

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18. LePoer, et al., pp. 22-26.

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19. See, for example, Richard N. Haass and Gideon Rose, eds., A New U.S. Policy Toward India and Pakistan (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1997); and Richard N. Haass and Morton H. Halperin, eds., After the Tests: U.S. Policy Toward India and Pakistan (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1998).

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20. Aziz Haniffa, "Pallone Hails New Delhi's Transparency," India Abroad, August 27, 1999.

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21. Public Law 105-292.

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