South Asia: Challenges in U.S. Policy

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for this opportunity to appear before this subcommittee to discuss the challenges—and I would add “opportunities”—facing U.S. policy toward South Asia.

As you know, this hearing takes place in a particular context, one created by the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of last May and the economic sanctions introduced by the United States in the aftermath of the tests. The current context also reflects the sustained, detailed diplomatic exchanges between the U.S. and Indian government on one hand and the U.S. and Pakistani government on the other.

But the context for this hearing goes beyond the nuclear tests and U.S. responses. One development that also needs to be kept in mind is the recent Lahore summit between the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers, a meeting that was important not only for the fact that it took place but also for what it accomplished.

I would add one more point in the way of introduction. Any consideration of the context on U.S. policy toward South Asia for this hearing should also take a longer and larger perspective. We are approaching the end of the first decade of the post-Cold War world. The Cold War’s end liberated U.S.-Indian relations from a structure that often pitted the two countries against one another. Differences in the nuclear realm should not be allowed to obscure this changed reality, much less prevent the United States and India from defining and realizing a new and more productive relationship. Much the same applies to Pakistan.

Guidelines for U.S. Policy

U.S. policy toward India and Pakistan should be informed by a number of guidelines:

  • U.S. policy should not be dominated by a narrow preoccupation with nuclear-related concerns. The United States also has a stake in preventing conflict of any sort in South Asia; promoting democracy and market economic reforms in India and Pakistan; expanding trade and investment with both countries; and developing cooperation with these two governments on a broad range of regional and global challenges that run the gamut of political, economic and security concerns, including (but not limited to) terrorism, drugs, and peacekeeping. The long-term objective should be to establish strategic relationships, even partnerships, with both countries.

Within the nuclear realm, U.S. foreign policy should not be dominated by a demand for ends that are unrealistic and beyond reach for the foreseeable future. Nuclear roll-back is not a serious objective. Nor is Indian or Pakistani signature of the NPT. A complete stop to further production of fissile material is also likely to be beyond reach absent a global agreement along these lines. Neither is about to forego deployment of nuclear warheads and delivery systems. Rather, Washington should seek to influence the size and composition of the Indian and Pakistani arsenals and their associated doctrines. India should be encouraged to seek a posture of sufficiency, not equality, vis-a-vis China; Pakistan should be urged to seek the same vis-a-vis India.

Deployment decisions may be as important as warhead numbers. Both countries should be encouraged to avoid placing weapon systems in a status that would require decisions to “use or lose” weapons to be made in a matter of minutes. “De-alerting” (de-mating) of weapons ought to be strongly supported so as to buy time in a crisis.

The United States can approach the two principal countries of South Asia through a regional prism when it comes to suggesting and implementing confidence building measures. But arms control proposals that aim to affect capabilities in the nuclear realm must include China and possibly others if they are to have any appeal in India.

Such a stance represents realism, not defeatism. The United States should focus on what is desirable and doable in the nuclear realm. This includes bringing about an end to additional nuclear weapons tests by India and Pakistan; Indian and Pakistani signing of the CTBT; and enlisting the participation of both countries (for example, through association with various “supplier clubs”) in global efforts to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles that could deliver them.

Realism along the lines discussed above poses little or no threat to ongoing efforts to stem global proliferation. Indeed, discrimination has been at the heart of the nuclear nonproliferation regime since its inception. The NPT itself distinguishes between the five “haves”—China, France, the Soviet Union (now Russia), the United Kingdom, and the United States—and everyone else. For decades, India, Pakistan and Israel (all of whom are non-signatories of the NPT) have enjoyed a special, de-facto status. A significant number of countries, including Ukraine, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan, have eschewed nuclear weapons for their own reasons—just as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran (all of whom are NPT signatories and, in the case of North Korea and Iraq, clear violators) are pursuing a nuclear weapons capability for their own reasons. What motivates governments to develop nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction tends to reflect internal and local factors far more than reactions to global developments or to decisions taken by India and Pakistan.

South Asia must figure more prominently in the U.S. dialogue with China. China bears more than a little responsibility for what has evolved in South Asia given its own nuclear and missile programs (which threaten India) and the assistance it has provided to Pakistan’s nuclear efforts over the years. In addition to pressing China to cease any nuclear-related cooperation with Pakistan, the United States should urge China to take steps that reduce the threat it poses to India. Such steps would include reducing the alert status of its systems, deployment limitations, and various Sino-Indian CBMs.

The administration is correct in insisting that India cannot be allowed to bomb its way onto the UN Security Council. But neither should India be forever denied such status because it has nuclear weapons. After all, the five permanent members of the Security Council are also states with nuclear weapons. In the long run, a UN Security Council that excludes India—and I would add Japan and Germany as well—is unlikely to play a central role in ordering international affairs. Indian membership in APEC, while not a substitute for joining the UN Security Council, would nonetheless be a desirable development.

The United States should work with India and Pakistan to help them implement confidence building measures (CBMs) announced at the Lahore summit. Such CBMs—including agreements to provide advance notice of ballistic missile flight tests, enhance communications links, and enter into accords modeled on the U.S.-Soviet Incidents at Sea and Accidental Measures agreements—deserve not only our verbal support but intelligence and technical assistance if warranted and welcomed. Further “bus diplomacy” and parliamentary exchanges should be encouraged, as should additional CBMs and other aspects of normalization, including trade, tourism, and educational and cultural exchange.

Economic sanctions have come to assume too large a role in U.S. policy toward India and Pakistan. It is not simply that sanctions failed to do what they were designed to do, namely, deter Indian and Pakistani nuclear testing. Rather, it is also that the United States has too many interests at stake to allow sanctions to dominate both bilateral relationships. Pakistan in particular is a country whose stability cannot be taken for granted; sanctions can work against our many interests there. Similarly, it is difficult to see how U.S. goals are promoted by an inability to contribute to India’s civil nuclear power sector, elements of which are in poor condition. The United States has other tools at its disposal to slow proliferation or counter its consequences; we should not place so much emphasis on the sanctions tool given its limitations and side effects. The decision by Congress to provide the President with the authority to waive sanctions introduced against India and Pakistan was an important step in the right direction. The Pressler amendment, which singles out Pakistan, should be repealed; more generally, remaining sanctions against both India and Pakistan should be phased out in the context of their signing the CTBT and supporting international efforts to combat unconventional weapons proliferation. Export controls should be carefully limited to those technologies with the potential to make a significant impact on Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons or missile programs.

On Kashmir, U.S. policy must be guided by realism. The dispute is not ripe for resolution; any talk of “final status” is bound to fail. We need to encourage a policy that involves small steps, takes into account the desires of the inhabitants, and does not make it an obstacle to improving other areas of Indo-Pakistani relations. The United States should be prepared to appoint a “Special Kashmir Coordinator” if one would be welcomed by the two governments.

The series of talks involving the Deputy Secretary of State and senior Indian and Pakistani officials are a step in the right direction. But the measure of the success of these talks must transcend the ability to reach a deal over nuclear policies and sanctions. The goal must be to institutionalize high-level dialogue between the United States and each of the two governments on a full range of concerns that affect the basic elements of post-Cold War order. What would also help in this regard would be increased visits by members of Congress to the region—and a presidential visit this year.

A New Thrust for U.S. Policy

The thrust of my remarks should be clear: U.S. policy toward India and Pakistan, that is, the sum of executive branch and congressional policies, needs to be shaped by realism, not orthodoxy; the United States cannot afford a one dimensional, nuclear-only policy; and the United States cannot rely so heavily on the sanctions tool.

Both India and Pakistan have the potential, for better or worse, to affect a broad range of U.S. interests and policies in the post-Cold War world. Either or both countries can be our partners, obstacles to what we seek, or bystanders. It is clearly preferable that both India and Pakistan become America’s partners. This will only have a chance of happening, however, if the United States devotes more time and more thought to these relationships.