The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by Aziz Haniffa with Strobe Talbott for India Abroad.
Aziz Haniffa: What was your rationale for writing Engaging India? What do you hope it will achieve?
TALBOTT: My principal purpose was to record and give my impressions of an episode that is of some importance because of what it ended up meaning to the quality and direction of the bilateral relationship. It is the second and—I would firmly predict—last book of this kind.
As a journalist, I used to write journalistic accounts of how policy and diplomacy are made. After eight years in government, I wanted to return to that genre only with the vantage point of somebody who is part of the process. I did that with the book on Russia that came out two years ago. I have done it here as those are the two most meaty and significant episodes I was involved in.
You are a prolific author, particularly on politics and diplomacy, not to mention on the likes of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, even translating the works of Nikita Khrushchev. But this is your first book on South Asia. How would you rate this book in your repertoire?
I put it differently. It’s the first book not on Russia and the former Soviet Union. It’s new in that respect. How would I rate it? It’s my most recent brilliant book [laughs uproariously].
But what’s a serious answer to that? It’s old and new for me. It’s old in that it’s about diplomacy and about policymaking and, of course, in no small measure about nuclear weapons, which is also the subject I have written about since 1980 when my first book was about nuclear diplomacy between the United States and the Soviet Union, as were a number of subsequent books. In that sense, it’s part and parcel of what I have done earlier.
While I have some claim to knowledge of the Soviet Union and Russia, I have no claim or illusions that I am an expert on India. The book was a chance to record an important episode in my education, which is to say my education about India. As a newcomer to the subject, even though I have been going there since 1974, I had much more intense exposure to many aspects of India over the course of the two-and-a-half years of dialogue. I thought it would be interesting to others who want to know more about India to see what I was able to learn through experience and it might even be of some use to people who are genuine experts.