Meenakshi Ahamed interviewed Strobe Talbott and Robert J. Einhorn for Seminar #560, “Building Partnerships,” a symposium on India’s changed relations with the United States.
Strobe Talbott: Let be begin my answer with a couple of points that put the matter in a broader context. It’s important for readers of Seminar to understand what is – and what is not – at issue for me and quite a few other Americans who have raised concerns about the deal. I’ll start with what is not at issue: namely, India’s standing as the world’s largest democracy; India’s importance to the US; the need to strengthen – and broaden – the strategic partnership between the US and India; India’s legitimate claim to a position of global leadership; India’s record of responsible custodianship of its military capabilities, including the nuclear ones that it tested – and thus demonstrated – in May 1998.
Once India, in exercise of its sovereign rights, decided to test at Pokhran and to proclaim itself a nuclear-weapons state outside the NPT, there was neither an attempt by the Clinton administration to ‘pressure’ India back across the threshold it had crossed, nor an illusion that it could do so. Rather, there was an attempt to see if there might be some way to reconcile India’s irrevocable decision and the nuclear posture that flowed from it (‘credible minimum deterrence’) with the imperative of preserving the global nonproliferation regime. The premise on the American side was always that such an attempt was respectful of and compatible with India’s own interests, as explained to us by our Indian interlocutors.
We tried and failed to come up with such an arrangement. I won’t inflict on you and your readers that story, since it’s all in my book.
Now to the Bush administration. For the first several years, there was a high degree of continuity with the policy and objectives of the Clinton administration. One important point of continuity was that because of its decision to remain outside the NPT as a nuclear weapons-state, India could not be treated fully as though it were a party to the treaty and eligible for all the rights and privileges of those states that had foregone the nuclear-weapons option.
That changed with the deal that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush made last year. The US government decided, de facto if not quite de jure, to make an ‘India exception’ to the NPT. The latest deal, struck between the PM and the President in Delhi, merely refines some of the details.