Thank you for providing me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your colleagues. The decision by India and then Pakistan to test nuclear devices is one of the defining events of the first decade of the post-Cold War era. It tells us that democracy and markets are no panacea, that American primacy is not the same as hegemony, and that while the world may be more whole economically, it remains fragmented both politically and militarily.
The Indian and Pakistani tests are both unhelpful and unwelcome. South Asia has moved to a new level, one of two explicit nuclear weapons states that have openly tested. U.S. efforts to prevent this new situation from coming about—a policy predicated on deterrence through the threat of comprehensive economic sanctions—failed in the aftermath of the election of the new Indian government.
Still, it is important to keep matters in perspective. Even before these tests were carried out both countries were de facto nuclear weapons states that in one case (India) had tested overtly and in another (Pakistan) had developed a capability without visible testing.
Moreover, there are several scenarios that can be imagined that would be far worse than testing for South Asia and the world, including actual deployment of nuclear weapons, their use, or their being transferred to third parties. It must be the goal of American foreign policy to prevent any of these outcomes. “Rollback” to a non-nuclear South Asia is simply not a realistic policy option for the foreseeable future. As a result, U.S. policy toward this region must be one of management, not prevention.
Current U.S. policy—in this case, the implementation of punitive economic sanctions—is almost certain to be irrelevant to this management challenge and at worst counter-productive. The United States has important interests in both India and Pakistan, including the promotion of democracy and human rights, expanding economic cooperation, and cooperating on a host of regional and global challenges. In addition, we need to provide India and Pakistan incentives and possibly assistance to help them manage their new nuclear challenge. At the same time, it makes no sense to introduce broad sanctions that could actually weaken political authority in Pakistan, a state already burdened by economic and political problems. To be blunt, a stable Pakistan in possession of nuclear weapons is reason enough to worry; an unstable Pakistan would be that much worse.
This said, sanctions are a fact of life, and the immediate objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to negotiate a package of measures that stabilizes the situation in South Asia and is acceptable to India, Pakistan, the Administration, and a majority in Congress. Diplomacy must provide the “exit strategy” that the relevant legislation fails to lay out.
What might such a package look like? India and Pakistan could agree to the following steps:
—no further testing;
—no deployment of missiles with nuclear warheads;
—no transfer of nuclear or missile technology to any third party;
—new confidence-building measures (CBMs), including regular high-level meetings, exchanges of military observers, and no missile flight tests in the direction of one another’s territory.
In return, the United States would agree to remove the punitive sanctions and keep in place only those sanctions that block the provision of technology that has the potential to contribute to Indian and Pakistan missile and nuclear efforts.
We should also consider providing intelligence and/or technology that could contribute to regional and nuclear stability. U.S. diplomatic assistance ought to be made available where both countries desire.
There are other potential elements in any negotiated package, including formal adherence by India and Pakistan to the NPT and the CTBT, “no first use” pledges, and mutual cessation of fissile material production. It is my judgment that it will not be possible to get both to formally sign on to the first three commitments and that it would not make much difference if they did. A freeze or ceiling on fissile material production would be more meaningful but also extremely difficult to achieve and monitor.
For some in the Congress and beyond, the approach recommended here will not be enough. There is a desire to punish India and Pakistan and to send a message to other would-be nuclear states that proliferation doesn’t pay.
This desire to send a message is understandable but should be resisted in this instance. India and Pakistan will pay a price—economically and strategically—for their decisions. The goal for U.S. policy must now be to manage the situation as it exists. We do not have the luxury of doing otherwise.
Moreover, there is no reason that a realistic policy of management for these two countries need lead to proliferation elsewhere. We should continue to use all our foreign policy tools to discourage and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to such countries as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Libya.
Discrimination has long been at the core of U.S. non-proliferation policy; after all, the NPT itself treats the five nuclear “haves” different from everyone else. Also, the United States has always viewed the nuclear programs of Israel, India and Pakistan as something distinct from the programs of the so-called rogues. Such realism is what a successful foreign policy requires.
Esther Care, an education expert at the Brookings Institution, calls the A-F grading system “nonsense.” “Grades are mere proxies for what we value. What we actually value is our children being prepared for the future,” she said. “We need to find ways in educational assessment to convey information about the degree to which they are ready to venture out and to deal constructively with the huge challenges posed by our 21st century.