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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Strobe Talbott
Deputy Secretary of State
Address at Conference on Diplomacy and Preventive Defense
Co-sponsored by the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict
and the Stanford-Harvard Preventive Defense Project
Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
January 16, 1999

Blue Bar

Dialogue, Democracy and Nuclear Weapons in South Asia

Thank you, Chris [Warren Christopher], for the kind introduction and for the chance to serve for four years at your side. It is also to be back together with our other colleagues: Bill [Perry], Peter [Tarnoff], Frank [Wisner], Tom [Simons] and Ash [Carter]. Chris, it was you who introduced me to the practice of preventive diplomacy in South Asia. Immediately after swearing me in as your deputy in 1994, you dispatched me to Pakistan and India with the assignment of trying to persuade the two Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and P. V. Narasimha Rao, from ratcheting up their military competition. I was not totally successful.

But I had already learned a thing or two about patience from Warren Christopher, so, undeterred, I have persisted. A week from next Thursday, I'm joining the other members of our interagency flying squad -- Joe Ralston, Rick Inderfurth, Bob Einhorn, Bruce Riedel, and Matt Daley -- for a trip to New Delhi and Islamabad. It will be Round 8 of the parallel dialogues we've been conducting with India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the explosions last May in the Pokhran Desert of Rajasthan and the Chigai Hills of Baluchistan.

Here is the essence of what I see as both the challenge and what we are trying to do. Because of those tests, we are confronted with a lamentable but for the foreseeable future, irreversible fact: India and Pakistan have formally and overtly demonstrated that they have nuclear weapons. In so doing, they made themselves in 1998 even more part of the problem of regional and global proliferation than they were before. However, they can, in 1999, if they so choose, move back in the direction of being part of the solution -- and they can do that while enhancing their own security at the same time.

One way they can move back in the right direction in the political sphere is by intensifying contacts and confidence-building measures, including on the issue of Kashmir. But they can also do it by taking four important steps in the security field:

Our discussions with the Indians and Pakistanis over the past 7 and a half months have inevitably focused on these core non-proliferation issues, but we've tried not to lose sight of the broader context -- and indeed the broader definition of security itself. With both parties, we have been trying to make the case that security is not just a matter of what kind of weapons they have and in what quantities; rather, security is also, crucially, a matter of raising living standards and building healthy democracies. The essence of the argument that we're making to the Indians and Pakistanis is that in pursuing what we believe is their ill-advised reliance on nuclear deterrence, we hope very much they will not jeopardize the other, political and economic dimensions of their own safety.

Let me elaborate, starting with the issue of democracy. It has long been a guiding principle of American foreign policy -- which is to say, American preventive diplomacy -- that promoting democracy advances America's own interests, including its security interests. That is because democracies are more likely to abide by their international commitments -- more likely to be stable trading partners, less likely to interfere in the affairs of their neighbors, and less likely to make war on each other.

South Asia has been a testing ground for that proposition. While the record is mixed and the future clouded, there is reason for some encouragement. Today, more people live under democratic rule in South Asia than in any other part of the world. As South Asian democracies have matured, they have generally moved to settle their differences in peaceful fashion.

India and Pakistan's neighbors also offer evidence of a more hopeful trend. Tensions and misunderstandings are far less likely to arise between India and its smaller neighbors, Bangladesh and Nepal, now that democracy has taken root in those countries and now that India has consciously moved toward an admirably more far-sighted and generous approach.

Even in Sri Lanka, whose long democratic experience has failed thus far to end a bloody ethnic conflict, most observers and many government officials believe that a resolution will not be achieved on the battle field, but through negotiations and the devolution of power.

But now let me do what our Indian interlocutors frequently urge us to do, and that is look beyond the Subcontinent. The gravitational pull of South Asian democracy extends well beyond South Asia. If India's democracy continues to flourish, it can exercise a positive influence on those countries in East Asia where democracy is either in jeopardy or only a gleam in the eye of would-be reformers.

One such country that would so benefit is China -- which is very much on India's mind, as well as our own. India can continue to serve as an important reminder to China that democracy is not only possible, but also necessary, if a government is to succeed in binding a huge and diverse population into a successful modern state. As others have noted, China is an immensely complicating dimension to what we are talking about at this conference. China's role in the security situation on the Subcontinent would provide enough fodder for a whole different follow-up session.

As for Pakistan, it has an important and positive role to play beyond the bounds of South Asia. Pakistan combines the attributes of a deeply religious society with many strengths of a moderate, pluralistic democratic political system. As such, it has the potential to encourage likeminded forces in an Islamic world that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia.

That is the good news to date, and it has promising implications for the future. But there's a darker side of the picture as well. In the last several years, we've seen the resurgence of forces in both India and Pakistan that threaten to undermine pluralism, civil society, good governance and the rule of law -- without which democracy loses its viability and indeed its meaning. In both countries, extremist factions and sectarian-based parties are on the rise. The world has been watching closely the growth in India of caste and religious-based politics. Even more alarming has been the spate of murderous attacks on Christians in Gujarat and Shantinagar. India today reverberates with inflammatory rhetoric from religious leaders who seem bent on opening the wounds that Gandhi and Nehru worked so hard to heal -- and thus jeopardizing what Indians rightly and proudly regard as their "civilizational" experience.

It's with much the same apprehension that we've seen, in Pakistan, the trend toward "Islamicizing" the constitutional and legal system. This development has coincided with outbreaks of deadly sectarian violence in Karachi and the Punjab. Just two weeks ago in Punjab, 16 Shi'ites were gunned down while praying at their mosque in early January. The attempted assassination of Prime Minister Sharif on January 3 was another sign of burgeoning political violence.

There appears to be a perverse and dangerous interplay between the politics of Pakistan and the turmoil inside Afghanistan. With the emergence of the Taliban, there is growing reason to fear that militant extremism, obscurantism and sectarianism will infect surrounding countries. None of those countries has more to lose than Pakistan if "Talibanization" were to spread further.

All of this is highly relevant to the nuclear question in South Asia -- and therefore to the American effort to engage in preventive diplomacy there. In addition to dealing with the immediate issue of the weapons, we also need to understand the circumstances and trends that could precipitate their use. That reality poses a challenge for Indian and Pakistani statecraft: how best to establish security policies that will, to the greatest extent possible, lengthen the fuses and remove the hair triggers of weaponry now accumulating in both countries.

Let me turn now to the other non-military component of security, which is broad-based prosperity -- or at least a broadly felt hope for progress in that direction. If the average citizen sees the possibility for a better future, then the state is, by definition, stronger and safer.

As Chris and other architects of our support for democracy have emphasized for many years, there is a direct linkage between economic and political freedom. Market economies tend to flourish in democratic settings. Here again, South Asia is a case in point. With the obvious and glaring exception of Afghanistan, the region is beginning to realize its potential as a market for foreign business and investment, and it's making important strides toward integrating into a regional trading bloc.

Bangladesh -- which is too often neglected in discussions of South Asian security -- is key to this hopeful pattern. If it were lifted by a rising tide of regional growth, Bangladesh might gain enough economic self-confidence to export some of its enormous gas reserves. That, in turn, would give a push to regional cooperation. It would fuel India's development as well, given that nation's enormous need for energy. Pakistan and Nepal -- and, a bit further to the north, Central Asia -- are also promising sources of natural gas, hydroelectric power and oil.

But for the pieces of this puzzle to come together in a way -- and in a time frame -- that benefits all the countries of the region, 3 things must happen.

These are all points that we have included in our dialogues with the 2 parties -- and by that I mean not just with the governments of those countries, but with others as well: media, Žlites, think tanks, non-governmental organizations and political figures across a broad spectrum. That brings me to the last subject I want to touch on: the public affairs dimension of preventive diplomacy. This is a sensitive but important dimension of our task.

We understand that Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Sharif must justify their policies to parliaments, where opposition parties are vigorous, voluble and skeptical. India and Pakistan are, after all to their credit and to the world's benefit -- democracies. That fact alone confronts us, in our own practice of statecraft, with something quite different from what we have dealt with in our earlier efforts to conduct arms-control negotiations and head off proliferation with other nations.

For most of the first half-century of the nuclear age, the U.S. focused its diplomatic energies on the other nuclear-armed superpower, which was the opposite of a democracy. Whether under the rubric of SALT or START or INF or MBFR or CFE, our Russian interlocutors took their cue exclusively from the Politburo and the General Staff. Neither they, nor we, gave much thought to sentiment in the Supreme Soviet or on the editorial pages of Pravda, Izvestia and Krasnaya Svezda.

It wasn't until the beginning of the Clinton Administration that we began to get a real taste of what it was like to pursue arms-control and non-proliferation with fledgling democracies. Chris [Warren Christopher], Bill Perry, Ash Carter and I spent a lot of 1993 trying to ensure that, with the breakup of the USSR, there would be only one nuclear-armed successor state rather than four.

Our hardest work was in Ukraine. During our frequent trips to Kyiv, we spent a lot of time calling on the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, where deputies were loath to let President Kravchuk give up the Soviet-era nuclear weapons that had ended up on Ukrainian soil. We succeeded in no small measure because we included a public dimension to our preventive diplomacy.

In that same spirit, we have pursued our arms-control and non-proliferation agendas with India and Pakistan in a way that both recognizes and respects the democratic environment -- with all its pressures and constraints -- in which our interlocutors are operating. In this regard, we admire and welcome the assiduous campaigns that both Prime Ministers have mounted to build support for the CTBT.

For our own part, we have tried to strike a balance between the appropriate degree of confidentiality in the negotiations and a necessary degree of transparency with the public. Here, I actually have in mind 4 publics: our own here in the U.S., the world's, India's and Pakistan's.

With respect of American opinion: we will only be able to build a constituency for dealing with this issue if we are clear and convincing about the stakes in South Asia and about our handling of the nuclear challenge. There are aspects to our position that are inevitably going to be controversial even if -- perhaps I should say, especially if -- we succeed. For example, there are quite a few experts and not a few members of Congress who believe that we should hold India's and Pakistani's feet to the fire, insisting on adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state and on a missile-flight-test ban before we grant any significant sanctions relief.

We believe that following that stern advice would be to make the best the enemy of the good. But we can't just say, "trust us, but don't ask us what's going on in this black box." We've got to make the case for what we're up to and why. We must do the same with regard to international public opinion, particularly in those countries -- like Ukraine, for example, or Brazil or Argentina or South Africa -- that had the option of going nuclear but instead decided, bravely and wisely, to join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states.

In our dialogues with India and Pakistan, we make no claim to having a formal mandate or proxy from any other country or international grouping -- the P-5, the G-8, the South Asia Task Force. But we do feel a political and moral obligation to make sure that our position and proposals are consistent with the various communiquŽs issued by those bodies last June, and that we keep faith with the world community as a whole. That consideration too argues for a carefully calibrated degree of transparency as we move forward.

Now, as for Indian and Pakistani public opinion: here we obviously and properly must let the governments in question decide how much they want to expose to public and parliamentary scrutiny the content of their side of the dialogues that they are conducting with us. We have taken pains not to reveal, or respond to, the Indian and Pakistani positions beyond what their spokesmen have chosen to say in public. But we have seen fit to summarize our own approach, our own goals and our own interests. Not least because we think we have some pretty good arguments worthy of, and appropriate for, consideration and open discussion as well as closed-door deliberations. That's why, in addition to our closed-door session with our official interlocutors, Joe Ralston and I will, in both Delhi and Islamabad, be meeting with members of the media, non-governmental organizations, and other opinion-leaders.

In any event, Chris [Warren Christopher], Bill [Perry] and David [Hamburg], I welcome the chance to be part of your conference here today -- not least because it gives me a chance to benefit from your observations and advice. So with that, over to you and to a discussion that I'm sure will inform and guide me as I mentally pack for next week's travels.

[end document]

Blue Bar

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