Today's date:
Summer 2000

Is South Asia Safer with Nukes?

Bill Clinton is president of the United States. At the time of his visit to South Asia in March, he wrote an article outlining his aims exclusively for NPQ’s weekly column with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Global Viewpoint. An excerpt below.

Aboard air force one—America has learned in recent years, especially from Russia’s troubles and Japan’s economic difficulties, that it is the weakness of great nations, not their strength, that threatens our vision for the future. We are safer when other great nations are at peace with their neighbors and with themselves. We do better when other countries rise from poverty to become our partners in trade and investment. Our freedom is more secure when others have a chance to shape their destiny.

In its 52 years since independence, India has brought about a remarkable political, social and economic transformation. With 17 officially recognized languages and 22,000 dialects, it is a place of extraordinary diversity, that is teaching the world how to live with difference. Hundreds of millions of Indians choose their leaders in free elections and determine their affairs through local governing councils. India’s economy is one of the 10 fastest growing in the world, its thriving high-technology sector one of the brightest spots in the new global economy, expanding 25-fold in the past decade. There now are more television channels available in Mumbai than in most US cities. Meanwhile, Indians are pioneering innovative new sources of clean energy and new ways to combat epidemics of disease.

The 1998 nuclear tests by India and then Pakistan shook the world, intensifying global worries about the spread and potential use of nuclear weapons. Only India and Pakistan can decide how to protect their security. As they do, I hope they will ask themselves: Are they safer today than before they tested nuclear weapons? Will they benefit from expanding their nuclear and missile capabilities, if that spurs their neighbors to do the same? Can they achieve their goals for economic development while making a sustained investment in both nuclear and conventional military forces? Will they be better off at the end of what could be a long, unpredictable and expensive journey?

I am determined that the United States ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, because it will strengthen our national security. India and Pakistan should sign the treaty, as they have committed to do, for the same reason. As the United States and Russia move toward deeper cuts in our nuclear arsenals, South Asia should not be headed in the opposite direction. Narrowing our differences on nonproliferation is important to realizing the full potential of our relationships.

I also believe that India and Pakistan will not achieve real security until they resume dialogue to resolve their tensions. I am not going to mediate the dispute between India and Pakistan. America cannot play that role unless both sides want it. But I urge restraint, respect for the Line of Control in Kashmir, and renewed lines of communication. Both India and Pakistan have legitimate security concerns. But neither can achieve its aims in an escalating contest of inflicting and absorbing pain.
I spoke to General Pervez Musharraf and to the Pakistani people about the steps we believe are important to building a hopeful future for Pakistan: an early return to democracy, a crackdown on terrorist groups, restraint on nuclear and missile programs and a real effort to create the conditions for dialogue with India. If Pakistan takes these steps, we can get back on the path of partnership.

I can imagine a future for South Asia where the people of each nation choose their own democratic destinies, where tolerance is embraced, the threat of regional war is a thing of the past, and countries cooperate for better education and health and prosperity. The region is not there yet. But I know most South Asians share this vision.

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