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Home > News > Report

India a reluctant nuclear power: Sibal

Ramananda Sengupta in Colombo | March 23, 2004 01:22 IST

India has always been a 'reluctant nuclear power', says former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

He was speaking Saturday on 'US and Nuclearisation in South Asia,' at a two-day conference in Colombo on the US role in South Asia, organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International studies and the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.

Tracing US-India relations, Sibal said the two nations had a long history of differences, and the nuclear issue goes 'right to the root of them'.

These differences go back to the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the NPT, of which India was the 'prime mover', he said.

But the NPT, as it was finally drafted, officially segregated the nuclear haves and the have nots, without really pledging to get rid of nuclear weapons worldwide, he said.

India, he said, had proposed a three-stage plan, whereby the world would be rid of such weapons by 2012, but this was ignored and sneered at by the nuclear powers.

While the talks on nuclear issues were making no headway, the security situation in South Asia was deteriorating, he said. North of India, China continued to make weapons, while in the west, Pakistan made no secret of its desire to acquire nuclear capability.

In 1993, things got worse when word got out about China's nuclear assistance to Pakistan. "What do you do in a situation like that?" asked Sibal.

Then, right after the first Gulf War in 1991, the US desire to establish not just a new economic but a new strategic order led to a Washington's attempts to deter India's nuclear programme, and 'we were under a lot of pressure'.

Then came the discussions on CTBT, (in the middle of which the French conducted tests). Taking strong objection to article 14 of the CTBT, which demands that India and other nations get on board before it could be adopted, Sibal said, "You cannot foist a treaty on a country."

But the writing was on the wall. Either India could acquiesce and forever relinquish nuclear aspirations, or it could take the 'bull by the horns', he said.

"Finally," he said, "the right decision was taken."

Naturally, he said, there was a strong reaction from the west. Resolution 1172 was passed, slapping sanctions on India.

But subsequent moves by India helped ease the situation somewhat, he added. New Delhi not only unilaterally announced the capping of all future nuclear testing it also agreed to participate in the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, or FMCT negotiations. And as part of its nuclear doctrine, India also announced its policy of no first use, Sibal said.

It took over 11 rounds of intense discussions among Karl Inderfurth, Strobe Talbott and then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to ensure 'there was sufficient understanding to place the issue in proper perspective', he said.

However, certain mindsets still needed to be changed on both sides, he argued. "The US never really was persuaded that India's security was actually threatened," he said. "To them, China was not a problem."

The second problem was that of Pakistan. The US has always viewed Pakistan's tests as having been provoked by India. This despite US evidence that pointed to Pakistan having acquired nuclear technology from China long before that.

While US-India relations had come a long way since the 1998 tests, particularly after 9/11 and President George W Bush's report noting India as a strategic partner, there was still a lot that could be done, Sibal said.

"For instance while the US law forbids the sale of dual use technology to India, both the Russians and the French were keen to sell such technology to India. Instead of blocking such sales, why couldn't the US say 'We can't do it, but you can?'"

Commenting on the recent revelations about nuclear proliferation by Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan, he said while New Delhi had its own views on whether or not the Pakistani government was involved it had kept these to itself because it did not want the issue to seen through the prism of India-Pakistan relations.

He urged the US and the international community to 'delink India and Pakistan', and judge each nation 'separately on merit'.

There was nothing to prevent India being allowed to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which was a political entity to begin with, he argued.

Speaking earlier, former US assistant secretary of state for South Karl Inderfurth too contended that 'paradoxically' Indo-US 'relations began to improve after India's May 1998 nuclear tests'.

"Second, the Kargil crisis in the summer of 1999 brought the two countries closer together," said Inderfurth.

He then quoted an account of the meeting July 4 between President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief at the Blair House by 'my NSC colleague, Bruce Reidel'.

"'The most important strategic result of the Blair House Summit was its impact on Indo-US relations. The clarity of the American position on Kashmir and its refusal to give Pakistan any reward for its aggression had an immediate and dynamic effect on the relationship. Doors opened in New Delhi that had been shut for years. The Indian elite --including the military -- and the Indian public began to shed long held negative perceptions of the US," he said.

The third factor was Clinton's highly successful visit to South Asia, which India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra has simply called the turning point, Inderfurth said. He praised the Bush administration for taking this forward.

Commenting on the US role in the latest peace initiative in the subcontinent, he said, "While the US role in supporting this process with New Delhi can take many forms, but it should not be at the exclusion of other interested parties. Right now, I see an especially valuable, if behind the scenes role, for China."





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