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Sanctions are not the answer

This article by HENRY KISSINGER, former US Secretary of State, is re-produced courtesy of dawn/los Angeles Times Syndicate

PRESIDENT Clinton’s initial reaction to the Indian nuclear tests was highly emotional: To think that you have to manifest your greatness by behaviour that recalls the very worst events of the 20th century on the edge of the 21st century, when everybody else is trying to leave the nuclear age behind, is just wrong. And they clearly don’t need it to maintain their security.

The president has been eloquent in his concern about the spread of nuclear weapons. But we destroy our case by employing hyperbole that cannot be translated into operational policy: by claiming a unique insight into the nature of greatness in the 21st century; by the dubious proposition that all other nations are trying to leave the nuclear world behind in the face of obvious efforts to the contrary by Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and when the existing nuclear powers are maintaining large arsenals; by the completely unsupported proposition that countries with threatening nuclear neighbours do not need nuclear weapons to assure their security.

This emotional attitude leaves America better at defining its outrage than its direction, while congressionally mandated sanctions complicate adaptation to changing realities and deprive us of influence to reduce the emerging threat. And all this toward countries which are basically friends of the United States and comprise the essential components of a 21st century international order - India globally, Pakistan regionally.

Any reexamination of policy must begin with the realization that there was no immediate cause for the outbreak of nuclear competition on the subcontinent. India set off its first nuclear explosion in 1974. China tested its first nuclear weapon in 1964. In 1976, as Secretary of State, I failed to dissuade Pakistan from its incipient nuclear programme. The nuclear testing thus serves to remind us that, despite the mantra of globalization, there are geopolitical realities that overwhelm fashionable revelries about universality.

India and Pakistan are testing because, living as they do in a tough neighbourhood, they will not risk their survival on exhortations coming from countries basing their own security on nuclear weapons. While Clinton has every reason to pursue the objectives he is seeking, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan are equally reasonable in pursuing their own nuclear objectives. Therefore, American policy should move from treating India and Pakistan as the problem to incorporating them into the solution as partners in a nonproliferation regime and in easing political tension in South Asia.

In order to pursue a nonproliferation policy, we need not exaggerate the prospect that the tests increase the danger of nuclear war. A nuclear war between India and China is no more probable than is nuclear war between any two of the existing nuclear powers. Neither is likely to risk nuclear war for the issues between them. The same considerations should apply as well between India and Pakistan - though the historic tensions over Kashmir and other issues raise the danger of war regardless of the type of weapon.

Nevertheless, the multiplication of nuclear-armed states makes restraint more elusive and the calculation of deterrence more complicated - especially if nuclear weapons spread into hands less and less able or willing to make rational calculations. As the number of nuclear weapon states increases, so does the risk that some individual nuclear weapons could find their way into the hands of terrorists. Perhaps the greatest danger would arise if a nuclear weapons state possessing insufficient resources to sustain a nuclear arms race offered nuclear technology in return for financial assistance.

That America should do its utmost to prevent nuclear proliferation is therefore self-evident. But our policy will be ineffective until our policymakers learn to differentiate among the various challenges and not pretend that they can devise a universal policy applicable to all situations.

Nations have at least three motives for building nuclear weapons programmes:

(a) The desire to be a world power based on the belief that a nation unable to defend itself against the full range of possible dangers cannot be a world power. Such a nation will both acquire nuclear weapons and strive for the capability to reach any potential adversary. Anxious to preserve their special status, these states are least likely to engage in proliferation except, as in Russia, due to a collapse of discipline. They are also least vulnerable to sanctions because they are tied into the world economy and because the other world powers value their cooperation on other subjects. India is in this category.

(b) Nations that feel threatened by neighbours with larger populations or greater resources may see in nuclear weapons a means to pose unacceptable risks or to create a deterrent against threats to their survival. This is especially the case if the powerful neighbour has nuclear weapons. Such states could be kept from developing nuclear weapons only by a credible guarantee from existing nuclear powers, which is unlikely to be extended and even less likely to be believed. Israel and Pakistan are in this category.

(c) Nations determined to wreck the balance of power in their region and seeing in nuclear weapons a means to intimidate their neighbours and to discourage outside intervention. Iraq and North Korea are in this category.

It follows that there is far from a consensus to leave the nuclear world behind. The countries that have renounced nuclear weapons are mostly in Latin America and Africa or in the Southern Pacific, out of reach of the major nuclear powers, with no significant conflict with them or with each other - at least no conflict of a magnitude justifying the expenditures for a nuclear programme. But in the explosive regions of South and Northeast Asia and the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, the opposite trend prevails.

In these circumstances, Wilsonian universalism must give way to geopolitical analysis. The United States must do what it can to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology. But once proliferation has taken place, we must relate nonproliferation to other objectives and distinguish between countries whose activities represent no threat to American interests or to the peace of the world, and those which enter the nuclear weapons programme to disturb the equilibrium; and between nations that will be prepared to join a nonproliferation regime and those that are either indifferent to or supportive of proliferation. In my opinion, India and Pakistan can be induced to meet all the positive criteria.

But the sanctions imposed by Congress against nations perceived to be developing a nuclear capability prevent this differentiation. Having neither a terminal date nor flexibility, they require new legislation for their modification. These congressionally mandated sanctions are threatening to place American policy into a straitjacket. Some 73 nations and over half the world’s population are now subject to American sanctions. And the fewest of our allies are following our lead. Wilhelminian Germany at the turn of the century took pride in the slogan: Viel Feind, viel Ehr (many enemies, much honour). It wound up substantially isolated by its policy. We should find better models for our own policy.

Sanctions rarely work. But whatever chance they have of working depends on the ability to define an achievable objective. Failing that, they become a permanent aspect of the international scene and demonstrate either the impotence of our policy or lead to the gradual weakening of the state against which the sanctions are being levied. But neither India nor Pakistan can reverse what they have done; one can hardly undo a nuclear test series. And the systematic weakening of neither India nor Pakistan is in the American national interest.

Thus, it is incumbent on the administration and Congress to define relevant objectives capable of being carried out. These must first and foremost seek to contain further nuclear proliferation. India and Pakistan should undertake not to spread either nuclear or missile technology. They should also demonstrate a plausible effort to ease tensions between them. The argument that sanctions are needed to discourage other nations from developing nuclear programmes ignores the fact that most of the rogue nations are already under sanctions and that other potential nuclear powers are sufficiently distant in the future to make it unlikely they would base their decision on our current sanctions policy.

A second objective should be a vigorous diplomacy on both political and arms control issues affecting the subcontinent, including protecting a second-strike capability and the prevention of accidents. But unless Congress modifies the law to allow for a progressive lifting of sanctions, we will manoeuvre ourselves into a posture of permanent hostility to Pakistan, a long-standing ally, and India, the best-established democracy in the emerging world.

There are four conclusions for long-range American policy:

(1) The United States does not have the capacity to carry out such a policy alone. It requires the joint action of the other nuclear powers. Britain has called a high-level meeting of the nuclear weapons states to review existing anti-proliferation policies. The agenda should be expanded to measures to ease political tension on the subcontinent. Germany and Japan should be invited to demonstrate that great power status can be achieved without nuclear weapons.

Such a policy requires differentiation between states that have a record of responsible international conduct and rogue states such as Iraq or North Korea. India and Pakistan should be given an opportunity to join the stronger nonproliferation regime in the context of lifting sanctions. With respect to the latter, strong measures, even unilateral American ones, should not be excluded.

(2) A bipartisan, executive-congressional review of American sanctions policy is essential. A congressional act is a blunt instrument. Passing it requires an agglomeration of constituencies; it can be changed only by assembling a similar consensus in reverse, often from different constituencies. Unless this anomaly is modified, American policy will defeat its own purposes.

(3) The nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan have knocked the last prop out from under the administration’s doctrinaire opposition to ballistic missile defence. During the cold war it was possible to argue that mutual vulnerability guaranteed military restraint. But in a world of multiple nuclear power centres, that argument - which I always rejected - lacks any merit. It is reckless to stake the survival of a society on its vulnerability or on genocidal retaliation - even against an accidental launch. National and theatre missile defence must become a higher national priority.

(4) The national security strategy of the United States is built around nuclear weapons. Yet the rhetoric of the administration stigmatizes them in such absolute terms as to come close to undermining our policy. The administration is right to resist nuclear proliferation but it must not in the process disarm America psychologically. Nuclear weapons cannot be abolished; no inspections system could account for them all. We have every duty to resist the acquisition of nuclear weapons by rogue nations and to guarantee our own security. However, American nuclear disarmament would be sure to be seen by hostile powers as further incentive for their nuclear efforts and as a strategic opportunity.

Courtesy: Dawn/Los Angeles Times Syndicate