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Establishing Strong Security Ties With India and Pakistan
Prepared remarks by Secretary of Defense William J. Perry , The Foreign Policy Association, New York, Tuesday, January 31, 1995

I'm going to focus my discussion ... today on two particular questions. First, why do we care about security on the Indian subcontinent? And second, why do we think we can influence security in that region of the world?

I'll start off by observing that India and Pakistan have longstanding ethnic, religious and territorial differences dating back to their partition in 1947. These differences have caused them to fight three wars since partition. Today, each of them has the capability to build nuclear weapons. Because of this nuclear capability, a fourth India-Pakistan war would be not just a tragedy -- it could be a catastrophe. So we care a lot about what happens there.

But we care about not just the stability of the region, we also have a strong interest in each of these two countries. India is the world's most populous democracy. Pakistan is a moderate Islamic state which serves as a counterweight to the radical Islamic states in the region. Both of them have important, growing market economies important to the United States. The United States, India and Pakistan all share common values in addressing global problems, including making international peacekeeping efforts more effective.

So for all of these reasons we have a strong interest in deepening the security and military ties between the United States and India on the one hand, and the United States and Pakistan on the other.

With Pakistan the trip was a matter of reviving defense relations between our two countries which had been strong at one time but which had become dormant. With India it was a matter of building a defense relationship almost from scratch.

We believe that strong defense relationships and increased cooperation with India and Pakistan will allow us to better pursue our common security interests, but at the same time they'll provide a better basis for working out the policy differences which we have with each of those countries.

One of the challenges we face with these countries is the issue of nuclear proliferation. I talked about that in both Islamabad and in New Delhi, but it was not the main focus of my trip.

Let me be very clear: We are sticking to our position on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are working hard to get that treaty extended indefinitely. Therefore, we continue to press India and Pakistan to work with us on the goal of capping, reducing and eventually eliminating their nuclear weapon programs. We are urging both countries to avoid further destabilizing the situation by acquiring new capabilities in missile technology.

But as I approached this trip I recognized that the nuclear ambitions of India and Pakistan flow from a dynamic that we are unlikely to influence in the near term. We might be able to influence it over the long haul, but only if in the meantime we can prevent the tension from flaring into another conflict. So it's a matter of putting first things first.

We therefore decided to be realistic about nuclear nonproliferation in the near term. Rather than seeking an immediate rollback, which we concluded was unattainable in those two countries, we decided instead to seek to cap their nuclear capabilities. That was the first and the most important decision. I want to take a moment to explain why we made that decision.

The genesis of their nuclear ambitions and the unlikelihood of an immediate rollback becomes clearer if you sit through a threat assessment briefing, which I did, in each of the two countries. One day I sat through a detailed threat briefing from the Pakistani military. Two days later I sat through the counterpart briefing from the Indian military. It's hard to believe that they were talking about the same subcontinent -- the briefings were so different from each other, and, I might say, different from comparable briefings I would get from the United States military.

Pakistan sees its nuclear program as a deterrent not only to India's nuclear capability, but also to India's conventional superiority.

If India had a mirror image of the threat, there would be some hope of engaging the two sides in a dialogue and some hope that this dialogue could lead to an agreement to reduce or to eliminate nuclear weapons. But India's perception is very, very different.

India worries about Pakistan, but it views its long-term security picture in the context of China. Therefore, India wants to retain its nuclear capability to deter the Chinese military, which is superior to India s both in nuclear and in conventional capability.

Thus if I were to hammer on India and Pakistan to roll back their nuclear programs, it is unlikely that I would be successful in the absence of any global actions to reduce tensions in Asia.

Let s look specifically at the example of Pakistan. For most of the Cold War the United States and Pakistan were very close. Pakistan was on the front line in checking Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. And over the years Pakistan received a great deal of economic and military aid from the United States. Indeed, it armed most of its military with United States-made equipment.

But in 1990, as the Cold War was winding down, congressionally mandated sanctions under the Pressler Amendment went into effect. This amendment bans all military and economic aid to Pakistan until such time as the president can certify that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear explosive device -- which the president cannot certify, because we believe it does possess a nuclear explosive device.

One result of this amendment was to halt the delivery of F-16s from the United States to Pakistan. Indeed, the F-16s were already on the production line. The insignia of the Pakistani Air Force had already been painted on the F-16s, and the Pakistanis already had partially paid for the airplanes when the sanctions went into effect.

We built a total of 28 F-16s for Pakistan, and they paid $650 million for them. But under the Pressler Amendment we cannot deliver the airplanes, No. 1. And No. 2, we cannot give Pakistan back its money because their money has already been spent building the planes.

That was the backdrop against which I went to Pakistan. And they're mad as hell about that. In fact, I've never been to a country where even the taxicab drivers and the schoolchildren know in detail about a law passed by the U.S. Congress. I think Sen. [Larry] Pressler may have higher name recognition in Islamabad than he does in Sioux Falls [S.D.].

While these sanctions have had a strong impact on our relations with Pakistan, they have not brought about the policy goals of the amendment s supporters. In fact, the weakening of Pakistan's conventional forces, which resulted from this amendment, has led Pakistan's leaders to conclude that the nuclear capability is even more important to maintaining the security of their country. As a consequence, every person that I talked to in Pakistan -- from military leaders to the prime minister -- was categorical and emphatic in stating that Pakistan would not, and should not, give up its nuclear capability. Indeed, any Pakistani political leader who proposed to give it up would simply be committing political suicide.

I made it very clear to Pakistan that the Pressler Amendment is a fact of life, and it's not likely to go away. But my point to you today is that this amendment is a blunt instrument. I saw no evidence that it has increased our influence or leverage with Pakistan. To the contrary, I saw ample evidence that it has undermined the influence that we formerly had there.

That's the story on Pakistan. Now we move to India.

The Indians are just as committed to their nuclear program. In their eyes, which understandably are focused on China, it is a cost-effective deterrent. The destabilization it causes closer to home between India and Pakistan, as they see it, is an unfortunate, but acceptable, side effect. They reject the Pakistani perception of a threat from India.

Ironically, the Indians also complain about the Pressler Amendment because they believe -- incorrectly, I might add -- that our refusal to sell arms to India stems from our application of the Pressler approach to both countries in order to maintain an even-handed balance between the two.

Some in the United States have taken the approach that we should take the Pressler Amendment one step further. They think that because of the nuclear issue in both countries, we should not broaden our security dialogue with either Pakistan or India. I strongly disagree with this view.

First of all, we should be clear that while we have fundamental disagreements with Pakistan and India on nuclear proliferation, there are other nuclear issues where we share the same goals and indeed are working together.

For instance, we both look forward to continuing work on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and also on a global halt to the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. These important steps would effectively cap their nuclear weapons capability.

Second, we should appreciate the worst-case scenario and consider what the United States can do to help avoid it. The worst-case scenario, of course, would be if India and Pakistan allow their tense relations and their nuclear capability to drive them towards a nuclear arms race or even to a nuclear war.

In 1962 when John Kenneth Galbraith was serving as the ambassador to India, he wrote a letter to President [John F.] Kennedy. In it he stated, "Politics is not the art of the possible. [Rather, i]t consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."

Today, we find India and Pakistan's position on nuclear proliferation unpalatable. But to use this as a reason to disengage from the region or to avoid deepening our security ties with these nations could undermine efforts to cap their destructive capability. It could even help push them into an unfettered arms race. That would be inviting the disastrous.

I believe that we can best help avoid the disastrous by building bridges of trust between the United States and India and between the United States and Pakistan. From this perspective I believe that we made solid progress on the trip.

Our delegation was very warmly received in both Islamabad and New Delhi. It would have been very easy to have designed this trip to be warmly received in one country or the other. The trick was to be warmly received in both countries. The key to this trip was being even-handed and consistent -- saying essentially the same thing in both capitals.

We told them that we want to build on our shared security interests and deepen our defense cooperation, even though we disagree on the nuclear issue. Our primary vehicle for deepening this cooperation will be through military-to-military ties. These are an important component of any healthy strategic relationship. One way these ties build trust is by helping both sides understand each other's defense policies and strategic intentions. In the Pentagon we call this transparency. It means being open and public about defense strategy, defense planning, defense programs and defense budgets. I tried to impress on both countries the benefit to them of greater openness in defense -- benefits for the stability and the security of the region.

Despite the fact that neither Pakistan nor India considers itself a threat to the other, both countries spend much more than they can afford each year because they fear aggression by the other. So greater transparency in the defense area can help lessen these tensions and help each of these countries start reducing the crippling expenses of their defense programs.

This is a theme I also stressed on a recent visit to China, which was a point I was very careful to make to the Indians. They are very concerned about the threat from China and indeed ... exaggerate the threat from China in the absence of this transparency.

In India the Indian defense minister and I agreed to have a detailed exchange of information between India and the United States about these topics. In Pakistan, we revived a consultative group that will help with the exchange of information about defense policies and planning between the United States and Pakistan. This consultative group is not forbidden by the Pressler Amendment, but it has been dormant since that amendment went into effect. The Pakistanis and we agreed that it was time for its revival.

Another area of progress in both countries is international peacekeeping. India and Pakistan are two of the world's largest contributors to international peacekeeping operations. Indeed, American forces have served alongside Pakistani and Indian forces in Somalia, in Bosnia and in many other troubled regions of the world.

I told both governments that the United States truly appreciates their contributions to peacekeeping, and we talked about how we could work together more effectively in that area. Indeed, we began the planning for joint exercises in international peacekeeping operations. These will not only provide valuable lessons for improving peacekeeping missions, but also have an inherent potential for confidence building. One possibility is to have not only joint exercises between Indians and Americans and Pakistanis and Americans, but also to organize a three-sided exercise. Such an exercise involving all three countries would only be possible in the peacekeeping area, but I think we might be able to do it. It would be a very important confidence-building move for that part of the world.

I should point out that one thing I did not discuss on this trip was military arms sales. Under Pressler our government cannot sell weapons to Pakistan. And in India, I stressed that arms sales were simply not on the agenda. I did say that we would look for ways of gradually increasing cooperation in defense research and production, but I emphasized that this would not be an area for immediate or bold steps.

One of the toughest aspects of this trip was convincing each country that America's relations on the subcontinent are not -- I say, not -- a zero-sum game. During the Cold War that is exactly the way they were perceived. If our relations with one country warmed, they automatically had to cool with the other. That was the way it happened during the Cold War. It does not have to be that way anymore.

For most of the Cold War India, nominally a leader of the nonaligned movement, was actually very close to the Soviets, who supplied India's armed forces with weapons and equipment. But now with the end of the Cold War the reasons for the distance between America and India are gone. This presents us with new opportunities for cooperation with India -- cooperation that does not have to be at the expense of Pakistan.

I told both India and Pakistan that we thought it was in each country's interest for the United States to have a good relationship with the other, and I am happy to report that both countries seemed to accept this proposition. If we can at least build trust between the United States and Pakistan and between the United States and India, then perhaps there is some hope for easing the tension and building trust between Pakistan and India themselves.

In Pakistan I visited the Khyber Pass, that narrow and mountainous passage which connects the subcontinent to Afghanistan. It is a place stark in its beauty and steeped in history, strife and fable. For nearly a century the Khyber Pass was the fulcrum of the great game between the British raj and czarist Russia for control of the subcontinent. In our lifetime it was a focal point of Western efforts to stem Soviet expansion. But neither the great powers of the last century nor the superpowers of this one have ever truly controlled the Khyber Pass.

The Pakhtun tribesmen who live there have defended it for centuries against invading powers -- Macedonian, Moghul, British, and, most recently, Russian. The Pakhtuns bravery in defense of their region was recorded as far back as the fifth century B.C. by Herodotus. Today you can still see the plaques embedded in the Khyber's rocky walls marking fallen British regiments.

With the end of the Cold War the Khyber Pass no longer serves as a strategic passage for those seeking control of the subcontinent. Instead it's a gateway to a subcontinent -- more free than at any time in recent history from the chess games of larger powers. The nations of the subcontinent stand as important players on the world stage. These nations are vibrant, vital and as proudly independent as the Pakhtuns guarding the Khyber.

We do not have an exact identity of interest with either Pakistan or India. No two nations ever do. But we must not ignore them. We need to work with each as partners, stressing what's right with our relationship -- not as adversaries stressing what's wrong with our relationship. I truly believe that by staying engaged and by building on our shared security interests with Pakistan and India, America can be an important force for peace and stability on the subcontinent.

The ending of the Cold War has opened a door on the Indian subcontinent. There are two alternative futures out there waiting to come in. One entails an escalation of the arms race and the dangers of a fourth India-Pakistan war -- possibly even a nuclear war. The other alternative future entails a capping of the arms race, a lowering of tension and India and Pakistan working together to resolve the problems in the region.

We cannot control that outcome, but we can influence it, and we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to do the best we can to influence it.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission.