News

 
News Conference and Q & A with Naresh Chandra, 
Ambassador of India to the US
SUBJECT: RECENT NUCLEAR TESTS BY INDIA AND PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION;
MODERATOR: STEVE RAKIN, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC EDUCATION CENTER 
THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, WASHINGTON, DC 10:05 A.M. EDT TUESDAY, MAY 19, 1998 
 

     AMB. CHANDRA: Thank you very much. 

     Well, distinguished members of the press, first my thanks to give me this opportunity to say something. I don't have a long opening statement, not because I don't have much to say, but because it has all been said in the various speeches, articles, statements, announcements, whatever. I think there is hardly any ground which has not been covered. Every aspect has been analyzed, charges have been made, there have been analysis in depth, there have been conclusions drawn hastily -- all kinds of things. 

     But I will briefly summarize before you the fundamentals which have come out. One fact is very clear, that the latest series of tests conducted by India are a  result of very considered study over a long period of time. A government entrusted with the task of providing adequate security to nearly a billion people is an  awesome responsibilities, and government have been alive to this responsibility ever since the two states of India and Pakistan were created and the violence which accompanied that creation. We have had the experience of 1962 where the folly of neglecting defense was brought home to the people of India, who for the first time realized that while ideals and noble pronouncements are very good, but when it comes to security you have to see the real world as it is and not have any fancy notions or get taken in by overtures of friendship, "bhai-bhai" business, which is "brother" in India -- and all that. 

     And I think while an attempt was made to mend fences, so to speak, including at the border, the fact remained that those who were in the defense and security side of the government started applying their mind as to where India was going and where it had to flourish. The facts since then have shown that we are living in a very tough neighborhood. There are states near our borders who have their own aspirations and security considerations and so have we. And these do not conform, quite often. 

     So at the fundamental level, the states of this area who are improving their economies and strengthening their arrangements are undergoing a period of change. And when this change takes place, there is a lot of elbowing and jostling and so on, and what we are seeing in Asia is nothing new. It has happened in Europe, it has even happened in the American continent. So if you see it in this context, you'll find that what is going on in South Asia is nothing unique. 

     The second point is that if we -- if I can jump quickly to the present -- most strategic thinkers have rejected the conclusion that it is something which has been  done in great haste and by a new government before it could read or find out or gain experience, they have gone ahead and done it. I think if we go on that basis,  we'll be going very wrong. And we will again be showing to the people of India and the region that we really don't have the time to study even the serious questions which affect our security and our future. So I would first make this assertion and if there are questions on it, I will take them. 

     Second, is a kind of a theory which I think, again, we will be going on the wrong track. If we think that there is a fundamentalist segment somewhere which has  gone and done it and others would not have done it, this is plain wrong. And the first -- actually, the most fundamental change which came was the test of 1974. 

     And that was conducted upon the orders of Indira Gandhi, not any person from this party or that party. She was the leader of the Congress Party. And when  she did it, people expected that some party or the other will accuse her of politicking. Well, nobody did. And there was universal support and approval by all the  people of India. 

     Since then, successive governments have spent a lot of money and resources -- not too much but as a part of the budget, they did -- to keep a body of  scientists, technologists -- and this is to everybody's knowledge; there was nothing hidden about it -- because we had announced that while we are not weaponizing, we will certainly keep the nuclear option alive. And there is no government or party in India which has resided from this position. So at a policy level, there has never been a debate. And there is no such thing as fundamental, non fundamental, when this is concerned. 

     Now, we come to the question of the timing. It is said, "Why was it done so suddenly?" And as I had occasion to say somewhere that if after 1974, we take 24 years to do the second test, then "sudden" is hardly the word, which the dictionary would suggest to us for using. And whenever you use it, it's always sudden, because it takes a split second to cause an explosion of this kind. So explosion is sudden, but the decision to test is not sudden. 

     Another point I would like to submit is that we have gone in for this test, and still we are short of induction of nuclear weapons into the military arsenal. A lot of interpretation is put on various statements that are made by one person or the other, including ministers. Some attempt has been make to sensationalize even the  prime minister's statement. But the fact is that this time we are seeing that this is to demonstrate that we have updated technology, which can be used to make  nuclear weapons. 

     It's still not decided, and we'll study the security scenario before we take that decision. 

     The other point that has been made is that we have taken this decision in the overall security consideration. Since we don't have any aggressive design on any  neighbor, the question of coming to the conclusion that this is directed against one or the other is a wrong conclusion. And I think we should not join a chorus or the orchestra to say that something great has happened, because I know there is a world opinion against testing. That world opinion exists in India also. But we have to refine it. 

     I have been receiving letters from all over the United States. Some of them say, "Why have you done it, when world is going towards a nuclear test free  world," and so on. But the majority of them have also said that "in the position that you are, and considering the nuclear arsenal in your neighborhood, you have  done the right thing." 

     We have got these, but since we are an interested party, I don't want to push this information at you. But I would like you to sometimes watch programs on  television where people phone in their questions. I have been watching "Washington Journal" on C-SPAN, and others. And I find 90 percent say that -- "what is all the fuss about? India is in a tough neighborhood. It faces threats." Some go to the extent of saying it faces threat from Red China. Some say that Red China and Pakistan have a nice military cooperation going, a very nice thing, and why should India be left undefended? These are not my words; these are the words of  ordinary Americans from every part of this country. 

     And I'm telling you, these videotapes are available. Please request C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." Do an analysis and find out what the real feelings of the  people of the United States of America is, not what is dished out by one desk or the other. And that is where our greatest strength lies. 

     We have seen that governments are against India this time -- 149 states. But all the people in these 149 states -- do they agree with the policy of their  government? Can a government representative say -- from any country --  including the nuclear weapon states, with the possible exception of China,  where it is not always easy to assess the index of public opinion -- but if you see any democratic country, opinion is divided. 

     There are powerful groups who are critical of their government's policy, and these include retired people who have been in charge of nuclear arsenals, people  who have been secretary of defense, secretary of state, not uninformed people. So this 149 to one is a score which is fallacious. 

     I will just end and entertain questions, with one last issue, and that is, we have made an offer, we wish to talk, and through that talk, as soon as possible reach a position where we assume substantive undertakings contained in the CTBT. And that is where matters they stand today. 

     There is a lot more to say, but I will stop here and give time to questions. Thank you. 

     MR. RAKIN: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. 

     A question up front here? 

     Q Ambassador Chandra, the Indian government has made a statement to the effect that they would be willing to sign on to the CTBT if certain conditions are  met. And I'm wondering if you can elaborate somewhat on what those conditions may be. 

     AMB. CHANDRA: We have not laid down any conditions. There was discussion at Geneva and in New York, and we were in two minds whether to object to the draft or not. But, as you know, at the very last minute Russia, China and United Kingdom introduced a provision, Article 14, which was quite novel -- no  international treaty had such a clause introduced before, that unless these countries signed, which included India and Pakistan, this treaty will not go into effect. And there was also a provision that two years from now, signatories will sit down and devise ways how to persuade these guys to sign. 

     We felt that this is not the way to finalize treaties between sovereign nations, quite apart from the purposes of CTBT. It would set a dangerous precedent. This is one item. 

     But we feel that, considering the pros and cons, there is a lot of room for showing flexibility. And India is willing to engage with key interlocutors from nuclear  weapon states and other countries to reach, as soon as possible, a position where we undertake the substantive undertakings contained in the treaty. 

     MR. RAKIN: Next question, here on the left? 

     Q Ambassador, given your argument about an unsafe neighborhood, do you think that Pakistan has the right to conduct a test? If so, how would India respond and in the end, would this tit- for-tat end up in an open arms race? 

     MR. CHANDRA: That's a very good question; there's the crux of the whole thing. Now you see the point is, that all countries differ about the degree of security required, so to an extent, they have to adjust to their mutually satisfactory position. We are quite willing to talk, and enter into a dialogue with Pakistan. Some talks at foreign secretary level were going. It is a perfect right of any sovereign country to determine its security needs, but this itself requires that you address your security needs in a fashion which doesn't cause apprehension to the neighbors and then it starts an arms race. 

     Now, for 24 years we exercised restraint purely for this reason. We are not interested in arms race. The policy of the government continues to be, and that will be the policy of any wise government, that you must live in peace and cooperation with your neighbors; otherwise, it becomes a zero-sum game. So the central core of India's foreign policy is that. 

     Having said that, we have to watch what is happening in our neighborhood, and if any country finds that developments, especially recent developments are reaching a position where the asymmetry is reaching dangerous proportions, it has to take measures. Now, what we will try to do and what we wish to do is to  convince Pakistan that this threat from India is oversewed. We know what our intentions are, Pakistan has an idea. But they can't know; they are not sitting in our hearts. But what we are trying to do is, let's go for confidence building measures. We will talk and let's convince each other how we can live in this area. 

     But one thing you please understand -- the apprehensions of Pakistan cannot be a cap on the India security arrangements. I don't have to spell out to  well informed and reasonable gentlemen -- like yourself -- you have the experience of the 1962 conflict. This country itself has been engaged in conflicts where the Chinese forces had very strongly assisted North Korea and Vietnam. So what the -- our northern neighbor can do is not something which we are inventing. There is a lot of talk that this is an illusion, a bogie is being raised, but my problem is that I have seen this bogie. Your soldiers have seen this bogie. Please play the tapes again, press the review button, learn from history, and then jump to conclusions. 

     MR. RAKIN: Yes, sir? 

     Q Who does India see as a greater threat to its national security, Pakistan or China, at this point? 

     MR. CHANDRA: I'll again retell it. We don't think that we'll ever like to follow a policy which brings us into confrontation with China or Pakistan,  and I say it with all sincerity, because I know that this is good for the Indian people. 

     Forget the rest. I don't want the people of India having to live in confrontation with a great nation like China and with a great potential brotherly nation like  Pakistan. There is a lot we share; the things we share is often neglected. Everybody focuses, from outside, on the disputes and people don't focus on the areas of  cooperation and the common understanding that we have and on which we can build upon. 

     So having said that, I will say that the strategic thinkers have necessarily to plan for various scenarios. You have countries, industrialized nations, living in a very good neighborhood; don't they arm themselves? What is the immediate threat to the territory of the United States? From whom? What is the threat to Spain? What is the threat to the United Kingdom? Are they not armed? Now, my point is that India has to be adequately armed, China has to be adequately armed, Pakistan has to be adequately armed. 

     Having said that, if you are assessing threats, then any threat from China or Pakistan, in relative terms, is a function of their military strength. And when my  defense minister said that the greatest potential threat would be from China, all he meant was that if you are evaluating threats, the stronger power is the greater  threat, that's all. And everybody knows who has greater military muscle and, therefore, you can draw your own conclusion. 

     MR. RAKIN: Yes, sir? 

     Q There was a statement by the Pakistan ambassador -- an interview to Defense News, that India has designs from the Suez Canal to the Straits of Malacca,  and he also said that India is claiming all the territories where the Ganges flows. And I was wondering whether you have any comment on that? 

     And secondly, the United States has said that we did not give them any advance notice of the nuclear tests. Do we have any agreement with the United States that we will be exchanging our national security secrets? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: I don't think anybody would seriously believe that Indians would dream of going to Suez or everywhere where the Ganga flows. If somebody has come out with these statements, I think they are ravings of an idle mind, or whatever. 

     The government and no serious thinker in India would talk in these terms because we respect sovereignty of nations, we are a responsible member of the U.N., so this sort of thing, a dogma, is anathema. 

     To take your second question, it is with great pain that I have seen some of the statements which have come out. But I would like to mention some facts which are publicly known. Everything broke loose on the 11th morning. So if there was any surprise, it was on the 11th. There was no statement out of anybody that there was duplicity or deception or that people hid facts, that people were misled. Then take the 12th. No statement at all of this type, even from the interlocutors, that they were deceived. 

     Either on the 13th or 14th, I hear the official spokesman talk of duplicity, Mr. Rubin. That tape was played to me on Fox News, all of a sudden, and I was  asked to react. And I told Mr. Hume -- whom I had earlier told that you bears a very famous name, that you bear the name of the founder of the Indian National Congress, the man who started it all. And he said, "Yes, he was from Scotland, and so am I."  But this gentleman, he stopped the tape at the time the accusation was made; and my answer was, "If you had allowed that tape to run, you would have found that the journalists present there had not bought it. And they asked him supplementary questions which caused him some discomfiture. And they said, `What are the supporting documents, evidence or any record with you?' He didn't produce any and he didn't promise any." 

     But the fact is that he has nothing to produce. The facts are publicly known. If you see the evidence entered before the Senator Brownback committee -- I'm  saying nothing, I am just quoting what authorities are saying. Senator Brownback asked Mr. Woolsey, the former director of the CIA, and he said, "Look, the signs were all there. These people have said" -- this is the former director of CIA. You can play the tape again. "that they have been saying that we have a nuclear option and we shall exercise it. Successively they have said it in parliament. Election takes place. The party which is today in power said that we are going to do it." 

     So that was public knowledge. 

     Then when engagement takes place and we talk repeatedly; every interlocutor told the American side that giving-up of the nuclear option or its exercise is not  negotiable. This is an integral part of the brief of our strategic dialogue and has been. Now, why has this occurred? 

     Let me say that the U.S. interlocutors I have been seeing for the last one year or two, three months, are about the best. They have absolutely and brilliantly  presented U.S. policy and approach to us, so they can't be faulted for anything.

     We have been presenting our side, which they have understood, but found possibly -- you know, the -- I am not saying error or mistake -- but the difference in assessment as to what they assessed and what has happened, has many reasons because if somebody keeps telling you, "I am going to exercise the nuclear option, and I can't negotiate on it, and I'll do it one day," for 24 years, and you say, "Look." And that is the assessment they came to. 

     But on the timing, and the allegation by national security adviser about this deception and deception on the ground, I will say this: There is no country, which discloses its strategic facilities. We have regular departments in every government, including this one, of a department of Security or Defense Security, whose job is to protect national secrets. And if we call that "deception," then I am afraid a whole lot of Security departments will have to be renamed, and you'll have a director of Department of Deception and things like that. 

     What has happened is people have performed their normal duties. The rules of diplomatic exchanges have been followed. Nothing specific has been brought out to support this allegation. When Mr. Wolf Blitzer, he asked the NSC about this, he said, "We are inquiring into that." So this is like a prima facie statement, where the inquiry itself has yet not taken place. 

     MR. RAKIN: The next question in the back. 

     Q I'd like to ask you a personal question. 

     It's our information that intelligence intercepts picked up phone conversations going on from your embassy to India, which indicated that you were not informed with a great deal of advance knowledge of these tests. Is that true? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: Well, you see, this is something on which I'm not in a position to talk, except in general terms. So I'm, please understand, not giving  you a specific answer to your question, but I'm presenting to you certain general observations. 

     Given the state of telecommunications and various devices, and the amount of money spent on various agencies, no responsible government would try to transmit information of this nature to its post, because it would not be worthwhile to do so. 

     And the other thing is that a lot is said about when the decision was taken and all that. Those who have been in this business would advise you that in these  matters, there is several times a lot of preparation, and there is always the possibility of postponement or deferment or cancellation, almost till the last minute. So in such a situation, keeping ambassadors informed all over the world is not a proper thing to do. So that is the only the general picture I can paint before you. 

     Q How difficult did that make your job in dealing with the American administration after the blasts? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: Well, nobody promised me that it's a pleasurable job, although I've derived intense pleasure with my two years' stay here. But you have to take the rough with the smooth. 

     MR. RAKIN: A question in the back there? 

     Q This is along the same lines. Regardless of your negating this attempted deception, tomorrow Jane's Defense Weekly is going to come out with an article  stating exactly that -- that India moved too much equipment to one place, which refocused the attention on that. Do you still continue to say that there's nothing to  these stories? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: What do you expect if something is being done? Can you tell me one government in this whole world who will behave differently, except a superpower, who doesn't care? 

     Somebody asked me, "Then why are you developing countries so sort of secretive and confidential?" I gave him the example of, say, a boxing ring. You know, if I'm pitted against somebody like Sonny Liston or Muhammed Ali and he comes into the ring, he will take off his robe and very gladly he will expose. But I'll hesitate like anything before I take off my robe. So the developing countries have extraordinary responsibilities of hiding their strengths and weaknesses, and I don't think anybody other than a superpower can afford to make a public exhibition of his strategic facilities. 

     MR. RAKIN: Do you have a follow-up? 

     Q Well, but if you are trying to build confidence, as you say you are, and have nothing to hide, why not? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: But we have openly said that the point is that it is not-you are seeing it in an India-U.S. context. You see, when you are-it's not-the world is not composed of India and U.S. only; there are other countries in the neighborhood. Whatever we share with the U.S., the U.S. president has to share with the Senate. If we share anything of this nature, then we may as well issue public notification. And when we issue a public notification, the whole world knows. So what you are asking me to do is to make a world declaration of my strategic moves. If you think it's a fair demand, then I have nothing to say. 

     MR. RAKIN: In the back, on this side. 

     Q The United States developed nuclear weapons when the world was a dangerous neighborhood, to counter the fear that Hitler was going to develop  nuclear weapons. And then, driven by the ideology of the United States and the Soviet Union, we spent $4-1/2 trillion and moved to a situation with 80,000 nuclear warheads deployed on a launch-on-warning basis. And we found it very difficult to back down that trail, even though the fundamental relationships between the governments have changed. 

     How has India thought through how it might stop from being drawn down that path with Pakistan when there are very real conflicts in the past and ethnic and  religious differences in South Asia? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: Well, I think we have stopped, and there is a moratorium. There is no intention of going for 100 or 500. The question does not arise. Because we feel it's not needed, it's not needed now. And as we see it, it's not needed in the future. What we have got is an option, and we will do what we can afford. 

     There is a whole lot of talk about undue defense expenditure. If you analyze the figures, you will find that we spend the least in percentage terms, in per capita  terms, and we want to keep it that way. We will certainly not go down the road, as the U.S. and the Soviet Union did. And in fact, we find that they are retracing  and they are reducing.  Because we don't have great military ambitions of world, and we don't have the kind of responsibility which the great powers have or they have assumed. 

     MR. RAKIN: Yes? On the left. 

     Q I must profess to a certain confusion, Ambassador. Is India or is India not going to induct nuclear weapons? 

     We have read that there are certain types; that your scientists gave a press conference and delineated the purposes of the tests, the types of tests. Other articles have delineated the types of weapons that are under consideration. Presumably, the party that has come to power, the BJP, has the induction of nuclear weapons as its program. 

     And yet, you're stating here today that somehow this is all negotiable; that this might be resolvable, short of a deployment of nuclear weapons. But no conditions-there is no "there" "there" to the Indian arms-control position. There hasn't been for 20 years. What are the circumstances now under which India would not proceed with induction of nuclear weapons? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: The circumstances have been stated. You see, India has said that, till there is a genuine movement towards disarmament or a time frame  and all that, they are not going to sign the NPT. India has said that we want to reach a test-ban position. That offer has been made, and that offer has been made by the present government. And I believe the telephonic exchanges, which have taken place from London -- I don't have the transcript on that -- but I have reason to believe that this point came up, and the same offer was made. So we are soon going to reach a position where test bans will not be necessary. 

     The second point about induction of weapons is that we have announced that we are not going to do it. And we will go in for it if the security scenario so  requires. We owe nothing less to our people. Because what is the use of having a nuclear option if it is totally toothless and you abjure weapons? So we have not  abjured weapons for now. We have said that the option to induct remains. 

     And this is not something new, which the present government has said. This is the policy of all the previous governments, also, because you kindly see, we have a declared nuclear weapon state and another state where the U.S. president also cannot certify that nuclear devices don't exist. Now, in such a situation, what would be your decision on behalf of your people? You please tell me in all honesty. 

     Q So is the answer that you are going to induct nuclear weapons? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: Look, this is the contingency. The present policy is not to do so unless forced to do so. 

     Q So what is the forcing? What forced you to do these tests? What is the forcing function?

     AMB. CHANDRA: Force is if people start marching in and saying, "You ease off; otherwise, I am going to use nuclear devices," then you'll use it. It's as simple as that. 

     MR. RAKIN: Okay. Next question. We'll take one more question and then go to the next part of our program. 

     Yes? 

     Q Are you receiving any help for your nuclear program from the government of Israel? The Pakistanis, on their official web page, posted such a report. Is there any truth to that? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: I don't think so at all because, you see, we have a relationship with the state of Israel which is very useful in the area of dry farming, drip  irrigation, and certain areas on the electronic side. We have a joint research program about the use of electronics. But in the nuclear area, there is absolutely no  collaboration whatever. 

     MR. RAKIN: One last question. 

     Q You said that there were no conditions vis-a-vis India joining the CTBT now, and yet you talk about negotiations or interlocutors, and I wonder how you  reconcile that? I mean, is India definitely going to sign the CTBT now or not? 

     AMB. CHANDRA: If the question is, is India going to make a snap announcement that they are going to sign the CTBT, this announcement is not coming. It  has been explained. What the government of India has said is that let the key  interlocutors come, and we have every desire to progress in this direction, and we will talk and reach a satisfactory position where India accepts the test ban. Now, this is short of signing the CTBT. We can make a unilateral declaration. I know that the draft as it exists -- if we decide to sign, where is the question of conditions? Because the draft treaty itself requires that every signatory has to sign without  conditions. So the day we decide to sign, we will be signing the CTBT as it would exist on that day. 

     The other thing you have to notice is that the CTBT is not final. Everybody talks of CTBT as if it's in place and it's effective. Your Senate has not ratified it as  yet; you have leaders who have said they are not going to do it. So we expect that there will be some suggestions made by senior senators, others, and when the  review takes place, some review might occur. I know the difficulty of 149 nations doing a thing.. 

     But on the question of law, since this question has not been asked, I would like to say something. 

     This punishment and penalty thing. Now, the legal position is, India has broken no law, violated no treaty. The use of the word punishment is absolutely offensive and illegal, and we have rejected it out of hand. Then we also find that people are citing law and asking punishment to be inflicted, when they themselves stand in violation of the provisions of that law, and we find that very curious. It's a principle of natural law and equity that whoever comes asking for invoking the law must come with clean hands and here we have a situation that some people are all judge and jury, and asking other countries to be the court bailiff. This is a very curious situation which nobody is commenting upon. Punishment under what law? 

     And second point is, if you have your laws which would require you to do something, do something. But they are not taken as penalties against offenders or  punishment against a country. This is the first time I am hearing this kind of talk against countries which have broken no law. 

     MR. RAKIN: Thank you, Ambassador Chandra. Ambassador Chandra.