28 May 1998
(But an arms race is not inevitable, Acting Secretary says) (480) By Jane A. Morse USIA Diplomatic Correspondent Washington -- Pakistan's decision to match India in nuclear testing has dangerous implications for the region and the world, but an arms race is not inevitable, according to Strobe Talbott. Talbott, acting in the stead of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who is attending the North Atlantic Council meetings in Luxembourg, discussed the political fallout of recent Pakistani and Indian actions during a press briefing at the State Department May 28. The decisions by both Pakistan and India to conduct five nuclear explosions each "unquestionably represent a setback for the search for peace and security and stability in the South Asian subcontinent," Talbott said, along with "a setback for the global cause of nonproliferation. ..." A top priority for the United States, according to Talbott, is to prevent an arms race in South Asia. Neither India nor Pakistan, he noted, can afford it. "There may be a spiraling arms race here, but we do not think it is inevitable," Talbott said. The hope is that both countries will recognize the "folly and the danger" of an arms race and be more receptive to joining international nonproliferation regimes, he said. Talbott led a presidential delegation to Pakistan in recent weeks in which he came away with a "sober awareness," he said, of the tremendous pressures the Pakistani government was facing from its citizens and its parliament. He said there had never been an American "bag of goodies" to offer Pakistan in return for not conducting nuclear tests and that the United States never had any illusion that Pakistan could be "bought off." Talbott said the United States did not accept the rationale offered by some Indian officials that India was taking the action based on security threats it saw coming from Pakistan and China. Even if the threat were real, there would be no justification for the tests, he said. He noted that in today's environment "fewer and fewer states are relying on nuclear weapons for their greatness or for their defense." Talbott also discounted arguments that say that now that both countries have conducted nuclear tests, some "symmetry" has been established. Neither country, he pointed out, has experience in "mutual deterrence," and both have contributed to regional instability. Both countries, he said, will feel the brunt of US sanctions laws. Talbott declined to discuss suggestions that India, which initiated the round of nuclear tests, should suffer greater sanctions. The United States is seeking a multilateral approach to encourage both countries "to take steps that will at least ameliorate international sanctions, including those of the United States," Talbott said. These steps would include, he said, signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without attaching conditions, joining negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty, and refraining from weaponizing or deploying ballistic missiles.