Remarks at a Panel Discussion organized by National Security News Service at the National Press Club on "Nuclear Proliferation in Asia and the United States" - August 9, 1999

Mr. Chairman,



First, I would like to respond to the question being directly asked of me  today as to whether the Dalai Lama was welcomed in India in terms of a secret understanding between India and the United States that, in exchange,  the United States would train Indian nuclear scientists. To me, the whole  theory sounds like a fairy tale. I have never heard this before. What I  know is that the decision to welcome the Dalai Lama to India was India’s own  and this decision was dictated by the consideration that the Dalai Lama was  the spiritual leader of the Tibetans and that he and his followers had  nowhere else to go at that time. It should also be noted that even though the Dalai Lama and his followers have lived in India for several years and they are treated as our honoured guests, they are not permitted to engage in political activities. India and the United States have a long history of scientific exchanges and many scientists have come to the United States in pursuit of knowledge. As far as I know, there is no link between the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India and the arrival of Indian scientists in the United States. Moreover, our nuclear programme has been indigenously developed over a period of time.


Speaking on the occasion of the anniversary of the nuclear attack on Nagasaki 54 years ago, I should reiterate India’s total abhorrence of the use of nuclear weapons and our commitment to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction.


The backdrop to any discussion on Nuclear Proliferation in Asia and the United States must consist of the following objective factors:


(i) The only continent which has been subjected to a nuclear attack is Asia.


(ii) The US is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons.


(iii) The victim of the attack did not possess nuclear weapons.


(iv) The US did not have a no-first use or no-use against non-nuclear weapons state doctrine.


The history of the development of nuclear weapons between the dark days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and today raises the question whether the possession of nuclear weapons by itself endangers peace. With the wisdom of hindsignt, one may wonder whether it was the lack of strategic balance and the lack of sensible and sound nuclear doctrines that caused the nuclear attack on Japan.


In the period following the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the countries in Asia sought to safeguard themselves against the nuclear threat in different ways. China lost no time in becoming a nuclear weapon state.


Some countries sought refuge under the umbrella of nuclear weapons and others sought to keep the nuclear weapon powers away by declaring nuclear weapon free zones around them. A vast majority pursued the path of nuclear disarmament in the expectation of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.


Some others paid lip service to disarmament, but sought to acquire nuclear capability by clandestine means. But the impact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki made on Asia was indeed visible in the policies of all Asian countries.


India, having pursued the path of disarmament for more than fifty years, realised a few years ago that elimination of nuclear weapons was not considered a practical proposition in the short or medium term. For India, elimination of nuclear weapons was not just a dream; India had presented an Action Plan to eliminate nuclear weapons in a systemic, phased and time bound manner. We witnessed an increasing nuclear threat to ourselves without any sign of a non-discriminatory non-proliferation regime coming into being. In fact, India’s options kept dwindling as the discriminatory non-proliferation measures gained momentum. Eventually, in 1998, India exercised its nuclear option and became a nuclear weapon state. But India did not abandon its pursuit of disarmament and its desire to see the elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. The demonstration of India’s nuclear capability strengthened our sense of security and also contributed to international security as India acquired a minimum but credible deterrence against nuclear attacks or blackmail.


India’s actions after the nuclear tests were aimed not only to reassure the international community, but also to deploy its capability to the best advantage of its defence and security needs. We declared a moratorium on all testing, we declared a non-first use and non-use against non-nuclear weapon states doctrine, we expressed our willingness to join the negotiations on the FMCT, we tightened our export controls and renewed our initiatives at the UN for the elimination of nuclear weapons. A new initiative was taken last year to reduce nuclear dangers which was strongly supported by the international community. This package of measures, to be supplemented by our current Strategic Defence Review, will establish a regime for responsible handling of the capability we possess today. We have also had discussions with Pakistan on a number of confidence building measures including in the nuclear field. The agreements reached with Pakistan earlier this year in Lahore demonstrated that the two countries could evolve in one year the kind of measures that other nuclear weapon states took several years to build.


As for the United States, we expressed our readiness to enter into discussion on their concerns on the very day of the tests. The eight rounds of discussions that the two sides held in the last one year have resulted in a better understanding of each others’ security concerns. Both sides agree that these were the most intensive and most productive discussions that the two Governments ever had on security matters. The current happy phase in Indo-US relations is a result of this exchange.


The fear expressed in certain quarters that South Asia had become a nuclear "flash point" after the tests conducted by India and Pakistan has also proved unfounded. If anything, Pakistan’s aggression in Kargil and the Indian response proved that two neighbours cannot even contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. Except for an ambiguous statement by the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, neither side spoke about the possible use of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the world at large took notice of the conflict, named the aggressor and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Pakistan from the Indian side of the Line of Control. India was determined and indeed capable of vacating the aggression, but the interest of the international community helped in ending the conflict expeditiously. In Kargil, it appeared as though the existence of nuclear weapons actually helped to end a conventional conflict. At no point during the conflict did South Asia turn into a nuclear flash point.


The need for security is universal and no country should be denied the right to build its legitimate defence capabilities. If it is inevitable that nuclear weapons must remain for more time, we should develop adequate safeguards to prevent their use, accidental or deliberate. India’s pursuit of equal security with others should be seen in the context of our ultimate goal of reaching a nuclear weapon free, non-violent world.