May 13, 1998
India shocked the world once again after announcing it had conducted another series of nuclear tests. India's actions have heightened fears that the world is on the verge of a new nuclear arms race. Elizabeth Farnsworth and guests discuss India's actions and its impact on international relations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Though India claims it still hasn't developed nuclear weapons, only the capability to do so. The tests this week bring the country of 980 million people close to being a member of the so-called nuclear club.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 12, 1998
A discussion on India's decision to test nuclear weapons.
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March 19, 1998:
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The BJP wins elections in India.
January 6, 1998
President Clinton announces a new strategy to deter nuclear war.
December 4, 1997
Two retired generals call for an immediate reduction of nuclear arms.
August 17, 1997
A report on Pakistan and its relationship with India.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the military and Asia.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization .
Joining the nuclear club.
It includes the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France. Western experts believe Israel and Pakistan also have nuclear capability and that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea may be close to having it. India has not signed the 1996 comprehensive ban on nuclear testing or the 1968 non-proliferation treaty, which outlawed the further development of nuclear weapons beyond the five already nuclear states. We now get three perspectives on this new stage in the nuclear arms race. Ashton Carter was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy during President Clinton's first term. He's now Professor of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Jonathan Schell is author of, among other works, "Fate of the Earth," the 1981 book on the effects of nuclear war. His latest work, "The Gift of Time: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons Now," is due out this month. And John Mearsheimer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He has written widely on international security issues and nuclear deterrence. And thank you all for being with us. Ashton Carter, do you share the president's view that this is a particularly dangerous development in the region and in the world?
"It's a particularly dangerous development in the region."
ASHTON CARTER, Former Pentagon Official: It is. It's a particularly dangerous development in the region. And Americans can take some consolation from the fact that that is not our region, and these arms are not designed principally to attack American allies. Globally, in the long run it's a bad development because it obviously means that one more country has crossed the line and more is not better when there are nuclear weapons. And when the rest of the world is carrying out reductions, as we are and need to be at the end of the Cold War, and you see one country heading in the other direction. That's obviously bad.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: John Mearsheimer, a particularly dangerous development?
"I don't think it's going to have much effect outside of Southwest Asia."
JOHN MEARSHEIMER, University of Chicago: Well, I don't think it's a particularly dangerous development. I mean, there are two dimensions to the problem. The first is the whole question of whether or not this is a bad precedent that's going to cause nuclear proliferation to ripple all across the globe. And then there's a second question of what it means for regional stability. With regard to the first dimension, I don't think it's going to have much effect outside of Southwest Asia. There are logics in places like the Persian Gulf and in Northeast Asia that are pushing the stakes of those regions in this direction that have nothing to do with what's happening in Southwest Asia. They just don't need this example to push them in that direction. Iraq, for example, has all sorts of incentives to get nuclear weapons, and they don't need India to tell them that this makes sense. With regard to the region, itself, the fact of the matter is that nuclear weapons provide lots of deterrence. They're absolutely horrible weapons. They're weapons of mass destruction. And for that reason states that have nuclear weapons are invariably very reluctant to go to war against each other. Most people agree that one of the principle reasons we never had any armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War was the fact that both sides were armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. If you have a situation in Southwest Asia where India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons, I don't see any reason why that will be anything other than a quite stable situation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Jonathan Schell, let's explore both those, the regional dangers and the dangers of wider proliferation. First, on the regional dangers, how do you see it?
JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, I think common sense will tell you that you have one more nuclear arms race in the world. This is an increase to instability. And however much it conceivably could calm or prevent a conventional war from breaking out there, it increases the danger of nuclear war and the world at large, in addition to which, of course, it certainly will tempt other countries to follow India's example and furthermore will hinder the efforts of other countries to prevent that without example before them and very probably with Pakistan to follow very soon, according to what they say.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Beyond Pakistan, who might, what countries might it encourage
A breakdown in the system?
JONATHAN SCHELL, Author: Well, I think some that have been named, Iran, Iraq, if they could get those inspectors out of there. North Korea's been named, Algeria, Syria. There are any number of countries that you might mention. But I think in a deeper sense what's happened is that the system that the world has had in place for dealing with the nuclear predicament in the post Cold War period has really broken down because that system was, in effect, a two-tier system mandated by the non-proliferation treaty which specifies that certain countries--five of them--can have nuclear weapons, while others cannot. But the first category were required under the treaty to move towards the elimination of their nuclear weapons as sort of their part of the bargain. Now what's happened here, I think, is India has said okay, if there's a two-class system, we want to be in the first class, and we're going to do that unilaterally, and obviously that's an example that other nations may follow. I think that what happened here is that the two-class system has broken down, and we're going to be moving now to a one-class world, and then the question is going to be is that going to be a world in which nations possess nuclear weapons and are entitled to do so as a matter of right, as India is saying, or, on the other hand, are we going to move to a world in which no nations have them in the one class as a class of nuclear free nations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Ashton Carter, I want to save the question of whether the systems broke down for a little bit later. First, could the nuclear tests in India actually make the relationship between Pakistan and India more stable, as John Mearsheimer said?
ASHTON CARTER: I think we have to take our cue from Jonathan Schell who talked about common sense here and also some humility about what we know and can predict about the behavior of human beings in the possession of such awesome destructive powers--nuclear weapons. Take the example, Elizabeth, of the Soviet Union in the last decade, the first superpower to disintegrate. That posed us with a problem we never had before that wasn't in all the books that the professors write. It was a problem of a nuclear nation that suddenly became 15 nations. And we were worried about an explosion of proliferation. We were worried and remain worried about those nuclear weapons, those devices falling into the hands of terrorists and of leaders around the world who have none of the attitudes towards the world order that the superpowers had during the Cold War. So we can't extrapolate from the Cold War how all people who come into possession of this destructive technology will behave. And that cautions us that less is better. And these nuclear weapons coming into the hands of Indians and Pakistani governments now is not the only question on the table. The question is down the road, who else may come into possession of these things. It won't always be countries. They may be terrorists as well. So we don't know everything we ought to know about humans and states will behave with this technology. I would say humility and common sense are the watch words, not theories.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: John Mearsheimer, humility and common sense should be the watch words?
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I agree with that common sense especially, but let's talk a little bit about common sense. If it makes common sense to do away with nuclear weapons, why is it that the United States developed nuclear weapons in the first place? And secondly, why is it that the United States is unwilling to get rid of its nuclear weapons? The fact of the matter is we like nuclear weapons very much. We have no intention of getting rid of them. And the reason is because they're a wonderful deterrent. It's no accident that the Indians and the Pakistanis feel exactly the same way. They live in an area of the world that is remarkably dangerous and, therefore, they want to go to great lengths to make sure that they have the wherewithal to protect themselves. The Indians have made it perfectly clear that the principle threat that they face is not Pakistan. It's China. And China is armed with nuclear weapons. So it's just going to make good sense, good common sense, to use Ash Carter's terminology, for India to go out and develop nuclear weapons of its own. We should find this hardly surprising. And this logic is going to be at play all over the world. And what's happening here is that the United States is finally--after about eight years--losing its ability to cap the volcano. And as time goes by, we're going to find it increasingly difficult, whether it's Iran or Iraq or North Korea, to keep this genie in the bottle.
ASHTON CARTER: Elizabeth, could I just comment on--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes, go ahead.
ASHTON CARTER: --the business about--that we're losing our ability to keep the genie in the bottle. In the last decade I think it's accurate to say that the United States and the world community have prevented no fewer than six countries from becoming nuclear powers. Let me just remind you that South Africa had nuclear weapons. And it had all the reasons that Professor Mearsheimer adduces for the case of India for having them. It has gotten rid of them. There is North Korea, which was developing nuclear weapons. Also, I'm sure its theorists could have used all the same arguments as Mr. Mearsheimer. That was a bad development. We turned that around. Iraq was working on nuclear weapons at the time of Desert Storm, and it was the defeat of Iraq which interrupted that program and finally--that nuclear program--and finally three countries that were fragments of the old Soviet Union, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, were nuclear powers when the Soviet Union broke up, and they have been de-nuclearized. But there are six cases where vigorous diplomacy and keeping after this problem stopped nuclear proliferation. We can't give up or get fatalistic about this problem. We're not successful at all times and in all places at stopping nuclear proliferation, but there's a lot we can do to stop it, and we really have to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you disagree, Mr. Carter, with Jonathan Schell, who said that the system has basically broken down.
"...if the world could be rid tomorrow of nuclear weapons, that would obviously be in America's interest."
ASHTON CARTER: This is a challenge to the haves/have nots dichotomy that was established after World War II. There's no question that that's an historical artifact, that it was flash frozen during the Cold War. There's no question about that. But that is the order that we have now, five nuclear states. And where we ought to be heading is for no more and for the five nuclear states to be reducing and eventually eliminating all their nuclear weapons. The United States isn't clinging to its nuclear weapons. I think it's obvious to all your watchers tonight that if the world could be rid tomorrow of nuclear weapons, that would obviously be in America's interest. We have the most powerful conventional military in the world. We would be unchallenged militarily if nuclear weapons were eliminated. So we're for abolition. The question is to stop new powers from getting nuclear weapons and to eliminate the ones that are in the hands of the five. We've got to stay on that road.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jonathan Schell, your response to Mr. Carter's view that the breakdown isn't quite as serious as you made it sound.
JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, I think he's depicted it as quite serious and as needing a big fix here. I'd like to address one point that Mr. Mearsheimer made. He asked why it was that the United States developed very large nuclear arsenals. And there was a reason for that, and it was the existence of a very powerful totalitarian empire in the world, that was the Soviet Union. But I'd like to point out that that empire has disappeared, and, therefore, the reason that we gave to ourselves and others for possessing nuclear weapons has disappeared with that, clearing the path, as I would see it, to a mutual reduction among all nations of nuclear arsenals to zero. In one respect, though, I'd like to say that Mr. Mearsheimer does make a good point. He points out that we did come to believe rather strongly in nuclear weapons and in the nuclear balance during the Cold War. And if we say that nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons worked during the Cold War to contain that hostility, then what right would we have to tell India and Pakistan that they can't have this wonderful remedy to their problems. So the question is really whether having nuclear weapons is a remedy or not. I hold that it is not, and I'd remind you, by the way, that we can overrate the stability of the Cold War. After all, the Cuban Missile Crisis was about nuclear weapons and caused by them, although in some other instances perhaps the existence of the weapons did produce some caution.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Jonathan Schell, I just want to get this clear. You think that the way to prevent proliferation is for the United States and the other big powers to get rid of them too, is that right?
JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, I'm glad to hear Ashton Carter say that the United States is an abolitionist power. I'm not honestly aware that that's true. I think that we have made a number of statements. Most recently, Robert Bell, of the National Security Council, said that our policy is to have them for the indefinite future, and other officials have made similar statements, although on a rhetorical level it's true. We do support it. I think that the United States must embrace the goal that it is recommending to India and Pakistan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, I don't interrupt you--I don't want to interrupt you but I want to get John Mearsheimer in. We don't have much time. Mr. Mearsheimer, on that.
A nuclear double standard?
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I want to make two points. One is that I think we have a clear double standard here. The United States thinks that it and the other four powers in the world have nuclear weapons are entitled to have nuclear weapons and keep them forever, and everybody else in the world who thinks that they need nuclear weapons for their own security can't have them, because we don't want them to have them. This is very hard to understand from an Indian perspective or from a Pakistani perspective because it's a clear double standard. The second point I would make is that there's no question that the Soviet threat is gone and the nuclear threat to the United States, at least from the Soviet Union, has been greatly diminished. But the fact of the matter is that in areas of the world like the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia and Northeast Asia, there are all sorts of threats to the local powers that have nothing to do with the United States and the Soviet Union that give them all sorts of incentives to have nuclear weapons.
And it's very hard for us to eliminate those threats, and, therefore, there going to be powerful incentives for states all over the world to acquire nuclear weapons, not because they're crazy but because they want to enhance their security, just like we wanted to enhance our security during the Cold War, and we concluded nuclear weapons were an excellent way to do that. They're going to reach the same conclusion. So it's no surprise that India, which is facing a nuclear armed China, has decided to go down the nuclear road in a big way. And with the passage of time this situation is only going to get worse because China is only going to build more nuclear weapons and India will respond in kind.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I wish we had time for more, but that's it for now. Thank you very much, all of you.