Fresh Start or Shameful Retreat on South Asia?

Article excerpt

In the wake of widely condemned nuclear tests by India and Pakistan 18 months ago, President Clinton slapped extensive sanctions on both South Asian countries. Earlier this fall, in the last hectic weeks of the congressional session, the president signed legislation, little noted in the US, that would reverse policy toward the subcontinent and holds stunning implications for US nonproliferation efforts around the world.

The Brownback amendment to the defense appropriations bill gives the president authority to waive all the Glenn amendment sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan after last year's tests. In addition, the measure authorizes the president to waive Symington and Pressler amendment sanctions, which since 1990 have barred many forms of US economic and military assistance to Pakistan because of Islamabad's nuclear weapons program.

Finally, the legislation states that the "broad application" of export controls on Indian and Pakistani government agencies and private companies suspected of having links to their national nuclear or missile programs is "inconsistent" with US national security interests. Instead, the amendment urges the president to apply US export controls only to those agencies and companies that make "direct and material contributions" to dangerous weapons and missile programs.

The Brownback amendment represents an extraordinary reversal of American policy. In effect, it forgives India and Pakistan for their 1998 nuclear tests. It abandons even those sanctions Congress had placed upon Pakistan prior to Islamabad's tests last year. A year and a half after its nuclear detonations, Pakistan finds itself far better off vis-a-vis US nuclear nonproliferation law than at anytime since 1990.

Moreover, with its statement on export controls, Congress has condemned rigorous steps to prevent the transfer of sensitive technology that might be used in Indian or Pakistani nuclear weapons or missile programs, and implicitly authorized the export of materials that might indirectly assist those programs. Coming at a time when congressional Republicans are still inflamed over possibly illegal transfers to China that might have boosted Beijing's missile development efforts, such a position is breathtaking in its audacity.

Not even recent Indian and Pakistani provocations slowed this headlong rush to lift sanctions. New Delhi's publication last summer of a draft nuclear doctrine spelling out an ambitious program to create a nuclear triad of air-, sea-, and ground-launched nuclear weapons - a plan roundly condemned by the Clinton administration - had absolutely no effect on congressional or administration support for the Brownback amendment. …