Principles and Interests: A Conversation with Chuck Hagel

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The National Interest: You were quoted describing the U.S.-Indian civil nuclear deal as "one of the most thoughtful approaches to foreign policy in the last 25 years."

Chuck Hagel: South Asia is potentially the most dangerous region in the world. All of the most dangerous and combustible elements are present. You have four nuclear powers: Russia, China, India and Pakistan, and a fifth aspirant, Iran. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border is the focal point for a good deal of terrorist-extremist activity; the Taliban has been reasserting itself and has re-emerged in that area. There are tremendous fault lines--cultural, historical, tribal and religious--which run throughout the region. One does not have to look much further than the question of Jammu and Kashmir and how it divides Pakistan and India.

I do believe that the agreement that President Bush signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a wide range of areas for joint cooperation, including nuclear, security, economic, education, agriculture and science, represents some of the most creative strategic thinking we've seen in some time. At the core of the agreement is energy--and the need for energy is the driving force that brings all countries and societies together. India is set, within 25 years, to overtake China as the world's most populous nation. If the Indian economy is to grow to address this great explosion in population, a stable and secure supply of energy is required. The same, by the way, is true for China and other developing countries, not to mention for the developed world.

It bears repeating that energy is the driving force behind growth--and economic growth means more jobs, better standards of living and more productivity. This enhances people's standards of living and their prospects for the future. This translates into stability and security. All of this is interconnected. This is why I think this comprehensive agreement is clearly in the interests not only of India and the United States but the world as a whole. This was the message I presented to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, to other senior officials of his government and to leading business figures in Pakistan this past April.

Why is the U.S.-India agreement in Pakistan's interest? It connects the United States into South Asia in an even more prominent and positive fashion than we are now. It makes the U.S.-India relationship more stable, consistent and predictable, and this can, in my opinion, only be helpful and positive for Pakistan. I made it clear to Mush arraf that this agreement is in no way intended to threaten the U.S. relationship with Pakistan or any other state. It is a straightforward arrangement based on the mutual interests of India and the United States, although I do believe it has residual benefits that radiate out into Pakistan and China and other nations there. As I have noted, the agreement helps expand the breadth and depth of U.S.-India relations across the entire arc of our bilateral interests. In particular, helping India more-effectively address its expanding energy requirements should be beneficial for all of the region and the world's energy consumers.

I know the Pakistanis are concerned. In their view, they have been a good ally--and they have, and we should not minimize that. So why is a similar agreement not in the cards for Pakistan? I was very honest with Musharraf. It comes down to the proliferation issue. Pakistan has a very bad record, particularly because of A. Q. Khan, and they acknowledge this. But I pointed out to him that in the future the United States may be able to work out some kind of an agreement with Pakistan that would be similar to what we have negotiated with India. But for now, we need to work through the more immediate issues.

TNI: In the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest, Ambassador Robert Blackwill described India as a "natural ally" of the United States. Would you concur? …