THE BJP government may still have the last laugh over its decision to go nuclear, if a new study by two of the US' most prestigious and influential think-tanks is any indication. The study has effectively warned that the broad economic sanctions "for an indefinite period" are "almost certain" to make the promotion of US interests in the subcontinent difficult, especially since the country has important interests in India.
"Congress, before it adjourns, should provide the president with broad waiver authority so that sanctions and incentives can be used to support US diplomacy rather than thwart it," said Richard N. Hass, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, the prestigious Washington DC-based think-tank. Hass wrote the outlines of the new report.
In an interview with Outlook, Hass, who worked in the Bush White House national security council, said: "It's time for the Clinton administration and Congress to dispense with this illusory policy of ineffective sanctions and face reality. Failure to do so risks forfeiting US influence in an important and increasingly dangerous part of the world."
The new report—titled After the Tests: US Policy Toward India and Pakistan—has been jointly issued by Brookings and the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think-tank. According to the report: "It is essential that the US avoid remaining in or placing itself again in the sort of situation it now finds itself in, namely, one in which it has few tools to influence the course of events. Congress has already suspended some of the sanctions, and there are signs that it is prepared to give the president the authority to waive more or even most of them. To make it last, however, will require that the administration explain its evolving policy and engage in genuine consultations with Congress on a regular basis."
The task force which drew up the report is made up of 24 of the best known US experts on India and Pakistan and was chaired by Hass. Its lone Indian American member, Dr Sumit Ganguly, who teaches political science at Hunter College here, told Outlook: "The call for the removal of sanctions is a very important recommendation. I hope the Clinton administration will take this report seriously. It, after all, urges them to be more realistic in policy towards the issue of nuclear weapons in South Asia."
Former Pentagon official Morton H. Halperin, president of Century Fund, the task force's co-chair, said: "The US generally needs to move away from a light-switch approach—where US reaction is automatic and without nuance—and toward a modulated use of sanctions. The present US policy is almost certain to complicate the challenge of promoting the full range of American interests. The first casualty will be US economic interests, but it is likely that other stakes will be adversely affected." Making a case for Congress to give the president waiver authority, under secretary of state for economics, business and agriculture Stuart Eizenstat noted: "Our ability to influence (policy) requires greater flexibility. Our purpose is not to punish for punishment's sake, but to influence the behaviour of both (Indian and Pakistani) governments."
Eizenstat, addressing the Senate Task Force weighing the role of sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, added: "We do not believe it would be advisable, nor could we support efforts to codify or legislate the steps that India and Pakistan would need to take in order to gain relief from sanctions, or to match specific actions by India or Pakistan to the lifting of particular sanctions. "
He disclosed that Washington was currently implementing the Glenn Amendment sanctions "firmly and correctly" against India, adding: "Although it is too early to quantify the effect that these sanctions would have on economic growth or business activity in either country, it is clear that they would result in significant economic and political costs for both countries."
In the interview, Hass agreed that sanctions "have had some economic impact", but clarified: "Economic sanctions take a long time to have any significant impact." In a recent interview with this correspondent, Karl F. Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said he wanted Washington's sanctions against New Delhi lifted "as soon as possible". "We want to resolve the very difficult security and non-proliferation issues. We want to embark on the fullest relations possible, including in science and technology, trade and investments. We have great potential, but unfulfilled potential."
In a separate "additional view" filed in the task force's report, Dr Michael T. Clark, executive director of the US-India Business Council, said: "Strong commercial relations should not be viewed as an inducement to cooperation in the 'strategic' realm of conventional and nuclear military balances, but should be seen as a vital and indispensable element of a well-crafted strategic approach. US business relationships offer important secondary channels of communication, strengthen mutual understanding and build broad foundations of common interest and trust. US companies also provide an important bridge between India and Pakistan." Is the White House listening?