Secretary of State John Kerry is headed for the subcontinent, where his most important messages will be delivered in private and his public remarks will be as bland as possible. That’s how the game is played. Don’t expect U.S. officials to say much in public about nuclear issues or the pathways to confrontation and conflict between India and Pakistan. Press releases and public statements are designed to avoid unnecessary controversies. Since even minor instances of public candor raise hackles, U.S. public diplomacy consists of whispers and indirect messages.
Among the issues deemed too neuralgic and counterproductive to talk about publicly are most things related to Kashmir. During the 1990s when Indian human rights abuses and Pakistani support for jihadi groups crossing the Line of Control were painfully evident, Washington was mostly quiet. Early in the Clinton administration, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel declared that the status of Kashmir wasn’t a settled issue – a true enough statement, since neither India nor Pakistan recognizes each other’s holdings – and New Delhi went ballistic. Ever since, Kashmir has been almost a non-issue.
Foggy Bottom has steered clear of even hinting at a possible settlement, even though its outlines would be status quo-oriented, and thus friendly to India. A U.S. diplomatic push would nonetheless stir up an indignant response in India and furious opposition in Pakistan, accompanied by spikes of terrorism within both countries. Kashmir is therefore off the table, with the exception of anodyne statements about the need for a bilateral settlement and concerns over ceasefire violations.
Also off limits are public statements related to nuclear dangers in southern Asia. Arms competitions are heating up between India and China and between Pakistan and India. If China has carried out its first flight test of a multiple warhead-carrying ballistic missile in December, this would be an important milepost. On October 7th, former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told an audience at Brookings that India would “ultimately” go down this path, as well. Both countries are learning how to operate SSBNs, extending the range of their ballistic missiles, and pursuing advanced cruise missiles. U.S. public statements tread very lightly on these developments. New Delhi and Beijing also keep mum, as if acknowledging each other’s strategic modernization programs would make them more consequential.
The nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has been more intense, with no less than seventeen types of nuclear-weapon-capable delivery vehicles having been flight tested since their bombs came out of the basement in 1998. U.S. officials do not volunteer very much about these developments. The joint statement following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September visit to Washington was silent on worsening regional nuclear dynamics.
Click here to read the complete article at Arms Control Wonk.
Michael Krepon is the Co-founder of the Stimson Center.