NEWSHOUR with Jim Lehrer
aired on PBS, May 12, 1998

JIM LEHRER: And now to the Indian ambassador to the United States, Naresh Chandra.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome, sir. Did your government anticipate the strong negative reaction to these tests?

NARESH CHANDRA, Ambassador, India: Well, there is always anticipation of this type of reaction. I don't recall a test in recent history which did not evoke this kind of criticism, even the ones which were conducted in 1995 and 1996.

JIM LEHRER: Why was it done so suddenly? Why was the world taken by surprise and nobody knew about it ahead of time?

NARESH CHANDRA: You see there are two contexts. One is--when you do strategic decision making you have to a long-term perspective. I think when it comes to nuclear capability of any kind, the time span is 1945 to '98 or 2000. Now we conducted our last test in 1974. So a second test done after 24 years might not be called sudden in that context. But if you have to do it, it was always a surprise most of the time.

JIM LEHRER: Now, why was it so important to do this testing, Mr. Ambassador, so important to your country?

NARESH CHANDRA: Well, you see, the--we have been thinking for some time that our national defense effort requires certain deterrent capability, especially in view of the security scenario in our neighborhood. We have a neighbor to our North, which has a very substantial nuclear arsenal. We also have a neighbor to our West, and they have a very deep kind of relationship.

JIM LEHRER: We're talking about China and Pakistan.

NARESH CHANDRA: Well, yes. And they have cooperation in the military field, including nuclear capability, as well as missile development. And recent events convinced us that it appears that such capability as India possesses because of the restraint exercised by us for 24 years, it was being assumed that we are not really serious about it, and since we have paid a heavy price for not signing the MPT and BCTBT.

JIM LEHRER: Those are those two test ban treaties.

NARESH CHANDRA: Yes. Nonproliferation treaties--test ban treaty.

JIM LEHRER: And test ban, right.

NARESH CHANDRA: It is because we feel very strongly that situated as we are in South Asia and considering the neighborhood that we have; Indian armed forces must have a back up deterrent capability of this kind. Now, if you have this capability, better be credible and effective. Otherwise, we were being subjected to criticism that our so-called nuclear option is on artificial life support. And if things went on as before, our neighbors might think that India is of no military consequence at all. I think it was time that we demonstrated our updated technological capability in this area. And that is all that has been done. There is a slight aggravation because we are not calling these tests PNE, a peaceful nuclear explosion. It is to demonstrate that we can make nuclear weapons if we want to, but we are still away from a decision to induct nuclear weapons into our military arsenal. We have not done that.

JIM LEHRER: You have no nuclear weapons now?


JIM LEHRER: But these tests were designed to show Pakistan and China that you could do it if you wanted to?

NARESH CHANDRA: Well, to everybody, I don't think--I don't like to give the impression as if they count our neighbors as special adversaries in a special category. But they are in our neighborhood, therefore, important. But our overall policy is to improve relations. We have an ongoing dialogue with China, which is very useful, and we are committed to improving our relations with China. And we are hoping we'll be able to resume our talks at foreign secretary level with Pakistan also because we know we have to live in cooperation and peace in that area.

JIM LEHRER: And so your government's judgment was that you could not have peaceful relations with China and Pakistan without demonstrating to them that you have the capability of constructing and using nuclear weapons?

NARESH CHANDRA: That is substantially correct. I think the type of government. We have the type of people. We are a strong India, a force for peace and stability in Asia. And we are convinced that if we allow a substantial gap to remain in our defense machinery and difference preparedness, it is not good for peace and stability of the future.

JIM LEHRER: Now, what about the U.S. sanctions that have to go into effect automatically now? They involve things like World Bank loans being withdrawn, halting bank credits, forbidding the sale of military equipment and technology, among other things. Is it going to hurt your country?

NARESH CHANDRA: Well, it is--it will affect the pointers that U.S. laws are there. And what we are attempting to do is to enter into dialogue, work out an arrangement and certain conditions which might persuade Congress to grant a waiver, which is provided. I know that there is no automatic presidential waiver provided under this Act, but there is a mechanism. Now, we have--and my government has indicated openings for advancing the--the disarmament agent. There is a lot of area in which India and U.S. can work together and come to some understanding so that the need for further tests is eliminated. And we have made that offer.

JIM LEHRER: What about, for instance, the foreign minister of Russia today, Mr. Primakov, said that, "Our friend, India, let us down?" There have been all kinds of--China withdrew--I mean, Canada withdrew its ambassador as well, and there were statements like that from all over the world. How do you feel about this, this reaction generally?

NARESH CHANDRA: Part of it is quite natural. You see what happens is that strategic decision making is at a much higher level and in a much longer context. And you have a lower level, which may be called the transactional level, where interlocutors from both sites are engaged in serious negotiation. Now, these interlocutors are not aware when a certain decision is going to take place, and they cannot possibly be kept informed all the time. In one sentence, the world knew that we have a nuclear option. We have not signed the NPT or the CTBT, so it is--we are perfectly within our legal rights to conduct a test. But when we actually at a very high level take this decision, go forward, and then we take a decision not to withdraw, the interlocutors on both sides are taken by surprise. So there is an element of not having been taken into confidence. And there is a sudden fall in credibility which I think is largely superficial. If people examine it in-depth, you will find that Indian negotiators have been sincere, particularly our talks with the U.S. have been going very well, and we are hopeful that we will not allow this to cause undue stress on the flow of the strategic dialogue, which we find very beneficial.

JIM LEHRER: Some people have suggested that the military strategy aspects aside, that another message that your country wanted to send to the world was we are an equal major power in this world; we are like the United States; we are like Russia; we are like China; we have the right to have nuclear weapons if we want it--want them. Is that a good reading as well?

NARESH CHANDRA: Well, to an extent. You take a nation which is capable of contributing in so many fields--art, culture, industry, computer software, the sciences--you have them go out and flourish in various other countries. We have very high values to offer. We are on the go. Our rate of economic development has been good, and we are going to be a major power, and then we are one billion people, nearly one billion. Now, to think that such a nation will not have aspirations to secure its rightful place in the family of nations, I think, would not be doing justice to people of this kind and of such large numbers. So to an extent I think this is a--giving vent to a certain feeling that all Indians have that we are yet to find our right rightful place in the family of nations.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.

NARESH CHANDRA: Thank you very much.