Like U.S. President Bill Clinton before him, Japanese Prime Minister Mori has just completed a trip to South Asia that has been high on hope and symbolism but disappointingly low on results. Both leaders argued that it was important to engage India and Pakistan in order to revive the global nonproliferation movement, which was seriously set back when first India and then Pakistan conducted nuclear-weapons tests in May 1998. But neither saw much progress in this direction, despite the considerable leverage both possess, given the desperate need both South Asian states have for economic assistance and investment, not to mention renewed international respectability.

The best that either leader could achieve was a pledge to refrain from new nuclear tests, something both states had already promised before the visits. What was needed, at a minimum, was a commitment to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and agreement not to operationally deploy nuclear weapons. The latter is particularly important. Once these weapons are put in the field under local commanders, the risk of inadvertent (or purposeful) use goes up considerably.

It is, of course, too late to undo the trips. But the United States and Japan must take note of some of the unintended consequences of these high-level visits to prevent further damage from being done.

Shortly after India’s May 1998 nuclear tests, Indian officials predicted that international protests would be short-lived and that the West would soon come around to accepting India’s de facto entry into the world’s nuclear club. The Clinton/Mori visits prove them right. This could send a dangerous signal to other nuclear wannabes that going nuclear may be a low-cost method of gaining greater international attention, if not respect. Pyongyang, among others (e.g., proponents of nuclear weapons within the more radical wing of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party), no doubt watched the visits with a certain amount of interest.

The visits to Pakistan also sent the message that the world’s two most economically powerful democracies were willing to turn a blind eye toward the use of military coups as a means of removing inefficient or corrupt governments, even if they have been democratically elected. What kind of signal does that send to the armed forces in countries like Indonesia (or even the Philippines), where democratically elected governments are struggling?

True, Clinton was openly critical of Pakistan’s coup and the nuclear aspirations of both India and Pakistan during his March visit, and Mori linked the resumption of Japanese aid to a continued freeze in nuclear testing. But the visits did not result in significant concessions on nuclear issues or a promised date for the resumption of civilian rule in Islamabad.

Clinton’s four-day visit to India (as opposed to his five-hour stopover in Pakistan) was also heralded by many in New Delhi (and even some in Washington) as the beginning of a strategic shift toward India and away from Washington’s long-standing Cold War ally, Pakistan. Any shift in basic relations makes other long-term allies nervous, especially if Washington does not better define the nature of its South Asia relationships.

What’s worse, the view from China, especially among leaders who tend to view the world in zero-sum terms — and that’s just about all of them — is that U.S. overtures (“strategic shift”) toward India are aimed at further containing China. Mori’s visit further reinforced this view among those in China who see the U.S.-Japan alliance in equally sinister terms.

None of this argues against the overall wisdom of better U.S. or Japanese relations with either India or Pakistan. But the possible down sides of these South Asia initiatives need to be recognized and dealt with effectively in order to prevent or at least limit the negative consequences elsewhere in the world. And the time is long overdue for quid pro quos from New Delhi and Islamabad.

Before any new diplomatic, political, or economic overtures from Washington or Tokyo, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf should be expected to make unequivocal statements in support of the CTBT and against the operational deployment of nuclear weapons. Without such commitments, American and Japanese aid to both South Asian states will send the wrong signals not only to New Delhi and Islamabad but worldwide.

Regrettably, Tokyo must take the lead on the CTBT issue, given Washington’s inability to get its own house in order on this subject. On the other hand, Indian or Pakistani accession to the CTBT will put needed additional pressure on Washington to match its own nonproliferation words with concrete deeds.

Both Vajpayee and Musharraf are scheduled to participate in the Millennium Summit at the United Nations in New York in September. The world will be watching to see if either leader has the foresight and courage to move his nation back from the nuclear precipice.

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