Neighbors in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent



On October 25, Hudson Institute hosted a discussion on former Senator Larry Pressler’s book “Neighbors in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent.” Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States Husain Haqqani, who moderated the conversation, introduced Larry Pressler, also known as the author of the Pressler Amendment that “limited foreign countries from using U.S. aid to develop nuclear weapons”. The amendment resulted in the discontinuation of U.S. aid to Pakistan in the 1990s. The discussion included the history of the amendment, and the Senator’s opinion on the spread of weapons of mass destruction, as well as his concern on specific countries such as Pakistan and India.


To the question “How concerned are you about the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Senator Pressler stated “Pakistan is more dangerous than North Korea.” The Senator explained that Pakistan does not have an organized and centralized control of nuclear weapons, so the weapons could be easily exported to other countries. Senator Pressler explained that the seriousness of the problem was exacerbated by the role American law and consulting firms played as intermediaries in accessing the policies of the U.S. government. He referred to this system as “the octopus,” because of its tentacles that convert the U.S. in a military industrial state. For the Senator, foreign policy should not depend on law and consulting firms, but on rational policies far removed from personal interests. He explains that if the amendment had been followed, the Asian sub-continent would be a nuclear-free zone.

Ambassador Haqqani stated that some people find it discriminatory how harsh the senator’s discourse is towards Pakistan compared to India. Mr. Pressler ensured that his criticism was directed towards nuclear weapons in multiple countries, including India, but he emphasized Pakistan because of its lack of transparency regarding the nuclear weapons programs. India on the other hand, showed discomfort with the amendment but was more reliable. Furthermore, the speaker explained that in the U.S., about fifteen people are in control for the launch of nuclear weapons, whereas in India the Parliamentary system makes it clear who is in charge. However, in Pakistan, the power is concentrated among army and that makes it very difficult to know who controls the nuclear weapons.

Regarding the spread of nuclear weapons, Ambassador Haqqani asked a question about the possibility of going back to a global order where a limited number of countries would have nuclear weapons, and if it would be possible for some countries to give up their nuclear weapons. The senator explained that it is not possible, but his book contains certain policy recommendations such as determining sanctions and developing international pressure in order to generate transparency.  One suggestion was to declare Pakistan a terrorist state and to treat India as a priority. In the current context, the senator explains that Trump’s government has been on the correct road to nuclear non-proliferation as it has been prioritizing India-U.S. relations and free trade.

Ambassador Haqqani continued the discussion by asking about the conflict in Senator Pressler’s discourse of engaging and isolating countries. His first discourse presented in the Pressler Amendment was pro engagement, giving conditional aid to the countries who did not go nuclear, while now the idea of isolating countries seems more plausible. The speaker explained that the first amendment aimed to negotiate, but when former president George H.W. Bush found that Pakistan had nuclear weapons and was not being transparent, he understood that the U.S. needed to stop sending aid to to Pakistan, but the amendment would have been a good way to stop the proliferation. Ambassador Haqqani contradicted this point by asking why the sanctions imposed did not stop Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons, to which Mr. Pressler responded that Pakistan thought that the amendment was a temporary measure, not a part of the administration policy, but with complete information about the consequences Pakistan would have stopped constructing weapons. Regarding the current context, conditions to terrorism are not being accomplished, “secretary Tillerson is taking to both the Koreans and the Pakistanis to all of this”.

“North Korea is a major treat that people recognize”, asserted Ambassador Haqqani, as there is no transparency about the decision making of the country, so “why isn’t there more of a focus on North Korea’s nuclear program that we already see?” Senator Pressler explained that China and Russia have been involved, but also international firms export arms without caring about whom they are selling them to. Washington, for example, has agencies that can be lobbied to get licenses to export weapon materials, so “United States is a massive proliferator if we go back to the very beginning.”

To the question of what legislations the senator would pose if he was in the senate again, he answered that going back to the old school republican public policy would be his solution, using trade and non-proliferation to be sure there is a transparent structure.

“Getting Brazil to give up nuclear weapons led Argentina to stop its programs, so would this work in South Asia too?”, asked the moderator Haqqani. The senator answered that the problem came in the 70’s and 80’s, when the U.S. was sending a message in South Asia about how important it was to stop nuclear weapons proliferation. The speaker affirmed that policy formulation need to come from several institutions with a common ground and US-India nuclear agreement still needs further development.

At the end of the conversation, Ambassador Haqqani asked Mr. Pressler what had been his motivation in writing the book. The speaker replied that he wrote this book as he is concerned that the nuclear issue might become a threat to the human race and he hopes that his book can initiate this conversation in party platforms and campaigns. The senator finally explained that he is not anti-Pakistan, but his main point is lack of transparency in Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Questions and Answers

Finally, the discussion ended with questions and commentaries for the audience. Commentaries included the challenges of creating India-U.S. nuclear power plants, the ineffectiveness of sanctions in Pakistan, the critiques of the amendment that might have exacerbated the nuclear expansion in Pakistan, and the problem of isolating countries, as they will start selling weapons to terrorists. Some of the questions included the importance of North Korea’s threat, to which Mr. Pressler answered that it is important to listen and understand the ego behind the nuclear programs. Another question was how is it possible that Pakistan has not had incidents with nuclear weapons while the U.S has, to which the senator explained that the problem of nuclear proliferation is that mistakes affect everyone, not just the country that owned the weapon.