Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb

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Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb

By Strobe Talbott
Brookings Institution Press, 2004
268 pp. $27.95
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On May 11, 1998, India detonated three nuclear devices without any warning, and two weeks later Pakistan followed suit. In response, Washington had to persuade the Indian government that it had done a foolish and dangerous thing, and it was Talbott, then deputy secretary of state, who was assigned the task of talking to Jaswant Singh, India's minister of external affairs. In this memoir of 14 meetings over two years in seven countries on three continents, Talbott recounts these difficult encounters, in which each side would repeat the same arguments over and over again while listening carefully to detect any hint of a change in the other's position. What might sound like a boring report on an exercise in stubborn diplomacy is in fact a fascinating study of how diplomatic dialogue can slowly broaden to include subtle considerations of the domestic politics and foreign policies of both countries involved. Talbott considers the complications presented by China and Pakistan and reveals that Washington played an important role in averting a war over Kashmir that could have gone nuclear. Although his story does not have a happy ending as far as counterproliferation is concerned, Talbott does end it on a positive note: the expansion of cordial relations between the United States and India.