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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 08:33 GMT
Analysis: The world's most dangerous place?
President Clinton
President Clinton spoke of dangers posed by Kashmir
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

In geo-political terms there is plenty of justification for President Clinton's contentious statement that South Asia is currently the world's most dangerous place.

Two historic enemies, India and Pakistan, after generations of mutual distrust, have now developed both nuclear weapons and probably the means to deliver them.

There are, of course, many other places in the world which are highly dangerous for the people who live there; the recent chaos in the Balkans and in Chechnya have provided disturbing evidence of the brutality of mankind on the eve of a new century.

But these conflicts have either been contained or have only limited regional significance.

Nuclear element

India and Pakistan must rank as the most likely candidates for a conflict that risks ultimately a nuclear confrontation.

The most dangerous place in the world today, I think you could argue, is the Indian subcontinent and the line of control in Kashmir

President Clinton on 10 March

These alarmist descriptions will only encourage those who want to break the peace and indulge in terrorism and violence

Indian President KR Narayanan on 21 March
And in the background there is Pakistan's ally - China - which is thought to have helped it develop both its nuclear bomb and its rocket forces.

India warily watches China; both countries have ambitions of playing a significant regional security role, and it is ultimately China's arsenal that is the reference point for Indian military planners as they modernise their own forces.

Not all is bleak however. India and Pakistan are both sophisticated societies and in time might well come to adhere to the complex civil theology of deterrence that - sometime shakily - ensured a nuclear peace between east and West during the Cold War.

But India and Pakistan's nuclear capabilities are doubly worrying for the example that they set around the world.


These two countries have for their own security reasons broken with the widely supported nuclear non-proliferation regime, norms which they never accepted.

Kashmir remains a flashpoint
In going nuclear, and in a sense in getting away with it, they have provided a dangerous precedent.

That is certainly the way western analysts would view it.

Though local experts in the region would probably echo their own governments in insisting that if nuclear deterrence is okay for Britain, France, Russia and the United states - not to mention China - then it should be fine for India and Pakistan as well.

That is a hard point to answer.

Worse to come?

For now, though, it makes this a troubling region. And things may get worse.

President Narayanan
President Narayanan rejected Clinton's comments
The central Intelligence Agency in the US firmly believes that North Korea, Iran and maybe even Iraq could pose a ballistic missile threat to the continental United States within some 15 years.

The most dangerous threat to the world is still the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

And as a fully-fledged example of proliferation, South Asia has set a worrying precedent.

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 Kashmir: Should Clinton mediate?

South Asia Contents

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See also:

17 Mar 00 | South Asia
South Asia's nuclear race
29 Feb 00 | South Asia
India's growing defence costs
21 Mar 00 | Media reports
Press hails new era in ties
11 May 99 | South Asia
India marks nuclear anniversary
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