Nuclear deal and India’s place in a multipolar world(Commentary)August 12th, 2008 - 11:40 am ICT by IANS
By K. Subrahmanyam
US President George W. Bush reportedly intends to write individually to heads of governments of 44 other member nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), urging that India be given a clean waiver from the present NSG guidelines which do not permit nuclear commerce with any non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which has not placed all its nuclear facilities under the full scope safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The US administration has also prepared a draft waiver resolution acceptable to India and has forwarded it to Germany, the current chair of the NSG. The issue will be considered by that body on Aug 21-22.
These actions of the US have been sought to be interpreted by some conspiracy theorists as indicative of US commercial interest in the Indian nuclear industry and as a means of seducing India into a subordinate strategic partnership to the US in Asia, with particular intent to promote military containment of China and isolation of Iran. Such conspiracy theorists are not interested in paying attention to India and China taking a common stand vis-a-vis the US and the European Union on the agricultural issue in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations. Nor do they want to pay attention to the slight thawing of relations between the US and Iran. Nor can they explain why Russia and France, two of the strongest protagonists of a multipolar system, also happen to be the most fervent supporters of the India-US nuclear deal and exceptionalisation of India from the NSG guidelines.
Most of the above misperceptions arise out of inadequate understanding of today’s multipolar world and India’s place in it. When the Cold War ended, the European countries, Japan and China did not need the US security protection against a superpower adversary — the Soviet Union. In the last 16 years the European Union has emerged as the pre-eminent economic entity in the international system with the US slipping into the second place. Russia, after a period of decline during the Yeltsin years, has re-emerged as a major power and a major supplier of energy for Europe, Japan and China.
All the major powers, including Russia, are members of G-8, the elite club of the world’s most industrialised nations which attempt to shape macro economic policies of the world. Brazil, India and China are invited to this group as fastest growing economies which are likely to influence global economic and trade developments in the near future. China is already doing so. In this world of balance of power, there is both cooperation and competition among all major powers.
In the multipolar world the major powers are interested in ensuring the faster development of the new and aspiring entrants to ensure that no single power will attempt to dominate the system disproportionately. The faster the expansion of the global economic pie, the smaller the share of the US economy in it. Similarly, the faster the growth of India, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia, the better countervailing balance against China in Asia and the world. The multipolar international system today is therefore not unfavourable to India’s growth and progress as it was not to China’s growth in the 1980s and 90s. But India is the only major power which is subjected to technology denial arising out of the technology ban imposed by the London Suppliers Club, now expanded and known as NSG.
Against this background, India is one of the four countries which are outside the NPT, the other three being Israel, Pakistan and North Korea. Other 188 countries are members of the NPT. After conducting a nuclear test, North Korea has agreed to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and rejoin the NPT of which it was earlier a member. Israel has been in possession of its arsenal even before the NPT was drafted and has no interest in civil nuclear commerce. That leaves only India and Pakistan outside the NPT and international nuclear commerce.
India has advanced nuclear technology, designed its own reactors, is developing fast breeder reactors, doing research on the conversion of thorium into U-233 to be used as fuel in future reactors and is a member of the international research team for thermo nuclear energy research. Though the London Suppliers Club, the predecessor of NSG, was set up as a response to the 1974 Indian nuclear test, 34 years have passed since then with India having a spotless record on nuclear proliferation.
The same cannot be said of Pakistan. It is not a power with advanced nuclear technology, holds a record in nuclear proliferation and refuses to allow access for the IAEA to A. Q. Khan, the arch proliferator. Therefore, as President George Bush told General Pervez Musharraf before the international TV cameras in March 2006, the two nations (India and Pakistan) are different, have different histories and different needs.
Giving India the waiver and bringing it into the non-proliferation regime and acknowledging its nuclear arsenal will be a gain for the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and nuclear commerce and will make India a stakeholder in the regime. Therefore, the very founders of the London Suppliers Club (the NSG) - the US, Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Canada - are in favour of the waiver and removing the impediments of technology denial from India’s growth. This explains the wide support to this move. The smaller powers which have reservations on the waiver are mostly focused on NPT as a dogma and are likely to be persuaded to take a broader geo-strategic view.
The move of US House International Relations Committee chairman Howard Berman to highlight the Hyde Act provisions on any future testing by India will be countered by the US administration itself. The discretion to impose sanctions on a country conducting a nuclear test is with the US president under the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The Hyde Act seeks to circumscribe this power and this will not be accepted by any US president. Nor can that be a conditionality for NSG since that would subordinate the US president’s decisions to that of an international body, an issue on which the Americans are very sensitive. Therefore, that issue will be settled in the US itself.
The time has come for India to take full advantage of the present international strategic situation and make full use of multipolarity for its own faster growth.
(K. Subrahmanyam is India’s pre-eminent analyst on strategic and international affairs. He can be contacted at email@example.com)