Manipal, India — Contrary to the expectations of Congress Party boss Sonia Gandhi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, last week's special meeting in Vienna of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group ended in deadlock. The meeting had been requested by the United States to approve George W. Bush's quest for a "clean waiver" for the resumption of nuclear trade with India – commerce that had been frozen since India's 1974 nuclear test.
Tellingly, all but one of the countries opposing India were either European, or of largely European stock. The one exception was Japan, a country that prides itself on its people being the "Westerners of the East."
Expectedly, Austria led the Euro-attack against the proposed exemption, reiterating the bloc’s 34-year demand that India be forced to accept full-scope safeguards on all its nuclear facilities, as well as sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Finland, Switzerland and Ireland joined hands with Japan in backing the Austrian stand, even though each had been individually made aware by Indian negotiators that any such conditions would result in India walking away from the deal.
Unfortunately for backers of the deal, reports reaching New Delhi suggest that the Bush point person for the talks, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John Rood, proved to be less than enthusiastic about securing a clean waiver for India. In this, Rood is following in the path of his predecessor Robert Joseph, who had also been unenthusiastic about the deal. Both are members of the U.S. nonproliferation mainstream that for decades has focused on India – a state that has never proliferated its technology beyond its own borders – while doing little about U.S. policies that have winked at proliferation by Pakistan, China and North Korea.
When Manmohan Singh signed on to a joint statement with U.S. President George W. Bush on July 18, 2005, it was assumed that Washington recognized that the 1.16 billion-strong democracy – which has nearly 300 million English speakers and is rapidly becoming a strategic U.S. ally – had by its unblemished nonproliferation record earned the right to nuclear commerce as "a country possessing advanced nuclear technology."
Clearly, many within the Bush administration disagree, standing with those European countries that have sought to derail the nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, despite India having offered to place 70 percent of its existing reactors under safeguards. Incidentally, both France and the United Kingdom have strongly backed India in the NSG, thus indicating that not all European countries are resentful of India being given a clean waiver by the NSG.
Should the NSG approve a deal already cleared by the International Atomic Energy Agency and nuclear trade with India resume, a future administration would be likely to continue the country's moratorium on nuclear testing, which was announced by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee soon after the 1998 tests. However, should the deal fall through, the way would be clear for the next administration in India to resume nuclear testing and begin to move away from New Delhi's longstanding policy of ignoring lucrative foreign offers for purchase of its technologies.
Funding on a significant scale would be needed to develop an adequate nuclear energy program in the absence of an NSG nod, and trade in such technologies would be a likely route toward mobilizing the funding needed. Ironically therefore, the group that is opposing India's being given any option other than unconditional surrender of its strategic deterrent is playing into the hands of nuclear hawks who are expected to have a muscular voice in the government that will be formed after the 2009 general election.
Given the strong domestic opposition even to the concessions already made by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to clinch the deal with the United States, it will not be possible for New Delhi to agree to any further conditions. What the Austria-led group is looking for is an Indian commitment to sign on to the NPT, the CTBT and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, a position that would reduce to nonsense India's 55-year odyssey toward becoming an independent nuclear and space power.
Clearly, some within the international community are not yet ready to accept a world order in which those of an ethnicity different from themselves be given the same privileges as they themselves enjoy. Unless of course that country be China, which is not only responsible for making North Korea and Pakistan nuclear powers, but which is fawned on by all the countries now opposing India at the NSG.
With others doing its work of preventing a clear waiver to India, Beijing can put on a cooperative mien, hoping that others will derail the consensus needed for NSG decisions to become effective.
When the NSG re-convenes on Sept. 4 to discuss the India waiver, should the Austria-led group succeed in pushing to impose additional – and unacceptable – conditions on India, such actions would be reminiscent of the way in which Moscow's diplomatic nose was buried in the mud in the former Yugoslavia by NATO in the 1990s. And as recent events in Georgia show, eventually there will be payback for those who have not understood that the world they exist in bears little resemblance to the world in the 19th century, when a single ethnic group dominated the world.
This century calls for a close alliance between the countries with European-origin majorities and India, in order to face the twin threats of religious extremism and state authoritarianism. An all-round alliance with India is key even to the continued economic success of Euro-majority countries – yet this baby may be stillborn thanks to Austria and its allies should they succeed in throwing out the bathwater of the NSG's proposed India-specific nuclear waiver. Much more is at stake in Vienna on Sept. 4 than nuclear trade with India.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)