Delhiberations: NSG - It's no failure'

India's failure was like an unexpected midsummer bonus for the Modi-slammers.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office and embarked on his world tours, being a member of the country’s oldest and longest-ruling party, the Congress, hasn’t been much fun. Though Mr Modi’s public appearances amid Bolly, bhangra, dandiya and other NRI pomp and circumstance and his flamboyant dress sense provided ammunition for smirks, his many foreign policy successes plunged the Opposition right back into festering gloom. Some weeks ago, the Congress and some in the media as well as activists who have built empires off Modi-bashing, got another opportunity. At the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary meeting and despite the Indian government’s best efforts, China successfully blocked India’s application for membership of the elite cartel that oversees regulations and prices for nuclear exports worldwide.

India’s “failure” was like an unexpected midsummer bonus for the Modi-slammers. The PM had “embarrassed” India by showing India’s “desperation”, sniffed the Congress (whose own foreign minister once famously read out Portugal’s speech instead of India’s at the UN Security Council). “Diplomacy needs depth, not public tamasha”, declared its spokesman Anand Sharma. Beijing argued against India’s admission as New Delhi has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Some of our closest allies, too, reportedly voted against India, with the biggest turnaround by Switzerland and the United States. The former went back on its earlier promise to support India’s admission, while the latter, though backing India’s bid, didn’t go the extra mile to counter the Chinese.

But what about other naysayers, like New Zealand? Small nations that have been seeking to intensify and deepen ties with India in recent years? Other than one newspaper’s two canny reporters and some senior commentators, few in the media went beyond what was reported out of Seoul, where the NSG meeting took place. What exactly were countries like New Zealand objecting to? The reporters bothered to ask. And got a revealing reply. “It’s quite wrong to describe New Zealand as opposed to India’s NSG membership,” was the response from New Zealand’s foreign office. “(We) believe it is very important for NSG members to consider carefully what criteria should be used in assessing applications from non-NPT states”. That, not opposition to India, was New Zealand’s position at the plenary. “Constructive discussions should lead to a pathway against which India’s application can be properly considered.”

At a chat with foreign correspondents in New Delhi last week, New Zealand’s high commissioner Grahame Morton reiterated this. There was no “timetable” for how and when these reforms to the NSG’s admission norms will take place, but Mr Morton pointed repeatedly to the “process” as the single point of his country’s concern before admitting India. It is reasonable to assume that other countries as keen as New Zealand to warm up to India would have followed a similar line. So was the outcome of the NSG really as belittling as the gleeful Congress makes it out to be?

No. Not if you consider how the international bureaucracy has mastered the art of fine-tuning and tweaking texts of global arrangements as and when it becomes necessary. In other words, what “naysayers” at the NSG (besides China) have done is to give India another window of opportunity but this time a more satisfactory one. One that may well let India in but also ensure, through some nuanced wording, that Pakistan, another non-NPT signatory, is kept out. Consider the following: China reiterated that India must sign the NPT before it can be admitted, knowing full well, of course, that India will never sign a discriminatory treaty that reserves the right to possess nuclear weapons only for the Big Five (US, UK, France, Russia, China).

On the other hand, India has already signed agreements for civil nuclear cooperation with some hitherto intransigent supplier states like Canada and Australia, and also with four of the Big Five. Indeed, the NSG itself had in 2008 issued a waiver that enabled these agreements. On the heels of the so-called failure at the NSG, India was formally induced into the Missile Technology Control Regime, a voluntary grouping to control the proliferation of missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, of which China is not a member. Since admission into the NSG is only a matter of time, it is a given that China will use every trick in the book to delay India’s entry.

But if there’s one thing Congress spokesman Anand Sharma got right, it is the “depth” of diplomacy. While the NPT may or may not be acknowledged as an outdated treaty by nations like New Zealand, who are seeking a relook at “procedures”, and expunged altogether, nuanced drafting of any new application criteria for NSG membership will rework existing legislation, if need be, to “fit” India’s admission. But what’s in the NSG that makes India covet its membership so much? For one, it’s a cartel which makes or dissolves the rules for all commercial players in the international nuclear market. As a member, India will be able to import and export nuclear raw material as well as the latest reactor technology and participate in any amendments of NSG guidelines. The last is important if India is to ensure that the 2008 waiver it got is not, for whatever reason, cancelled again.

But as already argued, the many international agreements signed by India so far, given its pressing energy needs, already provide for imports. Given the long decades of international isolation and the relatively nascent stage of India’s own nuclear energy production, exports are, in any case, not an immediate urgency. Consequently, many foreign policy experts like former foreign secretary Shyam Saran see the NSG membership as desirable, but not essential for now. In an interview ahead of the NSG meeting last month, Mr Saran noted that China was opposed even to the mere NSG waiver given to India in 2008, but had to relent when it realised it was isolated. China’s present position seems, therefore, to be solely on behalf of its close ally Pakistan, whose NSG application is also pending.

( Source : Columnist )
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