Opinion Columnists 10 Jun 2016 Old bonds, new paths
The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh

Old bonds, new paths

Published Jun 10, 2016, 12:43 am IST
Updated Jun 10, 2016, 12:43 am IST
The US newspaper alleges India does not conform to NPT/NSG commitments.
Modi received standing ovations as many as nine times according to unofficial count and was applauded by scores of times by the members of the Congress. (Photo: AP)
 Modi received standing ovations as many as nine times according to unofficial count and was applauded by scores of times by the members of the Congress. (Photo: AP)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 6-8 visit to the United States was part consolidation, some top-down review of old declarations, pushing of core interests by both sides, but above all a choreographed shifting of India a notch closer towards a quasi-alliance — more than partnership, less than  alliance. Two core interests in play were: climate change and the Paris Accord that are for President Barack Obama legacy issues; and civil nuclear cooperation, including membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which for India has become a barometer of US goodwill. The standard Indian position on climate change has been that “polluters pay”, which the Kyoto Protocol, effective 2005, prescribed as binding emission targets on Annexe B parties. India and most developing countries were exempt from these.

The first commitment period ended in 2012 and the second and final one runs till 2020. The cardinal principle was “common but differentiated responsibilities”, implying that developing countries not having contributed to the post-industrial age greenhouse gases got differently treated. The post-Kyoto debate shifted dramatically with the rise of Chinese emissions, now at 20 per cent of the world’s total, making it the top emitter. The US is next, with 17.8 per cent, then Russia at 7.53 per cent and India at 4.1 per cent. The differentiated responsibility argument became moot with impending climate disaster. India thus came under pressure to modify old positions and stop hurtling towards higher total emissions on the pretext of growth and poverty alleviation.


Leading to the Paris Accord it was calculated that if no action was taken, the mean global temperature would rise in 2100 by 4.5°C; if current policies under the Kyoto Protocol were followed by 3.6°C; but if the Paris pledge was accepted, even then by 2.7°C. To avoid environmental disruption, the upper limit of temperature must ideally not exceed 2°C, the pre-industrial age as the benchmark.

While India rejected emission limits, its strategy, since the Manmohan Singh government, has been to accept increasing the mix of renewable and nuclear in India’s energy bouquet and cap energy intensity per unit of production, making production more energy-efficient. This was happening in any case as the Chinese made most smelting industries outside China unproductive. In fact, US emissions haven’t risen due to more natural gas use and offshoring of polluting industries.


At Paris India, in exchange for cooperation, sought finance and technology for transition to the low carbon economy for itself and the developing world. The Paris Accord conceded a Green Climate Fund, comprising a non-binding commitment of $100 billion a year to developing nations.

President Obama considers the Paris Accord part of his legacy and would like it operationalised before his term ends in January 2017. For that, 55 of 190-odd signatories, with at least 55 per cent of global emissions, must ratify it. Ratification by India, a major developing nation, would be a catalyst. But Mr Obama must first get the US Senate to approve American ratification, which Donald Trump, Republican nominee for President, is opposing. The US sweetened the deal for India by offering to finance renewable energy projects. The second core issue is civil nuclear cooperation. It’s no coincidence that the NSG was created in 1975, immediately after India’s nuclear test in 1974.


The other three regimes — Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement — then followed to snap shut Indian access to all imaginable dual-use technologies. The civil nuclear cooperation issue was complicated by two events just as the UPA government was shepherding the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill through Parliament in 2011. One, a dormant case on the Bhopal gas tragedy resurfaced, raising public anger over malfeasance by multinationals.

Two, Japan witnessed the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Both conflated in the public mind and heightened concern over the safety of nuclear power and whether the liability of foreign suppliers for defective products that could cause disasters should not be indefinite. Parliament thus passed a stringent law imposing comprehensive and constructive liability on suppliers. American companies and others shied away from investing in India, fearing this onerous law. The Indian government was politically unable to amend it, but worked around it to allay suppliers’ fears by joining the Convention on Supplementary Compensation and creating an insurance pool to act as a liability buffer.


It has now been announced that contracts for the sale of six AP1000 reactors of Westinghouse have been fast-tracked, with a one-year limit for closure. That has still left Indian membership of the NSG dangling, as the Chinese came out in open opposition, finding an unlikely ally in the New York Times. Both argue that India must sign the NPT prior to joining the NSG. This is disingenuous as France and some other nations joined the NSG before signing the NPT. The US newspaper alleges India does not conform to NPT/NSG commitments.

The NPT nuclear weapon state members make two commitments: not to proliferate and to work towards nuclear disarmament. China has breached the former, while all five have dodged the latter. India, on the other hand, has always been and still is a votary of complete nuclear disarmament. The Indian record on non-proliferation is unimpeachable. While India joining the MTCR was inevitable after it pacified the Italians over their marine issue, it is uncertain how China will act now that Mr Modi has got the last few objectors like Switzerland and Mexico onboard.


India will not rush to ratify the Paris Accord, awaiting US and Chinese moves. In any case, for civil nuclear commerce, it has a NSG waiver. NSG membership, which China will try to link to client Pakistan being similarly adjusted or some other Sino-Indian compromise over Chinese access to the Indian market, can wait. Mr Modi’s five-nation trip has thus managed to consolidate old bonds and open some new paths.