How the East was won

Published : Oct 10, 2008 00:00 IST

For New Zealand, as also other NSG players in Greater East Asia, the turning point was Indias declaratory commitments.

In Singapore

FOR the protagonists of Indias civil nuclear odyssey, as now punctuated by the waiver secured from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), this round has been won with a mix of creative diplomacy and good luck in Greater East Asia.

This geopolitical theatre may well become the centre of gravity in global politics in the future. Dominating this region are NSG giants China and Japan, besides the staunch but pragmatic non-proliferation campaigners Australia and South Korea, and New Zealand, which, despite its profile, turned the heat on India. Two NSG superpowers, the United States and Russia, are also significant players in Greater East Asia, but Indian civil nuclear diplomacy in regard to them was not played out in this theatre itself.

For those who were not convinced of Indias frenetic diplomacy to secure the NSGs nod for civil nuclear commerce, there are, in the end, no real surprises in the way the relevant East Asian players finally accommodated New Delhi. The bottom line in the calculations of these East Asian players was realism about not only the sky-rocketing ascendance of China but also the relative rise of India in an evolving global milieu of complex cross-linkages among states.

As the evolution of the NSGs consensus passed through dramatic phases of hope and despair for New Delhi, either U.S. President George W. Bush or his key lieutenants spoke to their counterparts in these East Asian countries. Later, one of them, New Zealand, emphasised how such interventions eventually enabled it to trim its non-proliferation sails to the new civil nuclear energy winds that began blowing in the direction of India.

New Zealands stand, tough almost until the very end of this round, surprised some members of the cartel and many international observers. But the Indians and other interlocutors, who interacted with Kiwi leaders, had got an inkling of New Zealands inclination to quote chapter and verse from the non-proliferation book. And India found itself with no real leverage to be able to influence New Zealands thinking. Unsurprisingly, in the end, U.S. intervention at the highest level was needed to persuade New Zealand to go along with the pro-India consensus.

Now, although New Zealand does not see itself as a desperate ally of the U.S., there were obviously limits to what the Kiwi leaders could do in the face of Washingtons India-preference. External observers point out that New Zealand tends to act as autonomously of the U.S. as possible, somewhat like France in the European theatre. There are, of course, other reasons, outside the scope of this report, why France has not served as an inspiration for New Zealand in the NSG this time.

For New Zealand, as also the other NSG players in Greater East Asia, the turning point in the deliberations was the release of Indias declaratory commitments, actually reaffirmations, about its nuclear security doctrine. This aspect of Indias creative diplomacy was seized upon by these countries, albeit in the specific context of U.S. preferences, as reasonable proof of the viability of the evolving NSG consensus.

There is the danger that the story of Chinas support for the India-specific consensus may get lost in the labyrinth of perceptions regarding the potential competition between Beijing and New Delhi on the global stage. Throughout the run-up to the NSG meeting, China did keep India guessing, without cold-shouldering it at any time. During the run-up, China affirmed its willingness to cooperate with India in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and it almost always did so in the context of its own adherence to non-proliferation objectives.

This sort of creative diplomacy on Chinas part pleased India, which did not also take Beijings support for granted on the eve of the NSG deliberations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs remarks, following his talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the margins of Group of Eight summits in Japan a few months ago, reflected Indias assessment of Chinas evolving views.

Yet, in the end, if India did feel surprised by Chinas moves at the NSG deliberations, the reason has much to do with its expectations regarding the emerging power-play among the two countries and the U.S. A point that Official India obviously bears in mind is: it was only recently, in May 2004, that China applied for membership of the NSG, which granted such status after the U.S. supported the move. India is no less influenced by arguments, in the international domain, over Chinas past support for Pakistan and a few others in nuclear proliferation activities. Unsurprisingly, given the considerations about the relative power and influence of India and China on the global stage, Beijing disputed reports about its moves to block the emergence of a pro-New Delhi consensus at the NSG.

Arguable, therefore, is the view that Beijings final say in favour of India in the NSG has much to do with Chinas own ascendance as an economic and military-political power. As Avery Goldstein and several other international affairs specialists have identified, China is increasingly engaged in charting its rise to great power status within the constraints of the present international system, which is still dominated by the U.S. In this context, China is also seen to be keen to establish linkages with other powers so as to make itself an indispensable player now and in the future.

Other China specialists such as Robert G. Sutter, a U.S. intelligence officer and civil servant-turned-professor, argue that Beijing will not soon, if ever, acquire such power that might induce it to be strongly inclined to adopt markedly more assertive, demanding, and seriously disruptive policies in regional and global affairs. This assessment, made in a larger context of the U.S. global agenda, has some resonance, from an American standpoint, for the manner in which the latest NSG debate on India has been resolved, at least for now.

Among all the NSG powers in Greater East Asia, Japan has the most advanced civil nuclear energy profile, while China, too, is known to have made rapid strides. The third annual Japan-India Energy Dialogue was held in Tokyo on September 17, the session being co-chaired by Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Toshihiro Nikkai and Union Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The two sides, according to sources, discussed all forms of energy cooperation, including civil nuclear energy in the new India-NSG context.

However, the energy dialogue as first agreed upon and later intensified through working group sessions does not include cooperation in the civil nuclear energy domain. More importantly, no new working group on civil nuclear energy has been constituted in the wake of the latest Japan-India dialogue in Tokyo. This is in line with Japans sensitivity in transferring civil nuclear technology to India.

In the run-up to the India-specific NSG meetings, authoritative Japanese sources had told this correspondent that Tokyo would have to look very carefully at the fine print of any waiver for New Delhi. This is exactly what the Japanese delegation did during the NSG deliberations. However, being a close ally of the U.S., Japan did not queer the pitch, one way or another.

Australia, another prominent U.S. ally with a free-thinking streak under the present Kevin Rudd government, played a positive and constructive role in shaping the India-specific consensus in the NSG. It neither tabled any reservations nor supported any amendments to the U.S. proposals.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith reaffirmed, after the NSG consensus, that uranium would not be sold, even now, to India because of its enduring decision to stay out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Stephen Smith, however, indicated to Frontline that Australia may consider the issue of exporting dual-use know-how and equipment to India in the event of a request. The issue would be considered in the light of the NSG waiver details and Australias own export norms in the nuclear domain.

South Korea, a rising economic powerhouse with a reasonably robust civil nuclear energy sector, too, sailed along with the U.S.-drafted consensus. This is as indicated to this correspondent by a former South Korean Foreign Minister. President Lee Myung-bak, with a greater pro-U.S. tilt than his predecessor, had no difficulty in staying the course of the new U.S. deal for India. Seoul has not allowed its sensitivities concerning North Koreas nuclear weapons programme to cloud the big picture of the U.S. global agenda in this domain.

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