The Security Council should bear this burden
India is holding on to a hot potato. And it’s beginning to hurt. The Iranians have refused to relent on their nuclear ambitions. The Europeans who tried to mediate have thrown in the towel. The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency is to decide whether or not to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions or worse. India, like China and Russia, has both a vote on the IAEA as well as a strategic interest in maintaining good relations with Iran. Consequently it has thus far been reluctant to put the Iranians in a spot. Unfortunately, the time for sitting on the fence is coming to an end.
The Yanks have a point
At stake is the blossoming relationship with the United States, which has every intention to confront Iran on the nuclear issue. The Bush administration has taken on its own domestic non-proliferation constituency as well other nuclear-weapon states in agreeing to sell nuclear technology to India. Beyond mere symbolism, this is a concrete first step towards acknowledging India’s nuclear ‘legitimacy’ (if there can be such a thing) and addressing its energy security through the transfer of civilian nuclear technology and fuel components. India should not fail to reciprocate this extraordinary change in longstanding American policy. It should not refuse to sensitise itself to America’s proliferation concerns vis-a-vis Iran.
Contrary to what it is made out to be, it is not true that India will burn its bridges with Iran by voting in favour of referring the case over to the UN Security Council. While it is certain that India will have to make a significant withdrawal from its bilateral relationship account, it is hardly the case that this will send the balance into the red. And if it does, and the Iranians send a with-us-or-against-us message, then the choice should be pretty clear. Nobody in India, not even the Communists, can argue that India is worse off on the side of the United States than on the side of Iran. But it is unlikely that this will ever come to pass for the ruling theocracy in Iran too intelligent to present such stark options to India.
If India intended to use the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline as a bogey to win better terms in its negotiations with the United States, then it has outlived its utility. Its geopolitical and economic rationale was never strong to begin with, and it now sticks out as symbol of Indian foreign policy dogmatism. And now, even Gen Musharraf has asked for American nuclear know-how as the price of dropping the pipeline idea. India would do well to bury the idea of the pipeline and in the process and deny Musharraf a new nuclear negotiating card.
Kick it upstairs
India is a member of the IAEA board. Unlike China, Russia and the United States, it is not a member of the UN Security Council. By that token, the burden of actually imposing sanctions on Iran will lie on China, Russia and France. India should let them have the privilege of defending a nuclear bad boy at the United Nations. The permanent five, including the United States, are not keen to admit India as one among them. So why should India allow them to escape the responsibility that comes with their position?
The Acorn likes an independent foreign policy. It just doesn’t like a dogmatic one.