Six small states, one big one, and the nuclear cartel

It is easy to take a moral position when there is little cost to it

Before China publicly signaled its opposition to clearing the decks for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, six small states were instrumental in throwing a spanner in the works. They opposed the first draft of the proposal to unconditionally lift the ban in export of nuclear material to India. Now emboldened by China’s ‘unofficial’ position, they may yet block the revised draft.

But why are these small states, minor players on the international scene, behaving in this manner? Are they being merely being racist or are they acting as the world’s “conscience keepers” ? Or as Paul Nelson, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University argues, their domestic perspectives on nuclear power and nuclear weapons may be preventing them from understanding India’s compulsions. [via Idaho Samizdata, which has a good post on this topic]

Whatever it might be, it only reflects that they have calculated that it is inexpensive for them to take the position they did. In fact, they have little to lose, in the short-term, from taking an anti-India position. They are geographically distant and, except for Norwegian peace diplomacy in Sri Lanka, are removed from the geopolitics of India and its neighbourhood. More importantly, India’s trade with these states is miniscule. The Commerce Ministry’s latest trade figures (as of February 2008) explain why these countries could afford to be more concerned about nuclear non-proliferation. Clearly they don’t really have much of a share of emerging India.

Country Exports (%) Imports (%)
Ireland 0.2 0.1
Austria 0.12 0.24
New Zealand 0.09 0.14
Netherlands 3.18 0.84
Norway 0.17 0.67
Switzerland 0.37 4.13

Now, the Netherlands and Switzerland played a role in permitting A Q Khan and the Pakistani nuclear underground to operate for so long and cause so much damage to non-proliferation, the cause they now ostensibly espouse.

But John 8:7 does not apply in international relations. What really makes the Dutch and Swiss stand inexplicable is that there is reasonable inward foreign investment coming into India from these countries, as well as some trade. They are also likely to be beneficiaries from an opening of India’s nuclear power sector to foreign investment. Perhaps their position is designed to extract a quid pro quo at a later date, or indeed motivated by a quid pro quo with other parties.

In any event, by overplaying their hand, the six small states are risking pushing the NSG into irrelevance. The dynamics of cartels being what they are, the interests of the United States, Russia and France being what they are, and the NSG being what it is (a cartel and not a treaty), the question for India is one of timing and convenience.

This episode serves to highlight the need for India to develop deep economic linkages with countries that are a source of fuel supplies and technology. At the same time it is important to ensure that countries do not find taking anti-India positions costless or inexpensive.

10 thoughts on “Six small states, one big one, and the nuclear cartel”

  1. The chinese protest is like a serial rapist fighting for womens rights.

    China, to build an eastern front pincer {pakistan} to India, provided the pakistanis with entire nuclear weapons design and technology.

    According to Admiral Arun Prakash –

    {Quote} Why did China (in collusion with North Korea) evolve a sinister plan to supply Pakistan with not just the plans and technology for nuclear weapons and a family of missiles but also the hardware related to these? Such a transaction is unprecedented in international relations. The Americans denied the transfer of atomic weapon technology to their Anglo-Saxon cousins the British (who had rendered valuable scientific assistance in Project Manhattan) through the instrumentality of the 1946 McMahon Act. [link]{Unquote}.

  2. Nitin,

    Its all very well to state that these countries *should* not find it so easy or inexpensive to pull down India. Question is, what are our immediate options, if any? if none, what are our medium or long term options, if any?

    Seen that way, it does seem that there’s little Delhi can or will do at this point. Breaking the NSG due to some future N-contracts is a bridge too far simply becauise the costs of breaking the NSG for the major powers will be high – monitoring and regulating N-trade between all and sundry.

    Still, a few more days and it should be clear as day where we stand. What we should do next is another matter altogether.

  3. “There’s more. China allegedly received civilian technology from Pakistan, in return.”

    But did the report not say that the said technology(centrifuges) didn’t work?

  4. Nitin,
    India should give market access to these countries. From dairy to wine to banking, these countries would want better market access to our markets…I think this should seal the deal

  5. For a start, we could snub New Zealand by canceling the upcoming visit of the country’s (Indian-origin) Governor General

  6. Ashutosh,

    No, no one ever seriously thought that China was proliferation-innocent. It is only now that the details are coming out in the open.

    It is easy to have a “good record of nuclear restraint” yourself when the folks you give the nukes to direct them against your own strategic adversaries and are not so restrained.

    In other words, China’s nuclear restraint—to the extent it is restrained—is one side of the coin. The other side of the same coin is nuclear proliferation—to the extent that it proliferated.

  7. China is about as nuclear-restrained as Britain and France. I am saying this in the sense that unlike Russia and the US, they did not get carried away and build thousands of nuclear weapons and ICBMs. Agreed that Britain and France haven’t aided proliferation. Or have they…

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