What the UPA’s election win means for foreign policy

Regaining lost ground on China, re-engaging the United States

Mint’s Samar Srivastava & Tanmaya Kumar Nanda have an opinion round-up on the prospects for India’s foreign affairs under the second UPA government. They find that the “UPA win (is) good for foreign policy, but (there are) clouds ahead”, and that the biggest of those clouds is China.

Most experts agreed that one of India’s largest challenges would come not from its west but east: China.

“China is recalcitrant. Forget magnanimity, things are becoming frozen. China is signalling its unwillingness to accommodate India, that is more worrying,” said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of International Politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.

Kapur added India would have to take steps to increase its bargaining power. “China’s approach is to speak softly but carry a big stick. India’s approach is to speak loudly and carry a small stick…. We haven’t even cultivated Taiwan or backed the Dalai Lama. As a country, we are apprehensive and insecure about China.”

Nitin Pai, editor of Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review magazine, agreed, saying India has done the worst in five years with regard to China. “India needs to (sit) bilaterally with key players like Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Vietnam.” [Mint]

The point I made is that while the UPA government did generally well with respect to relations with the United States and was so-so with respect to Pakistan, it lost the plot with respect to China. Whether this was due to the presence of the Leftists or a strategic naivete-cum-pusillanimity within the Congress Party’s own senior leadership, the objective fact is that India failed to even mitigate the rise of Chinese power in East Asia. Such was the neglect that even the band-aid, in the form of approval for infrastructure development along the India-China border, was applied after the elections started. The single biggest task—in the medium term—is to draw out a vision of India’s geopolitical role in the 21st century, and begin to take purposeful steps to get there. (From the way the article is written, it might appear that I agreed with Dr Kapur on Taiwan and the Dalai Lama. I didn’t mention them at all)

The UPA government and the Obama administration will have to work with each other at least for the next four years. Here, far from a sense of defensiveness over Washington’s vaunted/troubled Af-Pak strategy, the UPA government must understand that President Obama’s success or failure in Afghanistan & Pakistan (and second term in office) is to a significant extent contingent on New Delhi’s support. This doesn’t mean grandstanding: quite the opposite, it means a confident and constructive partnership. It means allowing and ensuring that the United States ends up doing the necessary—confronting the Pakistani military-jihadi complex—sooner rather than later.

What about nuclear weapons? It’s good to see President Obama agree with the age-old Indian position that the world ought to be free of nuclear weapons. As K Subrahmanyam—by no means an anti-nuclear weapons ideologue says—the first step is to delegitimise their use: non-use against non-nuclear states, no first use against nuclear states, and, for those with thousands of warheads, a reduction in their number. That said—there will be disagreement on the NPT and CTBT—where a change in the Indian position can only come after a substantial change in the structure of the treaties. Can Dr Singh not persuade Mr Obama that an unprecedented change in US position over nuclear weapons requires jettisoning Cold War era dogmas? Or should the world await a global nuclear crisis—like the economic one—before concluding that the G7 needs to expand into a G20?

None of this is incompatible with retaining a minimum credible deterrent in the meantime. Dr Singh should know better than anyone else that ‘operationalising’ the India-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver is the key to ensuring that the size of the deterrent is appropriate.

Tall order this, so it’s important to start right: can Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first appoint a good external affairs minister, a good defence minister and a good national security advisor?

Uranium reservations

The Rudd government has created a window of opportunity for China to lock in Australia’s uranium supplies

Greg Sheridan writes that Australia’s policy on rejecting uranium sales to India will eventually change, but step by step.

Now, however, Australian policy suffers a serious contradiction. In supporting the deal, Australia is urging all other members of the international community to engage in full nuclear trade with India, including the supply of uranium, without which it will be impossible for India to build nuclear power stations.

Yet official Australian policy is that while it supports the deal and will engage in nuclear technology trade with India, it won’t supply uranium to the world’s biggest democracy because New Delhi is not a signatory to the NNPT.

This contradiction is, of course, madness. And make no mistake: while New Delhi fully understands Canberra’s position, deeply appreciates its support at the IAEA and the NSG and understands that the Rudd Government won’t support the various stages of the deal until they are actually agreed to, eventually a refusal by Australia to sell uranium to India, while selling it to China and Russia, would lead to deep trouble between Canberra and New Delhi.

That’s why eventually the Rudd Government will move away from its ban on uranium to India. Step by step, one stage at a time, in concert with the international community, but the destination of selling uranium to India is surely now inescapable as a result of the sensible decisions we’ve taken up to now. [The Australian]

Having overturned its predecessor’s decision, the Rudd government has only set the clock back by a few years. This gives China the opportunity to lock in Australia’s uranium supplies, and Chinese state-owned firms are doing just that. China’s failed attempt to block the NSG’s waiver to nuclear trade with India should be seen in this context.

Discussing Australia’s domestic debate on regulating Chinese investment into the country’s natural resource sector, Lowy’s Mark Thirlwell argues that while changes to rules on foreign investment are not necessary, “the number of cases where foreign government ownership will represent a challenge to Australia’s national interest will turn out to be very small. But ‘very small’ is not the same as zero.” It is for thinking Australians to consider whether it is their interest to allow the Chinese government to buy into its uranium mines before Indian companies are even allowed to purchase the ore.

Mira Kamdar’s confused diatribe

The fastest growing democracy is indeed transforming America and the world.

Mira Kamdar is right about one thing: not “all opponents of the deal (or even those who dare question some of its provisions)” should be smeared as “nonproliferation ayatollahs” and “enemies of India”. Some are merely confused. Like Ms Kamdar herself, for instance.

In her diatribe in the Washington Post she is not even indulging in the flawed guns vs butter argument. Hers is a flawed butter vs butter argument, for “The US-India deal will divert billions of dollars away from India’s real development needs in sustainable agriculture, education, health care, housing, sanitation and roads.” Such a tall claim would have required some logical arguments using facts to connect claim to conclusion. She doesn’t offer any. But just look at some overall numbers and you’ll realise how ridiculous Ms Kamdar is. According to her own figures, the deal will result in US$100 billion of business for US companies over 20 years. That is, on an average, US$5 billion a year. India’s annual GDP is around US$1000 billion. Even if we ignore economic growth, the deal is worth a 0.5% of GDP per year. Even if all of that came from public funds, that still leaves a lot for agriculture, education, health, housing, sanitation and roads. When you consider that the Indian economy is expected to grow between 6-8% per annum and that India could well permit private investment in the power sector, it turns out that it’s not a big deal after all.

Now, money doesn’t mean much to Ms Kamdar. She sees it as a bad thing that the deal will enrich “deep-pocketed” US and Indian corporations. But then at the next moment, money goes from being a bad thing to an invisible thing. For she says “India gets unfettered access to nuclear fuel and technology, and it doesn’t have to do anything in return.” The US$100 billion over 20 years suddenly disappeared. So do “the tens of thousands of jobs”.

She also contends that the deal “will distract India from developing clean energy sources”, for even “under the rosiest of projections, (nuclear contributes) a mere 8 percent of India’s total energy needs—and won’t even do that until 2030.” Now, nuclear energy is clean energy, and it is available now. And it is too presumptive of Ms Kamdar to suggest that other sources will be ignored, not least when India ranks fourth in the world in wind power generation.

Ms Kamdar is even more confused about geopolitics. The deal “risks triggering a new arms race in Asia…a miffed and unstable Pakistan will seek nuclear parity with India, and China will fume at a transparent US ploy to balance Beijing’s rise by building up India as a counterweight next door.” No facts again, but here is one. Pakistan’s arsenal of warheads is estimated to be larger than India’s. It has an opaque deal with China which allows it to continue developing its arsenal. To seek nuclear parity then, Pakistan might have to give up some of its warheads. And why, what’s wrong with China fuming at being balanced? Perhaps Ms Kamdar truly believes narratives of China’s “peaceful rise”. Those who don’t—and India certainly shouldn’t—would do well to buy insurance.

Ms Kamdar’s piece is addressed to the US Congress. She is asking it to give up a lucrative commercial opportunity that could rekindle the United States’ moribund nuclear power industry. She is asking the US not to even attempt to balance the rise of China’s geopolitical power. And she is implicitly asking the US Congress to continue backing a flawed non-proliferation regime that didn’t prevent, apprehend nor punish acts of proliferation when they occurred. Well, that’s for the US Congress to chew on.

The rest of us still have to get back into our chairs, having fallen off after reading that the deal was responsible for corrupting Indian politics.

General Electric

After the “clean waiver” in Vienna

According the the Nuclear Suppliers Group, its guidelines “are implemented by each NSG participant in accordance with its national laws and practices. Decisions on export applications are taken at the national level in accordance with national export licensing requirements. This is the prerogative and right of all States for all export decisions in any field of commercial activity and is also in line with the text of Article III.2 of the NPT…” To understand what this will mean in practice, just read this report from Bloomberg.

The waiver means that companies including France’s Areva SA, Russia’s Rosatom Corp. and Japan’s Toshiba Corp. will be able to export nuclear equipment to India. General Electric Co. and other U.S. companies will have to wait until Congress ratifies a 2006 trade pact backed by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

General Electric, the world’s biggest maker of energy- generation equipment, said Aug. 25 that it may lose contracts in India to French, Russian and Japanese rivals if Congress doesn’t ratify a U.S.-India nuclear deal soon after the agreement wins approval from the Suppliers Group.

Rice said the U.S. has talked to India about the potential competitive disadvantage.

“I think they recognize and appreciate American leadership on this issue,” she said. “Because of that I think we’ll have ways to talk them about not disadvantaging American companies.”

Still, she said “the best thing would be to get it through Congress.” [Bloomberg]

It is understood that there is a tacit agreement that the first commercial deals will involve US companies…as long as the US Congress does not prevent it. The non-proliferation ayatollahs are up against the General Electrics on this one.

As for the Indian government, the real job begins once the party is over. Negotiating the nuclear deal with the United States, IAEA and the NSG was the easy part. The hard part involves liberalising the power industry. See energy security begins at home; Mr Advani sees the light and the uranium at home.

Related Link: The problems with India’s power industry regulations. The NSG saga covered at Idaho Samizdat.

Concerning Australia’s uranium sales

The Rudd government would do well to climb out of an unnecessary hole it has dug for Australia

Greg Sheridan has a very insightful piece on the India-US nuclear deal and the stakes for Australia (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran). He gets it right when he argues that Australia can’t hope to enjoy a close relationship with India if it maintains a discriminatory policy on uranium sales.

Then the deal must be approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Here’s where Australia comes in. With something like 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, Australia is a key member of the NSG. So far, the Rudd Government has not said whether it will support the US-India deal at the NSG or oppose it.

It has however hinted that it would support the deal at the NSG, a hint Foreign Minister Stephen Smith repeated yesterday. Certainly Australia could kiss goodbye forever the idea of any decent relationship with India if it opposes the deal at the NSG.

Accepting the deal at the NSG would not commit Australia to supplying uranium to India. However, that will be the next big question…

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb has effectively homed in on the contradiction between the Rudd Government selling uranium to China – which has a terrible, though not recent, record of nuclear proliferation – while refusing to sell uranium to India, which has never passed on nuclear technology to anyone.

..the Rudd Government will face a deep contradiction between supporting the US-India deal in the NSG, then saying it will not sell uranium to India. It will face an even bigger contradiction between its concern with greenhouse gas emissions and taking action, by refusing uranium to India, that impedes the development of clean energy. [The Australian]

The not-so-real ayatollah

David Albright’s credentials called into question

This blog has on several occasions called out David Albright’s high-profile reports on nuclear proliferation as being not alright. That they use facts to insinuate pre-determined conclusions, that they don’t have much by way of real analysis and that the timing of their release raises serious questions as to Mr Albright’s (and his principals’) real intentions. [See links to related posts below]

Now Mr Albright’s credentials have been questioned by Scott Ritter, a member of the international nuclear expert community, in a damning article on Truthdig (via Arms Control Wonk). Mr Albright, it turns out, is not much of a Non Proliferation Ayatollah at all

…David Albright has a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme. Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS. No self-respecting think tank would allow itself to be used in such an egregious manner. The fact that ISIS is a creation of Albright himself, and as such operates as a mirror image of its founder and president, only underscores the concerns raised when an individual lacking in any demonstrable foundation of expertise has installed himself into the mainstream media in a manner that corrupts the public discourse and debate by propagating factually incorrect, illogical and misleading information.

David Albright has a history of being used by those who seek to gain media attention for their respective claims. In addition to the Hamza and Obeidi fiascos, Albright and his organization, ISIS, have served as the conduit for other agencies gaining publicity about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor, and most recently the alleged Swiss computer containing sensitive nuclear design information. On each occasion, Albright is fed sensitive information from a third party, and then packages it in a manner that is consumable by the media. The media, engrossed with Albright’s misleading résumé (“former U.N. weapons inspector,” “Doctor,” “physicist” and “nuclear expert”), give Albright a full hearing, during which time the particulars the third-party source wanted made public are broadcast or printed for all the world to see. More often than not, it turns out that the core of the story pushed by Albright is, in fact, wrong. [Truthdig]

Mr Ritter points out that far from being a UN weapons inspector, he was “an outsider with questions”, “an informed tourist”, a “bag-boy” and a “dilettante”. He goes on to say:

It is not a sin to merely be informed, or to possess a specialty. But informed specialists are a dime a dozen. There is a reason mainstream media do not turn to bloggers when seeking out expert opinion. And yet, when they turn to “Dr. Albright, former U.N. weapons inspector,” they are getting little more than a well-funded, well-connected blogger.

Related Posts: Albright’s attempts cast doubts on India’s record on non-proliferation; and coming up with ‘revelations’ about Pakistan’s activities at convenient times.

My op-ed in Mint : Ten years after Pokhran-II

The payoffs are clear, unambiguous and long-term

In an op-ed to mark the tenth anniversary of India’s second round of nuclear tests, I argue that they made India a far more credible international actor. And that while India is reconciled to the ownership of nuclear weapons but remains unclear what they are for. I also point out that the conventional military balance remains as important despite nuclear deterrence being in place; and that our political leadership needs an altogether different level of skill to translate the nuclear advantage into foreign policy outcomes.


“Real strength lies in restraint,” Sonia Gandhi said ten days after India conducted its second series of nuclear tests on May 11th and May 13th 1998, “not in the display of shakti.” She could not have been more wrong.

At the time of Mrs Gandhi’s speech, India had spent a decade fighting a proxy war against a Pakistan that China had brazenly armed – with American connivance – with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. India’s protestations that it is a victim of both cross-border terrorism and illegal nuclear and missile proliferation got nowhere. The nuclear powers had perverted the entire edifice of nuclear disarmament by legitimising their own nuclear arsenals in perpetuity. They were coercing India to constrain and give up its nuclear weapons programme. It was abundantly clear that India’s display of restraint was being exploited as a sign of weakness.

Pokhran-II changed that. Because it demonstrated to the world that India was ready to incur costs in the defence of its national interests. [Mint]

Thanks to Kedar Wagle, Anand Sampath & V Anantha Nageswaran for providing inputs and comments

Parties, interests, leaders and legacy

Leadership will not go unrewarded

Merely ten years after declaring itself a nuclear weapons state, will India’s nuclear future turn into a grand Greek tragedy? K Subrahmanyam’s analysis of the India-US nuclear deal and the interests and payoffs for political parties and their leaders is brilliant.

Right said Bidwai

What is bad for Bidwai is good for India: the rule always applies

Praful Bidwai offers honest, rational arguments against the India-US nuclear deal.

Many of the deal’s opponents are also mistaken in arguing that it’ll reduce/cap India’s nuclear arsenal/fissile material production. India will only subject 14 of its 22 operating/planned power reactors to inspections. The rest can annually yield 200kg of plutonium—enough for 40 bombs, in addition to the existing 100-150, and way beyond the professed “minimum deterrent”.

India can also stockpile unlimited amounts of weapons-grade material in its military-nuclear and other unsafeguarded facilities, including the “Dhruva” and prototype fast-breeder reactors. Besides, India can dedicate scarce domestic uranium exclusively to weapons. Again, India can live with the Hyde Act’s constraints. They’re a small price to pay if you want your weapons normalized and expanded, while resuming global nuclear commerce.

The honest, rational, argument against the deal is that it legitimizes nuclear weapons (India’s and the US’), weakens the global non-proliferation norm, unfairly favours India because it’s Washington’s friend, consolidates an unhealthy, unequal India-US relationship, and promotes the wrong kind of energy.

The deal will admit India into the global nuclear club—on the side of those who run a system that India long condemned as atomic apartheid. Once it joins the club, India will bid goodbye to its commitment, reiterated in the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme, to fight for global nuclear disarmament. You don’t join an exclusive club, and then demand its dissolution! The deal will detract from a principled commitment to a peaceful, equitable world order free of the scourge of nuclear weapons. [Mint]

Those who feel that a deal that favours India—fairly or otherwise—is good for India should therefore rally in support of the deal. The time-tested dictum that India’s national interest is the opposite of what Mr Bidwai advocates holds true.

Mr Bidwai is not the only anti-nuclear activist arriving at the conclusion that the deal allows India to hone its nuclear deterrent and expand nuclear power. Here’s M V Ramana in IEEE Spectrum:

What’s more, the agreement is likely to increase—not decrease—India’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons and material. By importing uranium, India will be able to channel its native supply toward military purposes.

There is also the possibility that those nuclear reactors not subject to IAEA inspection will be converted to military ends. Any power reactor not under safeguards can be used to make weapons-grade plutonium by limiting the time the fuel is irradiated. This prevents the build-up of higher isotopes of plutonium, which are undesirable in a weapon. When a typical heavy-water reactor is operated normally, fuel remains inside the reactor seven times as long as when it is producing weapons-grade plutonium. Heavy-water reactors are particularly suited to making bomb-grade material, because new fuel is continuously added (and old fuel continuously removed); this type of reactor could produce the same amount of electricity every year but would use seven times as much fuel to do so. In theory, a 220-MW heavy-water reactor, run at 60 to 80 percent capacity, could produce 150 to 200 kg per year of weapons-grade plutonium. [IEEE Spectrum]

Elements of the BJP who continue to reflexively oppose the India-US nuclear deal need to explain the public why they are on the same side as the likes of Mr Bidwai.

(Mr Bidwai’s piece, by the way, contains many of the usual canards. He’s entitled to them)

Ready to play a part in nuclear disarmament

India is in

At IDSA’s tenth Asian Security Conference, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said

On the demand side, the best way to address the dilemmas in the nuclear domain is to focus our efforts on the goal of global nuclear disarmament…The vision of Shri Rajiv Gandhi continues to guide India’s approach to nuclear disarmament. Personalities such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and William Perry who were at the center of crafting nuclear policy and who thought that nuclear weapons were essential to the security of their state are having a rethink today. We welcome this development and hope it leads, as envisaged in the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, to a commitment by all states to a nuclear weapon free world. As a responsible nuclear weapon power, India is ready to play its part in the process leading to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons. [MEA]

That’s exactly what my piece in this month’s Pragati argues.

Aside: Mr Mukherjee’s keynote speech covers a wide range of international security issues, but the name of one country is conspicuously absent. Such are the diktats of diplomacy.