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.

A Q Khan, China and the truth

Bidirectional proliferation

Please don’t yawn. Savour the details. The Centrifugist revealed his side of the story to Simon Henderson. The latter’s article in The Sunday Times should put paid to the “Khan’s was a rogue operation” farce. It also tells the story of how China and Pakistan helped each other in nuclear technology.

(Khan’s) team was also the recipient of a gift from China of a design for an atomic bomb and enough highly enriched uranium for two devices, after Beijing decided to back Khan to jump-start Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I remember being told about China’s nuclear generosity by an outraged British official in the 1980s. I later asked what Beijing had received in return. It was an enrichment plant.

The plant is at Hanzhong in central China. C-130 Hercules transports of the Pakistan air force made more than 100 flights to China carrying centrifuge equipment. Beijing needed the plant, not for bombs but to fuel its nuclear power plants. Centrifuge technology is good for both levels of enrichment, hence the current concern that Iran’s nascent plant at Natanz has a military purpose. China could not make the Pakistan-supplied centrifuges work properly, so replaced them with Russian centrifuges. What happened to the Pakistani centrifuges? A good question. They were not returned to Pakistan. Could they have ended up in Iran?

…Musharraf said Khan had shipped examples of centrifuges to North Korea. Correct, but with the connivance and at the instruction of the Pakistan military. [Times]

(linkthanks: the indefatigable Swami Iyer)

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.

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.

Missile vs Missile

Missile defences strengthen India’s strategic deterrence

Failure to understand how deterrence works is a common error. Wholesale application of the Cold War era nuclear arms race in today’s South-Asian geopolitical context is another. And analysts assuming every Indian strategic platform is exclusively targeted at Pakistan is yet another. Jawed Naqvi’s recent article in Dawn makes all three, when he criticises India’s progress towards development of a missile defence system.

Maverick explains—like only he can—why Naqvi’s arguments are wrong. Strategic deterrence is first and foremost a mind game: its objective to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used. Any system that increases the chances of non-use increases stability. In the case of the missile defence system, pointing out that 4 minutes is way too little for Indian anti-missile missiles to do their work misses the target. The system needs to be good enough make a potential adversary think “What if the first strike fails?”. In combination with India’s possession of a second-strike capability, a missile defence shield enhances nuclear stability.

More importantly, it’s ironic that Pakistanis, whose rulers (and their nuclear/missile benefactors) have done so much to put nuclear weapons within reach of any state that wants them, should think that India only thinks of them.

From the archives: Defence against the dark arts; and Kind Word Defence