A New Nuclear International Order?

It may appear a paradox to analysts who hold a statist approach to international politics that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which was founded in 1975 in the wake of India's nuclear test a year earlier to control nuclear material supplies, made a special waiver for India on 6 September 2008. India's political establishment hails the waiver as a grand achievement for India in international nuclear architecture. Despite oppositions to the nuclear deal, its implications far out reach India's concerns and would likely impact international developments in coming years.

China's attitude towards the waiver came as a surprise. India's National Security Advisor expressed disappointment at the China's behaviour during deliberations in Vienna. India on the 6th September sent a demarche to China protesting its intransigence in the NSG meeting in Vienna, which continued from 3-6 September 2008. Reportedly, during the final rounds of discussion Chinese representative threatened to leave the meeting. Despite traditional rivalries especially at the border and on issues like Tibet and Pakistan, the Chinese leadership had promised the Indian prime minister, during the G-8 Summit at Hokkaido in Japan in the first week of July 2008 that China would not come against India's nuclear aspirations. However, one thing appears clear, i.e. China finds it difficult in supporting India's ambitions. It is common knowledge that Pakistan's much of the strategic nuclear programme is supported by China. Hence, it may be difficult on part of China to appreciate India's smooth rise as a nuclear power, and as a member of prestigious nuclear club, which it has so long desisted due to peculiar rivalries between the two rising Asian nations.

In contrast to China, Russia despite its recent controversies with the US in Central Eurasia coordinated with it to moderate the opposition from NSG members such as Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, etc. against the special waiver.

Russia's cooperation in building India's nuclear capabilities is well known, and its special assistance in times of desperate need as in 2006 when Tarapore nuclear plants suffered fuel shortage is well appreciated in India. The waiver at NSG would likely boost India-Russia nuclear cooperation. Despite the signing of agreement of intent on nuclear cooperation in January 2007 during Vladimir Putin's visit to India, the bilateral nuclear cooperation could not sail through due to NSG restrictions. Russia has agreed to build four more nuclear reactors in Kudan Kulam in Tamil Nadu. After the NSG waiver, the path has been cleared for Indo-Russian cooperation in this sector. It is expected that the coming months would witness hectic engagement between Indian and Russian officials to foster nuclear cooperation without obstacles. Imagine the era when under international pressure, prospects of cooperation in cryogenic technology between the two countries suffered, and contrast it with the robust and emerging Russia, which is at a position to take forward bilateral nuclear cooperation without any pressure. The Russian rise along with India's growing prowess may work a bulwark in the direction of bilateral nuclear cooperation.

The victory at NSG in Vienna this month would have both symbolic and substantive values for India (the passing of the bill at the US parliament now appears a formality). Symbolically, India enjoys special status in NSG, and now it faces no constraints in dealing with all NSG members. It could have been impossible for India to achieve this status a decade ago. Indian policy makers know the difficult time India passed through post-Pokharan phase after 1998. Then Indian prime minister declared India's unilateral moratorium, no first use principle, even had shown willingness to sign CTBT, but India had to face all the sanctions. Contrast to that situation, India is no more afraid of being nuclear weapon state; it is no more a nuclear pariah state. Almost all major NSG countries have expressed for nuclear cooperation with India. Countries like France, the US, etc. have expressed willingness to supply nuclear materials to India. In the context of Russia, India has already been enjoying traditional relations with it. In a sense, India's special status at NSG has led to the development of a new international nuclear structure, which would substantially remould the non-proliferation discourse.

From a substantive point of view India would likely gain from the special waiver at NSG. India as a growing market and consumer economy is an energy hungry country. It imports more than seventy percent of its energy needs, which would likely further grow in coming years. Nuclear energy can be an alternative source of energy. Countries like France, South Korea, etc. generate substantial part of energy from nuclear resources. Though the initial costs may be heavy, the long term benefits would likely undermine the initial costs. The huge uproar that the Indian political class was subjected to during the nuclear deal deliberations was about India's sovereign rights to conduct future tests to build nuclear weapons. The opposition parties in India, particularly the BJP and the Left, rapped the government on this account. They argued that by signing the deal India is surrendering its sovereign right to conduct nuclear tests. A careful reading of the nuclear agreement does not stipulate any such thing. It is true that India may have to go through, if it conducts tests at all which is currently a futurist projection, all sanctions or/and withdrawal of nuclear materials. However, it may appear futile to argue about future nuclear testing which is a distant proposition when the other advantages of nuclear technology can be of immense use for India.

The Vienna summit would no doubt impact the coming nuclear discourse. Its fall outs would likely be much deeper as it effectuated a huge turn in international nuclear architecture.

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