Saturday, November 22, 2008

Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Impact on the Asian Strategic Framework

This analysis on India-US Nuclear Deal and the Asian Strategic Framework appeared first on the ORF website.

Recent statement by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to House International Relations Committee head Howard Berman that it is the “highest priority” for the US to get an assurance on ban on the export of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology to countries like India that are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the forthcoming Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in November 2008 has raised fresh doubts on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Should that concern the Indian government?

It might be pertinent to go back to some of the basic facts of Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. First of all, Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement is a broad framework agreement between India and the US, and not an agreement dealing with the specifics. However, if India and the US have to do nuclear commerce, few conditions had to met, including an NSG waiver and an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Once these conditions are met, India is allowed to do business with the US and other countries in the nuclear arena. Major countries seeking to do nuclear business with India are Russia and France.
Second, if France and Russia are willing to export enrichment and reprocessing technology to India, it will be difficult for the US to prevail upon them not to do so. For the US to bring about an NSG legislation banning export of ENR technology to countries that are not parties of NPT might be a wishful thinking and not a realistic option. This might be the case particularly in the current international scenario, when Russia and the US are on opposite sides almost on all major international developments.
Thirdly, India already has indigenous enrichment and reprocessing technology and therefore it should not be of any great concern if the NSG countries are not willing to part with these technologies. India may not possess the most advanced version of this technology, but the fact that it has this technology indigenously available should be sufficient. However, if India is insistent on an advanced version of this technology, India could even agree to an arrangement for reprocessing or enrichment in a third country, as the international community has suggested in the case of Iran. The concern appears to be that if non-nuclear states get hold of this technology, they could divert these technologies to produce fissile material. It should also be noted that this should not be major concern to the international community because such technology if obtained from other countries it would automatically go under the IAEA safeguards..
Lastly, the Indo-US civilian cooperation agreement is about more than just nuclear energy for India. The agreement has several strategic connotations. The agreement is a consequence of the US’ recognition of India as a major power in the coming century and India’s role in the emerging Asian strategic framework. The current century being an Asian century and the major players being US, China, Russia and Japan, it is important for the US to have an improved and comprehensive relationship with India. It should also be noted that both the US and India have concerns about China’s rise and more specifically its military modernisation that could seriously impact the way China conducts business with the rest of the world. Besides, if the US did intend to take the US-India relationship to a higher level nuclear technology controls would have been a hindrance. Trade in strategic goods and technology is possible only through change in the international and the US’ domestic regulations on this issue. The Indo-US nuclear deal has been a consequence of this line of thinking. However, some believe that the Indo-US nuclear deal is a way of bringing India into the global non-proliferation regime.
Whatever be the US reasoning, the deal is in India’s interest. If India has to sit at the high-table, it is the US that can help India get there. China will continually try to bring India down, as was witnessed at the recent NSG meeting. On the other hand, while China may not be interested in seeing another giant in Asia, it does not want India to forge closer ties with the United States or other Asian powers that could be detrimental to Beijing’s own regional and global role.1 Although Beijing does not categorise India as a challenge or threat, it does view India as a “future strategic competitor” that would join any anti-China grouping. In fact, a well-known China scholar, Mohan Malik, has pointed to an internal study undertaken in 2005 that recommended that China should undertake measures to keep the current strategic leverage in terms of territory, P-5 membership, or the Nuclear Club; hold on to diplomatic advantages through its special relationship particularly with India’s neighbouring countries; as also maintain the economic lead over India. 2
Lastly, there have been several formulations on the evolving Asian strategic framework both in the west and Asia. It is widely expected that the US, China, Japan and Russia will be major powers in this emerging framework. All the powers except China are for an inclusive approach, whereas China appears to adopt an exclusive approach, which seeks to keep other powers out of Asia. This, along with the factor of history and unsettled boundary issues, could lead to serious frictions in the future. As such, China’s military modernisation has generated considerable debate. The growth of China as a major military and economic power along with its global aspirations for a superpower status remains a serious concern not only to the United States, but Russia, Japan and India. The most worrying aspect is the pace of its military modernisation as also the secrecy that shrouds it. There are also concerns about the leadership in China. It has become evident that the military leadership in China does have an independent agenda of its own and also that it does adopt a hardline approach on important national security and foreign policy issues. It might be imprudent to say that the political leadership is more balanced and therefore PLA’s approach should not be taken seriously. It is also important to note that the military leadership plays a critical role in decision-making particularly during crises. Even if analyses of Chinese civil-military relations exaggerate the PLA’s role, it is the perception that matters. Perception of a potential China threat would produce a series of actions that may be visible in the form of alliances or force posturing by other Asian powers.
If India is a major pole of power in the emerging security framework, it might do well if India engaged with Russia with a sense of equi-distance between the US and Russia. In fact, India and the US need to leverage the mutual suspicion between Russia and China. Although tactical in nature, Sino-Russian relationship does have the potential to emerge as a potent strategic force if the current trend in international politics continues for the foreseeable future. In fact, there are several commonalities between Russia, US and India – terrorism, WMD proliferation and a stable Asian security order. The US has to shed its biases about Russia and exploit the Russian wariness of China to its fullest in order to build a cooperative security framework in Asia.
• Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Her areas of research include US foreign and security policy, military strategies of major Asian powers including China, US, Japan and Russia. She can be reached at 1 Mohan Malik, “India-China Competition Revealed in Ongoing Border Disputes,” PINR Report, October 09, 2007, available at
2 Mohan Malik, “India-China Competition Revealed in Ongoing Border Disputes,” PINR Report, October 09, 2007, available at The study, undertaken on the behest of Chinese leadership’s “Foreign Affairs Cell,” had incorporated inputs from China’s South Asia specialists like Cheng Ruisheng, Ma Jiali, Sun Shihai, among others.

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