Thursday, June 30, 2016

India, China and NSG: A Response to Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s essay in the Indian Express yesterday outlined a critique of India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Supplier’s Group at its meeting last week in Seoul meeting.  I was not surprised to find that I disagreed with almost every point he made there.  Mehta’s is an important voice in the Indian public policy discourse on a variety of subjects, a Liberal, erudite, complex and moderate one.  I find myself agreeing with almost all of his writings, save for that on Indian foreign policy and international politics, where his Liberal instincts and my Realist thinking part ways, as I have written on this blog before (here and here).  But his is an important critique, not just from a policy perspective but also a theoretical perspective and so it is even more important to engage with it.  [This essay was slightly edited on July 1, 2016, to modify a couple of harsh characterizations, which, on reflection, I felt were unhelpful to carrying forward a debate]

Before I get to my disagreements, a couple of points of agreement, even if they are relatively minor ones: I also thought the reference to climate change and Paris was unnecessary, and I agree with Mehta on the need to have the capacity to hurt the great powers if you want to take them on, a point also made by Praveen Swami.  And now to the disagreements. 

Mehta argues that there were three delusions in the discourse on India’s NSG membership bid.  The first was about whether an NSG membership was really worth “the political capital invested in this venture”.  He argues that the NSG waiver India got in 2008 takes care of most of our needs and any negative changes within NSG could have been prevented by having just one friend within the group (since the group works by consensus). 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

India's NSG Membership and China's Containment Strategy

This was published by Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, on June 24, 2016.

India’s NSG membership and China’s containment strategy

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul on Thursday (June 23) ended without any decision on India’s application for membership as a consequence of China’s refusal to accept India into the group. India’s chance of being admitted into the NSG were always slim because of China’s opposition. But that was not a reason for not trying. There were excellent reasons for making a high-profile push for NSG membership. Most of the criticisms about both the usefulness of NSG membership itself and about the need for such a high-stakes effort are misplaced. Though India did not get the membership, this will be policy failure only if India fails to respond to what is clearly yet another indicator of China’s determined effort at containment of India.
India does not need NSG membership in order to engage in nuclear commerce, of course. But the NSG makes the rules for such commerce and it is always possible that they can frame rules in future that will hurt India’s interests. There are already questions about some of the rule changes that NSG introduced in 2011 with regard to enrichment and reprocessing technologies, after India got a special waiver from NSG. India can protect itself best only if it is inside the tent. Additionally, India’s road to a partnership in global governance is ill-served if there are governance groups that explicitly leave India out.
Those arguing that India should not have engaged in such a high profile push are also mistaken. India’s choice was to either not apply at all or to make a determined push for membership. There was no middle path here. For at least three reasons, it was impossible for India to simply file an application and not make a serious effort to get in. First, the Indian application required convincing many friendly states who had legitimate concerns about NPT and the nonproliferation regime, concerns that were not motivated by any balance of power considerations (unlike China’s opposition). These countries are wrong to equate support for nonproliferation with just signature on a treaty rather support for the principles of nonproliferation as demonstrated in actual behaviour. But this still required an argument to be made and making this argument to a number of international partners meant that this could no longer be a low-profile effort.

China Containment Strategy against India

This was published in Economic Times on June 12, 2016.

As India's Power Grows, China's Containment Strategy Will Get Frenetic

China's decision in Vienna to object to India entering the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) should not come as too much of a surprise. China has been uncharacteristically open about opposing India's membership. This also makes it unlikely that it will change its view in the next 10 days, before the NSG meets in plenary in Seoul on June 24.

China's action has little to do with NSG, but is simply the latest indication of China's containment strategy against India. Understanding this reality is the first step to finding an appropriate strategy to managing India's relations with China.    

The NSG membership is important for India but not so much for any material gain. Its importance is mostly that it strengthens the legitimacy of India's nuclear programme and permits India to have some say in making the rules of the global nuclear order, all without joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Since the NSG, under American pressure, had in 2008 already permitted India to engage in nuclear commerce with other countries, what China's veto does mostly is hurt India's pride but not much more.

Future of India's Nuclear Doctrine

On April 25, 2016, Pugwash India conducted a discussion on the future of India's nuclear doctrine, chaired by Ambassador Satish Chandra, former Deputy National Security Advisor.  Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal, former head of India's Strategic Forces Command, and I were the panelists.  Pugwash India has kindly posted a summary of the discussions here.  I might copy that and post it here at a later date, but for now, you'll have to follow the link. 

What Happened to the Modi Doctrine?

Posting this really late . . . this was published by Economic Times, May 15, 2016.

Modi Sarkar @2: The Modi Government is Following an Old Template of Foreign Policy

When the Narendra Modi government took over two years ago, there was some hope that his experience in running a state government and his distance from New Delhi might give Indian foreign policy some freshness. There was even some talk of a new Modi doctrine to guide India's policy towards the outside world. Almost halfway into his term, we are still waiting. If there is a Modi doctrine, it appears to be the Manmohan Singh doctrine, but with a pulse. India's external policy is clearly a lot more energetic and self-confident. But in both good ways and bad, it is mostly following the path that the previous governments had laid.

There is nothing inherently wrong with following an existing template and, indeed, the main criticism of the UPA government's external policy was not about its logic but that it was too timid in following through. Modi changed that, moving with greater assurance on both the regional and global scene. At the regional level, his dramatic gesture in inviting all South Asian leaders to his inauguration and his equally dramatic stopover in Lahore to visit prime minister Nawaz Sharif are illustrations of this. 

On global policy, again, Modi moved with greater vigour to establish closer strategic ties with those who share India's worry about China's increasing power and assertiveness, even as he sought to deepen economic ties with Beijing. The Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, joined her counterparts from the US and Japan to hold the first trilateral meeting at the foreign ministers' level last year, which was soon followed up with Japan joining the Malabar naval exercise off the Indian coast. Japan had joined it only once previously, in 2007, but was not invited subsequently because of fear of Chinese criticism. In addition, New Delhi has moved firmly towards signing some of the so-called foundational agreements to smoothen US-India military cooperation, something that the previous government refused to do, not because of the merits of the issue but more out of fear of adverse reaction, especially from within the ruling coalition.