India's nuclear deal -
and two worldviews
that India and the US have formally inked the 123 civil nuclear
cooperation agreement and sealed another pact with France
following the Sep 6 waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group
(NSG), it is time to look at the fierce debate on the issue
in this country with some detachment.
debate was not just about the nuclear issue alone. In fact
it was about two competing worldviews held by rival groups.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh belongs to the school that argues
that after the end of the Cold War, the international system
has changed and the bipolar world has yielded place to a balance
of power system, comprising six powers - the US, the 27-nation
European Union, China, Japan, Russia and India. The centre
of gravity of world economy is shifting from the trans-Atlantic
area to Asia. China has grown rapidly and India, Russia, Brazil,
Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico are also expected to grow
rapidly, thereby reducing the dominance of the US as an economic
power in the world. Since bipolarity has come to an end and
the US, the EU, China, India and Russia are independent nuclear
weapon powers, there is not likely to be any war among them
- a situation new to the world. On the other hand, terrorism,
organised crime, narcotics, religious extremism, pandemics
and failed states are likely
to pose international threats which these major powers may
have to deal with collectively. This situation has developed
along with the globalisation of the economy.
the US will be militarily, economically and technologically
pre-eminent it is not in a position to impose its policies
on other major countries. The view that the US is trying to
attempt to enlist India for military containment of China
is totally untenable. The US is China's largest trade partner.
China holds hundreds of billions of dollars of US treasury
bonds. Their economies are so intertwined that what happens
to Dow Jones has an immediate impact on the Shanghai Stock
Exchange. It will take many decades for the US to reach with
India the level of economic intimacy it has with China. All
that the US, the EU, Russia and Japan are interested in promoting
is faster growth of India so that there can be greater balance
among the powers in Asia and the world.
a balance of power involves both competition and cooperation.
The US and the EU, the US and Japan, China and Japan are all
cooperating and competing economically and technologically
at the same time. There will be similar competition and cooperation
between China and India, though China has advanced far ahead
of India and the latter will have to sustain a high economic
growth rate to reduce the gap with China. India's rise as
an economic power has been hailed all over the world as unique.
When a major power rises, it generates a sense of threat among
other nations. This is what happened when Britain, France,
Germany, Japan, Russia or Communist China rose as major economic
powers. But India's emergence is seen as non-threatening by
other major powers. India getting an NSG waiver and being
allowed to have a nuclear arsenal in spite of not signing
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are signs of India
being viewed as a non-threatening balancer in the six-power
balance of power system.
who oppose the nuclear deal have a different worldview. They
are still conditioned by the historical experience of the
Cold War era, are not reconciled to globalisation of the international
economy and have fears of possible nuclear wars among the
major nuclear weapon powers. Their worldview rejects the economic
intimacy of the US and China and regards them as potential
adversaries. It considers that with the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the world has become unipolar with the US in a commanding
position to dominate the world. Therefore, they like to believe
that when the US makes a move to promote India as a balancer,
it amounts to the incorporation of India in the hegemonic
US strategic system. Since China is the only non-democratic
major power and is likely to rise to close the economic gap
with the US, this school regards China as a potential adversary
of the US.
India has been isolationist from 1947 till 1992 when economic
liberalisation started to integrate India with the international
economic system. The isolationists have fears about integration
with the rest of the world. Fears of the British East India
Company coming back and scenarios of multinationals dominating
India are being conjured up. Underlying this view is the lack
of self-confidence to deal with the world at large economically,
technologically, strategically and politically - presumably
a colonial legacy.
school ignores the fact that the term used for India developing
relationships with other major powers is not alliance but
partnership. In an alliance the leader of the alliance has
a decisive say. Partnership is different. Neither the US nor
India has any previous experience in partnership. Therefore,
both the countries will have to try hard to cultivate a partnership
- a new experience for both. We have seen that in the WTO
(World Trade Organisation) issues India and China are on one
side and the US and the European Union are ranged on the other.
The arguments have been pursued fiercely for months. Those
who fear that with nuclear agreements India would lose its
autonomy should explain why India is leading the opposition
to industrial powers on the WTO issues.
these differences in perspectives lead to a major contradiction
in approach to international trends. While the Manmohan Singh
school argues that there are vast opportunities in the present
global trends for India to exploit, the second school fears
that some of the global trends may prove hostile to Indian
interests and security and, therefore, India has to be cautious.
In a sense it is a repeat of the controversy we witnessed
in the 1990s when then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and
then finance minister Manmohan Singh launched the economic
liberalisation. Not only did Manmohan Singh and Narasimha
Rao demonstrate they were right in launching economic liberalisation
but their policy led to the comfortable foreign exchange balance
in 1998 which enabled India to conduct the nuclear test without
too much worry about external pressure.
controversies are the pith and substance of the democratic
process. If and when the party which loses the argument at
present comes to power it will not necessarily give up a successful
policy. It will make some marginal changes and appropriate
the policy as its own. This happened in the case of economic
liberalisation and may very well happen in respect of our
nuclear policy. There were critics of the non-alignment policy
who asserted that they would work for genuine non-alignment.
They discovered on assuming office that our non-alignment
was genuine enough. There were critics of our nuclear tests.
Again, on coming to office the critics found that the nuclear
weapons were developed by their own leaders. The ongoing debates
should, therefore, be treated with a certain amount of scepticism
Subrahmanyam is an eminent strategic expert who writes on
foreign policy and national security issues. He can be contacted