Monday, March 13, 2006

New Delhi is not Teheran

Fairness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes it makes sense to maintain “double standards,” to dismiss cries of hypocrisy as naïve, and even dangerous. In the international arena, for instance, nuclear proliferation rules that should be rigorously applied to rogue states such as Iran, and proliferating countries such as Pakistan, ought not to be applied to trustworthy and non-proliferating nations such as Israel and India.

How to treat New Delhi is very much on the agenda. On March 2, a politically weakened US President George Bush traveled to India to clinch what Bush rightly called “an historic agreement” with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The deal would “mainstream” India into the club of nuclear nations (necessary because it is not a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), making nuclear commerce between the two countries possible. It would also draw Washington and New Delhi into a genuine 21st century alliance contributing to a more secure America.

The deal, years in the making, has India placing 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors, those in the civilian-sector, under international safeguards; the other eight would remain as military facilities and thus not be subject to international inspections. Nevertheless, New Delhi is prepared to limit its stockpile of nuclear bomb-making ingredients, assuming multi-lateral arrangements can be worked out, capping its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

That is not enough for New York Times super pundit Thomas L. Friedman. In his March 8 column, Friedman questioned Washington’s wisdom in facilitating India’s entry into the club of nuclear nations on the grounds that New Delhi still refuses to sign the NPT, and that American policy is to prohibit civilian nuclear technology from reaching nations that have not signed the treaty.
While Friedman is a friend of India’s (you just need to read his bestseller, "The World is Flat," to appreciate that), when it comes to “undermining” the anachronistic NPT he won’t make any exceptions – not even for India.

Friedman argues that granting special dispensation to India would undercut “the legal basis” for building coalitions against the spread of WMDs to rogue states.

Right. You can just see North Korea and Iran capitulating under the onus of international law.

Now the Economist has joined the fray. The newspaper, whose current cover cleverly portrays Bush costumed as a Texas-cowboy straddling an atom bomb (think Dr. Strangelove), editorializes that in allowing India “to import nuclear fuel and technology despite its weapons-building, Mr. Bush has not for the first time seemed readier to favor a friend than to stick to a principle.”
What Bush wants, says the Economist, is to treat “democratic, friendly, law-abiding India” as some kind of exception. Says the Economist: That could “fatally” undermine the NPT regime.
If the Bush-Singh arrangement “fatally” undermines NPT maybe the treaty is as obsolete to the realities of the 21st century as the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact (which renounced war as an instrument of national policy) was to the 20th century.


I MUCH prefer the more pragmatic worldview of another pundit, The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes that, “The cry of ‘double standard’” is a bit silly because “India is our friend and Iran” is not. “The Israeli bomb threatens nobody. An Iranian bomb does. India has transferred its nuclear technology to no one. Pakistan has. No one worries about India or Israel making the technology available to terrorists. Everyone worries about Iran doing that.”

Significantly, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has endorsed the Bush-Singh arrangement while opposition from China (the nuclear club member that matters most) is muted.

On Thursday, the White House asked Congress to implement the Bush-Singh deal by adopting legislation that would exempt India from Atomic Energy Act rules prohibiting US nuclear sales to non-NPT states. In addition, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group would have to alter its regulations to allow them to provide goods and services to India.


I HOPE Congress approves the deal because – like Israel – India finds itself in a unique situation. And like Israel, it deserves special consideration.

• India was in the forefront of the NPT idea, but wanted the rules applied universally. Instead, the NPT formalized what India saw as a discriminatory regime; only the US, USSR, China, France and Britain – what became the club of nuclear nations – were given the legal right to maintain weapons of mass destruction. New Delhi refused to sign on to this arrangement.
• India never proliferated. It never obtained illegal know-how. Indian scientists developed and then carefully guarded the knowledge of atomic bomb-making. Contrast this with non-NPT signatory Pakistan which illegally obtained its know-how and than proliferated what it knew (for a price) to North Korea and Iran.
• Also contrast India’s faithful non-proliferation behavior with the deceitful actions of Iraq, Iran and North Korea in violation of their NPT obligations. Even Indian firms behaved more responsibly than a number of Western European companies which sold nuclear know-how and material to the rogue states.
• And India opposes a nuclear-armed Iran. The Indian government consistently supported Washington at the IAEA, despite powerful domestic opposition from Muslim and left-wing parties, and notwithstanding the fact that India imports 70 percent of its oil and will need Iranian cooperation to meet its ever-growing energy needs.

SO HERE is one of those issues that require some out-of-the-box thinking. India is already a major player in the international arena and its voice will only become stronger with time. Fostering ties between the US and India, which is not only the most populous democracy on earth, but also the world’s fourth largest economy, demands putting ourselves in India’s shoes. New Delhi is being wooed by the Arabs, Persians, even the Chinese. As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointed out on January 5: “We can’t say to the Indians, on the one hand, you can’t... [engage in] energy relations with Iran, but by the way, ‘civil nuclear’ is closed off to you.”

In this, Rice is backed by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger who argues that “India should be treated as a country whose nuclear progress had become irreversible.”

Whatever the Bush administration’s other failings, it is spot on in its appreciation of India’s global importance.

It is also in Israel’s geo-strategic interest to see ties between India and America made stronger. Though much still needs to be done to draw India and Israel closer, enormous steps have been taken since New Delhi first recognized Israel in 1950 and finally established an embassy in 1992.
Both Israel and India represent ancient civilizations which today share common political values, overlapping security concerns, and a growing commerce (to the annual tune of $2.5 billion). There is even talk that the Bank of India wants to open a branch in Israel, a step that would make trade even easier.

As Jews mark Purim this week to commemorate our triumph over an ancient Persian madman, Hindus will be marking Holi – the end of winter – festival of colors. Megilat Esther recalls that King Achashverosh’s empire stretched from Hodu ad Kush – from India to Ethiopia.

If we play our cards right democracy’s “empire” can stretch even wider.

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