Gist of The Hindu: October 2016

Gist of The Hindu: October 2016


Picking up the pieces from Seoul

In the run-up to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul, it was this sagacity that the government seemed to be channelling as it carefully worked through speaking to members of the 48-nation nuclear club and tackled the issue of China, which seemed to be openly challenging India’s efforts. “China is not a problem,” explained a senior government official to a select group of mediapersons, “but if we keep demonising it, and saying it will be a problem, it may decide to become one.” The advice was followed up a few days later by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who said confidently, “China is not blocking India. There is a consensus building [in India’s favour], and no country will break the consensus.”

Just four days later, both the confidence and the restraint were abandoned, after the discussion on India’s membership application failed to come to a conclusion despite a special session on the issue of taking in non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — mainly India — that stretched for hours. As it emerges, the NSG wasn’t a complete washout despite a perceived loss of face. As a result, India must pick up the pieces, and move on from South Korea to Switzerland, the country that assumes the NSG chair this year. What is apparent is that the path is more difficult and nuanced than the government had calculated earlier, and many in the group apart from China have raised questions on both the criteria and the principle of accepting India as a non-NPT state, which must be answered.

Given that NSG membership is not an event but a consultative process, it is extremely likely that India will need to go into negotiations with every country not completely convinced of its special case and the need for an exception (remember, Pakistan was not discussed at all), and China is only the most vocal of those countries. This will entail the use of quiet, persuasive diplomacy rather than vigorous handshakes or strong arm-flexing in the arc lights of press conferences.

Some of that diplomacy must be done internally as well. In the past few weeks, many have questioned the government’s desire for membership of the NSG, and asked why it has betrayed such unnecessary haste. India has all it needs to conduct nuclear trade with the 2008 waiver already granted by the NSG, says this group, raising other valid questions on the concessions India may need to give to get what they call a “second-class membership”, that of a non-nuclear weapon state. What also worries many is that Pakistan, a known proliferator, may simply walk through the membership door opened for India in a “criteria-based” manner. It is necessary for the government to address this domestic debate and explain the need for its NSG efforts instead of dismissing the doubts without any consideration as it has done these past weeks.

Going forward, both New Delhi and Beijing must repair the ruptures between them that the past week has caused. Fortunately, both their diplomatic teams will have more than ample occasion to meet and clear up their differences in the coming months, as China hosts the G-20 in Hangzhou in September, and India hosts the BRICS summit in Goa in October. Relations between India and China have reached new lows in the past two years over several issues, including tensions at the Line of Actual Control and over the South China Sea, but it is an escalating war that hurts the Asian neighbours themselves the most, given the trade ties and the major border they share. In the NSG context, India cannot wish away China’s power, nor can China wish away the support and goodwill India enjoys in the group.

Joining the elite non-proliferators

The score appears to have evened out for India in its multi-year project of gaining admission to four elite global non-proliferation clubs, with one success and one failure coming within the span of a single week. The four clubs, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Group, make rules for their members to control the export of sensitive materials and technologies to non-members. Last Friday, the Modi government faced criticism for overplaying its hand in its bid to enter the NSG. A few members, including China, underlined the need for all applicants to the NSG to be signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. On Monday, India officially entered the 34-member MTCR after years spent in aligning its export controls with the Regime’s. In the coming years, this membership of a multilateral export control club is likely to yield a rich harvest of state-of-the-art technologies for ballistic missile and drone systems, including those that are in theory nuclear-capable.

This much is evident on the surface although there is far less clarity about the politics of India’s negotiations with the elite global non-proliferation clubs. For example, Beijing’s application to join the MTCR has been gathering dust for years; hints from the Ministry of External Affairs suggest that New Delhi may use this as a bargaining chip to win backing for its NSG position. Similarly, the opposition has been quick to link India’s MTCR entry to a “deal” struck with the sole holdout, Italy, over the issue of two Italian marines charged with killing two Indian fishermen. While India could not have joined without Italy’s support, given the Regime’s consensus-based approach, the principle underpinning the entry relates to a broader acceptance of India’s verifiable export controls and its perceived potential as a supplier of, and market for, ballistic and drone technologies. But no matter what the political intricacies that have contributed to the gradual realisation of India’s non-proliferation dreams, it would be premature to gloat over the new pride and glory accruing to India on the global stage owing to its MTCR admission. It is indeed a positive development to be counted among the responsible nations of the world from the non-proliferation perspective rather than be associated with, say, the Abdul Qadeer Khans of the world. However, many more strands of interlocking strategic interest need to be untangled before full-throttle trade in sensitive technology, such as the sale of India’s BrahMos missile to Vietnam or the purchase of armed Predator drones from the U.S., could become a reality.

Why hesitations of history matter

Brexit, a seismic moment in Europe, came as a blessing in disguise for India as it came on the same day as the setback in Seoul. India’s miscalculation on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership bid paled into insignificance compared to the British Prime Minister’s misadventure in holding a referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union. Otherwise there would have been greater criticism of the foreign policy fiasco, which not only resulted in a rebuff to India but also gave a veto to China on India’s nuclear credentials and hyphenated India and Pakistan. Moreover, we have elevated NSG membership to such heights that it appears more important and urgent than other items on our wish list such as permanent membership of the UN Security Council, signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nuclear weapon state, and membership of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

The Seoul experience should be a lesson in multilateral diplomacy for India. First and foremost, credibility is the hallmark of success in the international community. Policy changes should appear slow, deliberate and logical. Sudden shifts and turns are viewed with suspicion. India had a fundamental position that our objective is disarmament and not merely non-proliferation. Not signing the NPT and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty arose from the conviction that arms control is not a substitute to disarmament. Distancing ourselves from NPT-centred entities was also part of that philosophy. Rejection of discriminatory regimes and selective controls appeared logical and just. Even after declaring ourselves as a nuclear weapon state, our readiness for nuclear disarmament maintained our credibility.

Our sudden anxiety to join the NSG and other non-proliferation groupings is a departure from the traditional Indian position, particularly since we have not fully utilised the waiver given to us by the NSG. An invitation by the U.S. was not enough to justify our enthusiasm for membership, and canvassing at the highest level in selected countries made matters worse. Having applied for membership only in May this year, we did not allow ourselves time to explain the rationale of our policy change, not only to the NSG members but also the other adherents to the NPT. This explains the hesitation of many friendly countries to support us. Any indication of change in the non-proliferation architecture makes them nervous.

Our positions on self-determination and terrorism are not fully appreciated in the international community as yet. It was with patience, persistence and extraordinary diplomatic skills that India had managed to steer clear of embarrassment or rebuff. Approaching multilateralism with an illusion of grandeur or presumption of justice, fair play and reasonableness may be hazardous.

Having a powerful nation to pilot matters of importance to us is helpful, but even the U.S. does not always get its way in the multilateral bodies which require a majority vote or consensus. It loses votes in the UN General Assembly not only on substantive issues but also in elections. Since the real power is in the Security Council, the permanent five manage to wield power there, but wherever votes are of equal value, there is no guarantee that they can get support automatically. The votaries of non-proliferation tend to be more loyal than the king and they are aghast that the U.S. appears to be undermining the regime that it had built. In 2008, they went along when the U.S. moved heaven and earth to get India a waiver to secure the nuclear deal, but this time they felt India was overreaching itself. They were not supporting China when they opposed India’s admission but merely proclaiming their faith. Brazil, South Africa, Austria and Switzerland are serious nations with extraordinary commitment to the NPT, which they consider to be the cornerstone of international security.

Another lesson India should have known is the undesirability of pursuing too many objectives at the same time. India’s claim for a permanent seat on the Security Council as part of the exercise to reflect the realities of global power is well understood, though a global compact to accomplish it is still elusive. Our pressing the point in the appropriate forums is considered legitimate, but any effort to press it to a vote to embarrass and pressurise anyone is bound to fail. At one time, India made an attempt to have a vote in the General Assembly to secure a two-thirds majority just to embarrass the permanent members. But the effort failed when the opposition came not from the permanent members, but from the African Group. The art of persuasion works only when the ground is prepared and there is a degree of satisfaction for all parties involved. Our NSG push in the last two months violated this sacred principle.

India could have pursued membership of the NSG quietly, without making any claims of support from anyone. It appears that there is a feeling in the U.S. circles of getting India entangled in the non-proliferation net instead of leaving it alone to work on the basis of the nuclear deal and the NSG waiver. We should have handled the issue with dignified detachment and waited for a consensus to emerge among the interested countries. If only we had played by the rules of the multilateral game, the Seoul fiasco could have been turned into a victory.

Dangerous times in Turkey

Suicide attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport that killed 41 people is yet another reminder of the dangerous times Turkey is living through. Its southern border has become a transit point for jihadists travelling to Syria. In the east and southeast, government troops are locked in a deadly conflict with Kurdish militants. The Istanbul attack, the fourth major terror strike in the city this year, points to the worsening security situation in urban centres. No group has claimed responsibility for the latest assault. But the Turkish government and Western analysts say it is an act of the Islamic State. If so, it is a blowback for Turkey, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aggressive Syria policy helped extremists mushroom in West Asia. From the advent of the Syrian crisis, he has led the call for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation. Turkey teamed up with Mr. Assad’s other regional rivals, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in bankrolling the anti-regime forces in the Syrian civil war. And, Turkey kept its 800-km-long border with Syria open so that militants from around the world could transit to Syria. This ‘open-border’ approach was pivotal in the IS’s efforts to build an army of foreign fighters.

But, playing with extremist groups for short-term goals is invariably counterproductive in the long run. By the time Turkey started changing its policy towards the IS, partly under pressure from Western allies, the group was already a formidable terrorist organisation and had turned its bombers northwards. First it attacked two left-wing gatherings in Turkey, in Suruc and Ankara last year, and now it is targeting Istanbul in a stark warning to the establishment. Mr. Erdogan has said that Turkey will “continue the fight against terrorism until the end”. But what is his strategy? The major security challenges Turkey faces today are directly or indirectly linked to the Syrian war. Whether Mr. Erdogan acknowledges it or not, his ambitious plan to expand Turkish influence in a post-Assad Syria has come to naught. The earlier he changes tack the better for both Syria and Turkey. To begin with, Ankara should seal its border with Syria to stop the cross-border terrorist movement. It should also cease the proxy war it is fighting against Mr. Assad, and join international efforts to broker peace in Syria between the regime and the rebels. Having done this, it could narrow its focus to an isolated IS and assist in regional efforts to defeat the group. It will not be an easy shift to make, given the geopolitical investment Turkey has already made in Syria. But no amount of strategic manoeuvring will serve Turkey’s interests if its cities fall to chaos and violence.

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Courtesy: The Hindu