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India’s naïve NSG bid

Is Narendra Modi-led government squandering precious diplomatic resources on seemingly unachievable objectives in the short term?
India’s failed membership bid at the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) 26th plenary meeting, held in South Korea’s capital Seoul, gives the impression that India is on a wild goose chase to officially get the tag of a legitimate nuclear superpower overnight.
This despite the fact that for almost 30 years, New Delhi has been desperately trying to secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) without much success.
Premier Modi himself traveled across the globe to drum up international support without realizing that there has been a serious error in New Delhi’s strategic planning. In fact, it might not be inappropriate to mention that Modi has been led up the garden path even as India struggled to strike the right chord with those who actually mattered in the tricky world of global nuclear diplomacy.
Having staked so much on India’s formal entry into the elite nuclear supplier’s cartel, this failure to manipulate the global leadership and break through the barrier will be a major loss of face for Modi. Already, the opposition political forces are baying for his blood, criticizing the unnecessary desperation shown by the government, which involved the president too in international lobbying, to obtain NSG membership that has ultimately diminished the country’s stature globally.
Modi’s over-reliance on spin in even matters of international relations and placing the critical policy implementation process at the hands of security czars has perhaps taken a toll on the foreign establishment’s ability to view things in proper perspective and judge them independently without being swayed by the ideological baggage of the party in power.
After all, it has been an accepted norm in India since independence to keep foreign policy above partisan politics, even though it is inherently political and cannot remain in isolation from domestic developments. Also, it is high time that Modi woke up to the reality of having messed up the foreign policy front by viewing issues of global importance through security prism. New Delhi’s excessive dependence on a big-power to push through its agenda has virtually been a disaster so far as the nation’s strategic interest is concerned.
The very trajectory of India’s foreign policy has baffled pundits as New Delhi went about taking policy decisions that eventually antagonized countries, which can make or break delicate negotiations at the global stage.
Even a layman knows that using America as a Sherpa to trek the difficult nuclear terrain is in itself a strategic fallacy, given the fact that NSG was created on American initiative after India’s maiden atomic test in May 1974. As a former Indian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency put it very aptly, India seeking membership of the NSG is like Russia seeking membership of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Indeed, it was naïve of India to expect Washington to become a party to the fundamental alteration of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, on which stands the NSG.
Most importantly, it is not in America’s hand alone to restructure the NSG architecture for accommodating a non-Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NTP) signatory country like India. Rather, this NSG-admission bait was subtly used to try and exploit the huge Indian market, as is evident from Modi’s quid pro quo of laying bare almost all sectors of Indian economy through radical foreign direct investment reform immediately prior to the Seoul NSG meet.
It is intriguing that Modi failed to comprehend the fact that it would be impossible for Washington to push through an exception for India, sitting in Seoul, because that amounts to encouraging the regional rogue state of North Korea.
Expectedly, NSG participating countries deplored the nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang earlier this year and reconfirmed their commitment to UNSC’s various resolutions condemning the challenge posed to the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
The Seoul meet also reaffirmed the solemn commitment of member-states to prohibit export of all controlled items in accordance with the unanimous Security Council decisions. The fact of the matter is, as an influential source involved in this process revealed to this writer, even South Korea having supported New Delhi’s inclusion into the NSG, was a bit reluctant to allow its soil for the purpose due to reasonable apprehension.
Modi also miscalculated America’s leverage in the contemporary world order and made a grave folly of joining the anti-China bandwagon to encircle the Asian giant.
What purpose did it serve by ordering naval vessels to loiter in the troubled waters of South and East China Sea, or organizing and funding conferences, where China-bashing is the main objective, if the foreign secretary had to be discreetly rushed to seek Beijing’s blessings with folded hands for getting a berth in NSG?
In fact, New Delhi’s strange foreign policy yardstick has left it virtually isolated. Despite big assurances, Washington has played safe by not pushing the thick redline of non-proliferation status quo in Seoul. It was expected because publicly lobbying for India would amount to negating the Iran nuclear deal, touted as Barack Obama’s one of the finest presidential legacies.
Apart from Russia, which too has taken a nuanced stand, other BRICS partners like Brazil and South Africa have voiced unequivocal reservation against NSG expansion arbitrarily.
Most importantly, India’s opposition to Pakistan’s entry in global nuclear commerce is a tactical blunder, as it could have nullified Chinese obstacle and ensure energy security for a power deficient South Asia.

Seema Sengupta is a Calcutta based journalist and columnist