BY RSN SINGH
It is unfortunate that a segment of the media as well as some political commentators, and ‘experts’, have issued comments on the NSG issue, unsavory to India’s interest. In effect they seek to bloat China’s ego and put down India. To cite some of these disparaging comments and headlines:
- No entry in NSG: India blames one country (China) others said no too
- India’s NSG bid runs into a great wall
- Opposition parties slam Modi over India not getting NSG membership
- Modi failed on foreign policy
- Modi’s effort to get entry into NSG failed
- Rival Party takes a dig, calls NSG bid a failed diplomacy
What can be inferred from these comments and headlines is the subterranean import that behemoths China and dwarfs India. It is not a new phenomenon. This pro-China lobby, and communists have always been dwarfing India vis-à-vis China even when China was an impoverished, brutalized and underdeveloped country under Mao for at least four decades. This constituency, it may be recalled, had made arrangements to welcome the Chinese into India’s eastern hinterland during the 1962 war. Despite such blatant subversion these elements flourished with their politics. VK Krishna Menon, one of the key culprits responsible for India’s humiliation in 1962 war hardly suffered any ignominy. He was elected to the Lok Sabha with the help of the communists in 1969 and then in 1971 from Midnapore (West Bengal) and Trivandrum (Kerala) respectively. The pro-China constituency in India survives in many manifestations, in parliament, academia, think-tanks and universities. It is for this reason that China’s anti-India posturing at the NSG did not evoke the expected anger.
Those blaming the Indian establishment for India’s unsuccessful bid to enter the NSG are victims of selective amnesia. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, we abandoned Tibet and Taiwan, thus forgoing the most important strategic leverages. During the same period, we surrendered our chances to be the permanent member of the UN Security Council. Also, we spurned the American offer to conduct nuclear tests before ‘communist’ China did. One of the most respected former diplomats of India, an octogenarian, Mr MK Rasgotra, during the recent launch of his book ‘A Life in Diplomacy’ said that if Nehru had accepted the offer, not only would have India tested the nuclear device first in Asia, before China, but it also would have deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to (Pakistan’s) Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s plans for war in 1965. (Observer Research Foundation press release)
The pro-China lobby in India exulting at India’s failed effort to enter the NSG must realize that most unbiased and patriotic Indians never viewed the opportunity or occasion as one of ‘do or die’. The NSG waiver of 2008 takes care of India’s critical interests. If there was some optimism about sitting on the high-table of NSG, it was tempered with caution. None had lost the sense of reality and proportion. China, Pakistan and their patrons in India may exult temporarily, but they need to realize that they may have won this small battle, but have played into a process that will enable India to win the war, in short-term or at worst, mid-term.
Let it not be lost out on anyone that China is inimical to India. It is a geostrategic truism that both Pakistan and China are nuclear capable states. It is also true that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is as good as a part of China’s program. Together Pakistan and China present a two-front situation for India. There is every reason for China not to allow the capping of Pakistan’s nuclear programme by subjecting its ‘client state’ to any kind of inspection regime. The manipulations of the NSG therefore enable China to perpetuate its nuclear hegemony in Asia through rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea. China’s acquiescence to India’s entry would have fed into Pakistan’s growing insecurity of its own making. This reality was very much factored in when India made its bid.
Nevertheless there was hope and not without reason. The sanguinity was based on the premise that in diplomacy and strategic interlocution, States respond depending on geopolitical imperatives, national interests, leverages and on quid-pro-quo. Blackmail is also very much on the realm of alternatives. Let us not forget that in the year 2008, China did come around to support the one time waiver that allowed nuclear commerce between NSG members and India. The then US President George Bush personally took up the matter with the then Chinese President Hu Jintao and the latter relented because of pressing congruency of economics and strategic imperatives between US and China. Geopolitics by nature is fluid. Powers do exert to achieve ‘dominance’, they try and avoid any serious ‘clash’ or in ‘locking horns’ with inimical powers to avoid unforeseen setbacks. China is no different as far as this prudence goes. Therefore, the window of opportunity is never closed. It is this window that we were trying to prise open. The result of Indian exertions has only been delayed.
The evolving geopolitics in Asia has engendered some drastic re-configurations – Afghanistan, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and South China Sea being the catalysts. Strategically, it would not be wrong to infer that the geopolitical developments have generated a new ‘great game’ between the US and China in Asia and the Asia Pacific Region. The Indian strategic thrust through Chabhar port in Iran into Afghanistan and Central Asia is being construed by China and Pakistan as a strategic challenge to the CPEC. Increasingly, the geopolitical narrative is acquiring the sobriquet of ‘Chabhar versus Gwadar’. Various writings in the Pakistani media betray a sense of siege a consequence of the Chabhar project. The Chinese view it as an extension of the US sponsored ‘Pivot of Asia’ project and a threat to its outreach into the Persian Gulf as well as the ‘one belt one road’ enterprise. Unfortunately, US support to India at the NSG is seen by China as means to broaden and sharpen India’s nuclear teeth. In response China’s territorial embrace of Pakistan through the CPEC is likely to be strengthened by a bolstered nuclear partnership.
It was therefore a nervous China that India had to deal with in the run-up to NSG meet at Seoul.
India’s bid was not without positive outcomes and long-term benefits. The media in India made a sterling contribution by discussing the issue thread bare. It was able to highlight internationally the ‘nuclear delinquency’ of proliferator Pakistan and its patron proliferator China. The global attention was drawn to the conflation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to proxy war. The world was warned about the jihadi component of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, raising undying concerns about the security of country’s nuclear arsenal. Apart from jihadi organizations, the military, which is in sole charge of Pakistan’s nuclear programme is also not trusted. It was this jihadi component that compelled the military to prevent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from attending the recently held Nuclear Security Summit in the US. The world was warned about the insecurity of Pakistan’s arsenal of 120-130 nuclear bombs/warheads, which is growing with the illegal facilitation of China.
In the process the NSG, as an institution, has taken severe beating on its image and credibility. Questions are being asked as to how a group formed to regulate nuclear commerce could permit the main proliferators, i.e. China and Pakistan to thwart the membership of a responsible nuclear state like India with unimpeachable record of non-proliferation. To that extent, China and its client Pakistan have been isolated. Some countries, who switched support to China, have done so because of the economic leverages that the latter has created in the recent past and which evidently China has employed to undertake some blatant arm twisting.
Our aggressive bid has generated new dynamics in the current ‘world nuclear order’. Our aggressive bid and emerging geopolitical circumstances in Asia and the Asia Pacific Region will in effect either alter the character of the NSG or cause the redundancy of the grouping. After all, the world nuclear order right from the inception has been riddled with hypocrisies and exceptions.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)