SPS-IIC Event: Ten years after India-US nuclear deal
The signing of the India-US nuclear deal remains one of the most defining moments in India’s foreign policy. Ten years after the lifting of nuclear strictures, former Foreign Secretaries Shyam Saran and Dr S Jaishankar who played pivotal roles in negotiating the agreement analysed how it has changed India’s position in the world order.
The event was organized by the India International Centre (IIC) in association with Society for Policy Studies (SPS) in New Delhi.
Shyam Saran in his talk opined that the 2008 nuclear deal needs to be put in perspective. Giving a background of events, that led to the signing of the agreement, he said, “On the US side there was awareness that despite pressures being put on, India had managed to create sophisticated nuclear weaponry.” The other factors that he pointed out were changes in global system post Cold War where India’s relations with the Soviet Union no longer mattered to the US and the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 had made it an outward looking economy with significant readjustment in its foreign policy. By then India had also demonstrated capabilities that the US was not aware of especially with regards to the contributions Indian diaspora. So, a partnership with India made a lot of sense for the US.
“India-US nuclear deal was possible because there was a transformation taking place,” he said. Tracing the events from 2005, he said, the trajectory was not easy as the US remained cold towards India till the signing of the Henry Hyde Act. While recognizing the advantages of the agreement, he also acknowledged that no new nuclear power plants could be built post the signing of the agreement with the US. The problems with the liability insurance and the change in public perception after Fukushima nuclear disaster were among the important reasons that contributed to it.
Looking at the gains made, he pointed out that today, India has long-term fuel supply agreements with a dozen countries because of which nuclear fuel will not be a constraint in the foreseeable future. “There is a stake in India’s strength and success which was previously too ambiguous,” he stated.
Dr S Jaishankar in his opening remarks said, “There cannot be a sharper example of radical events in foreign affairs than the nuclear deal.” He opined that the signing of the nuclear deal should be seen as a process and not as an event. Throwing light on India’s strategic situation at that point, he said, the country was trying to recover from three great errors: 1) The error of partition 2) The error of economics and 3) The error of nuclear power. elaborating on the third point, he said, had India pushed its nuclear status in 1950s like how China did, it wouldn’t have missed the bus in 1967. The world did not welcome India after the 1974 nuclear tests. The subsequent management of consequences, growing acceptance and membership of export control regimes are all part of the process.
“Nuclear deal was about doing it in stages and making the reality more palatable for the world,” he said. He pointed out that the deep theology on proliferation the fact that P5 and N5 happened to be congruent and a Congress that felt deeply offended with the way thing were moved were among the primary challenges that India had to overcome. And with both the nations being democracies, the differences got played out in politics which burst the myth that big foreign policies can be insulated from partisan politics. The nuclear deal was a unique problem for which a unique solution had to be found.
Dwelling on the implications of the nuclear deal, he said, “It has opened up defence cooperation; It changed the character of India-US relationship; It has importantly differentiated India and Pakistan in the eyes of the world and it has helped change India’s image in the world and added on to its image as a responsible power.”
He listed out five big takeaways from the nuclear deal. 1) The period between 2005-08 is a great example of India leveraging another power; 2) When there is an important diplomatic window, don’t miss it; 3) In such matters, it is important to be single minded for national interests; 4) Don’t get upset if foreign policy becomes politicized and 5) New normals very rapidly become normal.
C Uday Bhaskar, Director, SPS who chaired the session pointed out that there is a consensus that the world does not want another Hiroshima, Nagasaki or another Fukushima. “India was the outsider till the nuclear tests were carried out,” he said. He also reminded the gathering that India and US were seen as “estranged democracies” and the situation changed only after the signing of nuclear deal.