Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Nuclear Iran?

So the Iranians have finally mastered the nuclear fuel cycle at the laboratory level. Is it only a negotiating tactic to make it clear that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be touched or is it a step closer to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons? What options does the US have? Military option has been a hot topic of debate after Seymour Hersh’s article but it is unlikely that a military strike will have the kind of effect the US government is hoping for. It might further accelerate Iran’s advance towards nuclear weapons. History suggests that once political elites in a state make a decision about pursuing nuclear weapons, there is very little the international community can do. The best alternative is to reconcile to limited Iranian uranium enrichment while making sure that effective mechanisms are in place to prevent cheating. All the huffing and puffing notwithstanding, the US and its European partners have little real leverage vis-à-vis Iran in the current global climate, especially as China and Russia are not willing to jeopardize their special relationships with Iran. A nuclear weapon Iran is not in India’s interest, given the complexities of Middle Eastern politics and India’s interests in the region. How far India would be willing to go if the US and its allies decide to get tough with Iran remains to be seen?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Bird's Eye View of Recent Developments

Apologies for our long absence but we are back and will try to be more regular. Meanwhile, events have moved at a frantic pace around us. The US President came to India, he saw, and he conquered despite his all time low ratings in his own country. The US-India civilian nuclear energy agreement is generating great excitement in India but continues to be a thorny issue in the US. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s bravura performance in the US Congress last week, it’s far from clear if the deal will get the approval of the US legislature. And Bush Administration, like its other foreign policy fiascos, deserves a lot of blame for doing shoddy work in managing the nitty-gritty of the administrative process. But let’s hope that the larger support for an Indo-US “strategic partnership” will make the deal go through the US Congress.

China, as expected, is going all-out to scuttle the deal, including a diplomatic offensive to block any changes in the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines to make room for India’s needs for dual-use technologies. One can also expect an even greater Sino-Pakistani engagement on sharing dual-use materials, now that the US has made it clear to Pakistan that there is absolutely no possibility of US offering it a deal similar to the Indian one. See Mohan Malik’s piece on Chinese response to the US-India nuclear pact for details. China’s concern for the global non-proliferation is all the more intriguing given its central role in scuttling any serious attempt by the Western powers to deal the Iranian nuclear program in the United Nations Security Council. For the record, however, Iran is not interested in nuclear weapons, as claimed by its United Nations Representative.

China’s President is visiting Washington later this month but the Americans are refusing to describe it as a state visit (Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US last year was a state visit, by the way). Anti-Chinese feelings are rampant in the US these days with the members of the US Congress particularly vociferous on issue of Chinese currency. This is happening at a time when evidence is coming out of increasing domestic dissent on the direction of China’s economic policy. The Chinese elite seems increasingly concerned that the consensus behind two decades of rapid economic growth might be eroding with the resurgence of socialist thinkers critical of the lurch toward capitalism. It would be interesting to see if this debate has some real impact in the coming days or is this merely a tactic by the Communist Party of China to allow critics to let some of their steam off.

Though China is trying hard to woo the Taiwanese, the pandas that it tried to offer as a gift to Taiwan were not accepted. On the other hand, the Dalai Lama's chief negotiator is on his way for the fifth round of talks with China on the future of Tibet and sees the potential in these negotiations to bring about some fundamental shift in China. I guess we will have just to wait and see about that but it is slightly difficult to figure out what exactly justifies such optimism?

As for India’s own neighbourhood, it remains mired in turmoil and religious fanaticism. Despite all the talk of India emerging as a new global player, what about India’s ability to manage the affairs in its own backyard that seem to be spiralling beyond its control? Does the Indian government have a strategy to deal with the chaos in Nepal, religious fanaticism in Bangladesh, or the break-down in the peace process in Sri Lanka? And what about India's obsessive relationship with Pakistan? Where's it going? Does anyone have a clue? Perhaps the Indian government is too busy with the Assembly elections? But it would do well to remember that one nuclear deal does not a great power make.