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The art of the nuclear deal - The Hindu

C. Raja Mohan ()
July 9, 1998

Title: The art of the nuclear deal
Author: C. Raja Mohan
Publication: The Hindu
Date: July 9, 1998

As India an d the U.S. begin to explore at Frankfurt today the
prospects of a bilateral nuclear accommodation, they bring
different negotiating cultures to the table. The clash of these
cultures will make the toils of the Deputy Chairman of the
Planning Commission, Mr. Jaswant Singh, and the U.S. Deputy
Secretary of State, Mr. Strobe Talbott, a fascinating exercise in
diplomacy. For the Americans, deal-making comes naturally: they
have no problem in splitting the difference between two divergent
positions. Making deals and accommodation of divergent principles
is part of American political life. Liberals and conservatives,
internationalists and isolationists, the religious right and
social radicals have no problem coexisting in the same political
party. Externally the focus of American diplomacy is on "problem-
solving" on a pragmatic basis.

Political deal-making is seen as immoral in India, where the
Brahmanical approach has long put 'principle' and 'purity' above
pragmatism. Political differences, even minor ones, in India are
often elevated to the level of irreconcilable antagonism.
Political parties cannot stop splitting in the name of principle.
For many of India's leaders, 'purity' is more important than
maintaining unity.

Indian diplomacy has found it difficult to find a balance between
the emphasis on rinciple' and the imperatives of 'self-
preservation'. If America has elevated deal-making into an art
form, India invented "non-cooperation" as a unique method of
engaging more powerful interlocutors.

Negotiating styles are important factors in the world of
diplomacy. They could often facilitate the resolution of
problems that appear intractable. Some times they make easy
problems look unresolvable. Despite the variation in their
negotiating cultures, and a huge baggage of discord that India
and the U.S. bring to their talks on the nuclear question, it is
important that Mr. Jaswant Singh and Mr. Strobe Talbott find a
way out of the current impasse in bilateral relations. To
succeed, they must keep in mind a few basic principles on
resolving difficult problems through negotiations.

Working with the reality and not against it. No diplomacy can
succeed when it does not accept the ground situation. The U.S.
Secretary of State, Ms. Madeleine Albright, has a problem with
recognising the reality; she keeps posturing that India cannot
blast its way into the nuclear club. Whether she acknowledges it
or not, the nuclear oligopoly was shattered in May by India. The
Indian tests now cannot be undone.

The U.S. commitment to preserve the non-proliferation regime that
it has erected over the last three decades is understandable. But
no international treaty system that is unwilling to adapt to
changing political conditions has survived the test of time.
There is no divine sanction to the decree of the NPT that the
world can have only five nuclear weapon powers and no more.
India, Pakistan and Israel have long been in an anomalous
situation in relation to the NPT.

The world has long known that these three countries are de facto
nuclear weapon powers. The international community was in full
knowledge of this when it extended the NPT indefinitely in 1995.
The Indian tests in May have accentuated this contradiction.
While they create a short term problem for the U.S. they have
also opened the opportunity to complete the architecture of the
global non-proliferation regime by accommodating India into it in
some form.

Recognising the core interest of the other side. That you cannot
push through demands that undermine the basic security interests
of your interlocutor is one of the key principles of any
successful negotiation. The Indo-U.S. dialogue will remain a
meaningless exercise if the Clinton Administration believes that
it can roll back India's nuclear and missile programmes and force
New Delhi into joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon power.

India's bottom line is that it needs a limited nuclear force -
including medium range missiles - that could serve as a credible
deterrent against China. So long as such an Indian force remains
defined in minimalist terms, it in no way threatens the U.S.
security interests. In some ways, it could actually stabilise the
balance of power in Asia.

India, too, needs to acknowledge the core interest of the U.S. in
maintaining a viable non-proliferation order in the world. New
Delhi, in the past, has instinctively understood this by
exercising enormous caution in its own exports of sensitive
nuclear technologies. It is only in the recent years that the
Government has been able to distinguish its own opposition to non-
proliferation regimes for specific security reasons and its real
interest in maintaining the global nuclear order. But within the
Indian political class, this vital distinction is smothered by
the rhetoric on "discriminatory" treaties. If India acknowledges
that there is a need to prevent the spread of weapons of mass
destruction, then it must be prepared to cooperate within the
global nuclear order without sacrificing its own security

Redefining the scope of the problem. Most contentious political
issues in the world are ,often resolved through altering the way
the problem is defined and changing its boundary conditions.
Some times it is useful for negotiators to expand the ambit of
the issues involved. In other cases, breaking down the problem
into its components and narrowing down the focus to a particular
issue helps the negotiations to move forward.

In the present case, India has signalled its interest in gaining
access to advanced technologies and widening the base of its
energy sector by seeking international cooperation in the field
of civilian nuclear power generation. The U.S. on the other hand
has an interest in preventing the leakage of sensitive
technologies from India - that now has the potential to export -
to other States. By bringing the question of nuclear power
reactor and other advanced technology sales to India and New
Delhi's commitments to non-proliferation into the equation, it
has now become possible to consider an effective nuclear bargain.

Don't demand too many simultaneous concessions. It is impossible
for most countries to make adjustments or concessions on too many
basic security issues at the same time, and such pressure could
ruin the prospects for successful negotiation on any one of them.
The U.S. attempt to force the Kashmir issue back on the
international agenda in the wake of India's nuclear tests has the
potential to unravel the entire framework of talks between the
two countries. The U.S. may be viewing the Kashmir issue as a
lever to force Indian concessions on the nuclear issue. There is
no question of India making compromises on the Kashmir question
and it would be sensible for the U.S. to "unbundle" the nuclear
and Kashmir issues.

Providing for cross-linkages. The French and the Chinese are
masters at the game of linking progress in one issue-area to
movement in another completely unrelated one. Both Paris and
Beijing are adept at linking negotiations on a political matter
to say, commercial decisions elsewhere. India, too, is in a
position to do this by making commercial decisions on the
purchase of aircraft or letting in the foreign insurance
companies contingent upon the nuclear decisions of a negotiating

Helping the other party cover its flanks. Negotiations,
particularly between two noisy democracies, are always more
difficult than those between two autocracies or one democracy and
another authoritarian State. The need to convince the Opposition
parties and the broader public opinion imposes tough demands on
democratic governments. Like everywhere else, a successful
negotiation between two democracies is one in which both sides
have gained. But unlike elsewhere, the two sides must also be
seen as emerging victorious from a bargaining process. There is
an obligation here between the negotiators to ensure that the
other party can convince its domestic constituencies that gains
>from the bargain are more than worth the concessions made.

In both the U.S. and India, there will be significant domestic
opposition to any nuclear accommodation between the two
countries. The non- proliferation lobbies in Washington and the
disarmament purists in India are likely to trash any nuclear deal
built around the CTBT. Given the basic asymmetry in the
negotiation. and the fundamental change in nuclear arms control
policy that the Indian Government is trying to engineer, it is
imperative that the U.S. offers tangible and substantive benefits
for India in return for signing the CTBT. India will have to show
that the global non-proliferation regime is buttressed by the

Another problem lies in the different nature of the
"deliverables" from India and the U.S. In the Indian case it is
straight- forward - a two step move on signing and ratifying the
CTBT. In the U.S. case, changes in domestic laws as well as
international agreements are involved in opening the door to
technology transfer. Managing an appropriate sequence of mutual
steps and ensuring reciprocity are going to be big challenges in
hammering out a complex nuclear deal between the two sides, but
if there is political will this may not be an impossible task.

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