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'It is immaterial what others think of us, if we decide that something is not good for us'

July 3, 2008
M K Bhadrakumar has parlayed a distinguished career in the Indian Foreign Service, with postings in Moscow, Seoul, Colombo, Bonn, Islamabad, Tashkent and Ankara into his current eminence as one of the country's foremost thinkers on foreign affairs. He spoke on the Indo-US nuclear deal in an e-mail interview with Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt.

Yaesterday, K Subrahmanyam, the doyen of India's strategic thinkers, had answered the same set of questions from Sheela on the nuclear deal.

What are the diplomatic implications if India were to desist from going ahead with the nuclear deal with the United States?

It is a sign of the intellectual decline in foreign policy discourses in recent years that such a specious plea has been advanced at all. In any case, the yardsticks we should apply are two: one, whether the deal is necessary and useful for us in its present form and conditionalities, and two, whether a democratic consensus is available for such a major foreign policy decision. Remember, it is no simple matter that a country signs away its national sovereignty in 'perpetuity'. I can't recall any country having done such a thing. You can walk out of even the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is immaterial what others think of us, if we decide that something is not good for us, for our self-respect, for our country's freedom of action. We have always done things our own way. Why this sudden obsession with what other countries may think?

What are the diplomatic implications if India decides to sign the negotiated draft guidelines with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the US then takes the matter further?

The short answer is that this subject goes out of our control or our ability to calibrate, which I think is very crucial. We do not know what this IAEA draft contains. The government is lacking in transparency. This is one aspect.

Again, let us not forget that the Nuclear Suppliers Group was created by the US to punish India for its nuclear programme. Our ability to influence the NSG is severely limited. We do not know what sort of waiver the US is going to seek from the NSG. Clearly, any waiver will have to be in strict conformity with the relevant US legislation known as the Hyde Act.

Also, by the time the NSG waiver is sought, as far as India is concerned, there is a fait accompli in that we have tied ourselves hands and feet, in perpetuity, to the IAEA. Even if the NSG is waiver is unpalatable, we can't revisit the IAEA safeguards agreement or seek correctives.

In retrospect, the government shouldn't have allowed the US to shift the sequencing of negotiations over this deal. Go back to what the US and India originally pledged to do, and look at what we have ended up with.

Image: Dr Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush at the White House, July 18, 2005. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/

Also read: The Indo-US nuclear tango

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