Posted on 09-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Daniel Larison’s column discussing Barack Obama’s endorsement of India’s dreams of permanent security council membership notes the following:

The more interesting question is whether the U.S. is able to acknowledge that major and rising powers do not share its preoccupations and to adjust expectations of their cooperation with U.S. policy accordingly. Washington isn’t likely to abandon its fixation on Iran’s nuclear program, but it should give the administration some pause that it has just publicly endorsed permanent Security Council status for what is, in fact, one of the chief “rogue” nuclear states in the world. This is not a criticism of the administration’s engagement of India. On the contrary, the administration’s correct dealing with India stands as a rebuke to the administration’s Iran policy. Further, the favorable treatment shown to nuclear-armed India confirms that states that never join and flatly ignore the requirements of the NPT and go on to build and test nuclear weapons are not censured or isolated in the least. Instead, they are rewarded with good relations and high status.

The assignment of “rogue” status to India and Iran based on pursuit of nuclear weapons is a false equivalency.  For one major reason – India refused to sign the NPT because of its arbitrary limitation of nuclear powers to the five who got there first.  Iran (and North Korea – which has since withdrawn from the treaty) signed the NPT and by pursuing nuclear weapons violated its treaty obligations.  Larison fails to explain why a country falls into rogue status for not abiding by the requirements of a treaty it never accepted in developing its own nuclear weapons.  I make the distinction because non-signatory Pakistan earned its rogue status not for testing its own nukes, but for selling them to North Korea and Libya.  The stark contrast to Pakistan along with Indian assurances that they would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict (a commitment not offered by the United States which during the Cold War felt itself to be at a conventional weapons disadvantage) is among the factors contributing to India’s special treatment (a booming economy does not hurt).

Left unsaid is the fact that the third non-signatory to the NPT, Israel appears to have been developed its own nuclear arsenal through NPT violations by Western Powers and apartheid South Africa (which renounced the bomb shortly before the transfer of power to Nelson Mandela).

That said Larison has a point in noting an element of hypocrisy in the wailing about Iran’s nuclear program.  However that does not stem from the treatment of India.  It is ultimately rooted in the NPT’s arbitrary designation of permitted nuclear weapon states that has miserably failed to stop the domino effect of countries seeking the bomb.

Larison closes out his column with the following:

More to the point, if the administration had what it wanted and India were on the Security Council as a permanent member with veto powers, how much weaker would U.N. sanctions against Iran have had to be to satisfy India? Put another way, if India is ready to be considered such an acceptable and responsible power, what does Indian indifference to Iran’s nuclear program tell us about the rationality of our government’s obsessive hostility towards the same?

The Indian posture is not very different from that of the Russians and the Chinese.  None of the three shares America’s hostile relationship with Tehran.  While none is eager to see an Iranian nuke they are not hyperventilating about it like the United States or Israel.  It is not clear that India would have diluted the sanctions against Iran even further than the Russians and the Chinese.  Most likely and in the finest traditions of modern Indian diplomacy, it would have abstained  – a posture that will have to gradually change if India wants to be taken seriously as a great power.

It is about time Washington appreciated that countries have different interests and policies – something that was lost in the first George W. Bush term as the Cheney/Rumsfeld duo went out of the way to alienate anybody who did not kowtow to American policy.  If the United States wants a puppet in the Security Council, it already has the United Kingdom.  It is also important to note that while Obama endorsed India’s permanent membership of the Security Council, he did not say anything about the veto power.  Frankly granting another 4 members (Japan, India, Brazil and probably South Africa) the veto power would make the Security Council even more irrelevant than it already is.

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