India is at a crossroads. The world's largest democracy faces critical decisions about its future role in the world. Is India ready to play in the big leagues of international politics? Is India willing to extricate itself from nuclear limbo? Perhaps most of all, is India willing to accept the costs entailed in becoming a player on the global stage? The next few weeks will be quite revealing.
The 18 July 2005 Joint Statement issued by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was revolutionary in its scope. Reversing 30 years of American non-proliferation policy, President Bush presented India with an opportunity: if India takes certain minimal steps, it could reap rich rewards-a ticket to the international big leagues, great power status, acceptance as a de facto nuclear power, and badly needed civilian nuclear assistance.
The steps India needs to take are simple. Briefly, it must fulfill three conditions. First, separate its civilian from its military nuclear facilities in a credible and defensible way. Second, enter into an IAEA safeguards agreement in perpetuity and an IAEA Additional Protocol. Third, never test nuclear weapons again.
These are easy conditions for India to meet, since the nuclear deal enhances, rather than detracts, from India's capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons. But, on 16 August 2006, several former heads of India's nuclear industry released a statement suggesting that these basic conditions make the nuclear deal "unacceptable" for India.
In vague language, they have objected to the deal on four grounds. First, they denounce any restraints on India's freedom of action-diplomatic code for India's freedom to test nuclear weapons. Second, they suggest that IAEA safeguards should only be applied to facilities which receive nuclear assistance from abroad. The third and fourth objections are interrelated, with their deploring any external supervision of India's nuclear program (read: the US Congress's reporting requirements about India's strategic program, and the IAEA Additional Protocol.)
These objections raise fundamental questions, which India's political leaders must answer. Put simply, if India is unwilling to forswear additional tests of its nuclear weapons is it a responsible state, deserving of US nuclear cooperation? Likewise, India's nuclear record is far from perfect; hence IAEA safeguards have to be applied broadly. India's history of using a civilian nuclear facility for the 1974 Pokharan test places a question mark over whether India can be trusted with such assistance. The only way this trust can be guaranteed is for the US and the international community to insist on broad and robust IAEA safeguards.
The final two objections raised in the statement go back to the most fundamental point: Is India a responsible nuclear state? Responsible nuclear states do not indulge in an arms race. In fact, the US and the USSR were wholly irresponsible during their insane and unnecessary arms race during the Cold War. One must wonder that, if India is committed to using nuclear assistance only for civilian purposes, then why should external supervision matter for India? If India is wary of external supervision, then one must ask, does India have something to hide?
The facts are simple. India has been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. While problems on the margins can be adjusted, will India ever get a better deal? The conditions placed by the international community and the US are not onerous. Will India accept the costs associated with receiving this unprecedented chance?
At the same time, the question seems more consequential than whether India will meet the conditions envisaged for the nuclear deal to move forward. The opposition to the nuclear deal in India is also about India's new place in the world. Will India be a force for progress? Or will India sit on the sidelines as the great games of the 21st century are played?
In the 18 July Joint Statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized twice that India would play a "leading role" in WMD non-proliferation efforts-not a "supporting" role, or a "facilitating" role, but a "leading" role. However, Indian strategists have been wary of the IAEA, dismissive of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, resistant in supporting the Proliferation Security Initiative, and reticent on curbing Iran's nuclear program. India seems to want all the benefits of becoming a great power without any of its responsibilities.
Two truths are clear: India will have a difficult time in becoming a great power if it is unwilling to accept the burden of responsibility that comes with being a leading nation on the international stage. And, if India does become a global power, reaping the benefits, while eschewing international leadership and stewardship, the world will be more dangerous for all its citizens.