NEW DELHI: The India-US nuclear deal was a great example of India leveraging a great power to get ahead, said the former foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar. He was speaking at a seminar here with Shyam Saran former foreign secretary, commemorating ten years after India got a global waiver for nuclear commerce by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
There were clear takeaways from the deal for Indian foreign policy, Jaishankar said. This included the fact that when presented with a diplomatic window, India should not miss it. If Manmohan Singh had not utilised the window of July 18, 2005, given by the US, the opportunity would have been lost. “If we hadn’t done it in 2008, we would never have done it.”
In addition, national interest trumps everything. There was a point, he said when the deal became entangled with the Iran nuclear question. But, he said, India ploughed ahead. “Fourth, don’t get upset if foreign policy gets politicised. Fifth, new normals become normal. It has happened. The world has accepted our nuclear status.”
Saran said, by the time of the 1998 nuclear tests, it had become clear to the US that “despite the huge effort diplomatic and political and economic pressures, India had managed to build considerable nuclear facilities not owed to the US….For India’s economic and security policies, a partnership with the US became very important. India demonstrated capabilities the US had not been aware of. The Indo US nuclear deal accelerated the transformation of the relationship, but the environment was in place.”
It is true, Saran said, that not one foreign nuclear reactor has come up post the deal. “There are many reasons for that. One was the nuclear liability entanglement and then Fukushima which changed from states wanting nuclear plants to saying they didn’t want them. But we were able to bring in fuel, and our existing power plants moved from a plat load factor of around 30 per cent to over 90 per cent. Today we have long-term agreements for fuel with at least a dozen countries. “
Jaishankar said, the nuclear deal finally differentiated India from Pakistan in the eyes of the world. “If you didn’t deal with the US, no one else would look at us. So instead of the easy route, we had to take the most difficult route. It was a unique problem for which a very unique solution had to be found. From 1965 when the US suspended arms sales, to 2005 we had virtually no defence relationship. That dramatically changed. So did it in terms of the space industry. But it changed the character of the relationship.”