the criticism and the defence of India's decision to vote
against Iran at the IAEA has sunk to depths of bad taste
that make a mockery of the Indian elite's pretensions
to emerging great power status.
Prakash Karat, and a number of intellectuals from the
Left of the political spectrum have accused Dr Manmohan
Singh of emulating Judas Iscariot and betraying Iran and
non-alignment for 'thirty pieces' of technology and a
seat at the bottom of the High Table, the advocates of
'cold national interest', who apparently include a member
of the core group of the Congress party, have not hesitated
to highlight Iran's frequent support of Pakistan in its
periodic conflicts with India to justify stabbing it in
the back now.
the entire debate is one giant exercise in irrelevance.
For it is being carried on squarely within the framework
of an international state system that has been under attack
for at least two decades and is in an advanced state of
decay. This is the Westphalian system enshrined, in its
final incarnation, in the charter of the United Nations.
The challenge that every country faces is: how to navigate
in a world that is suddenly without rules? But for a large,
democratic country like India there is a second challenge
- to help write the rules of a new order. Although taken
intuitively and under great pressure, the decision on
Iran was the first step in that direction.
Westphalian system rested on two pillars, the sovereignty
of nation states, and non-interference in each others'
internal affairs. Peace was maintained through deterrence
and, after the development of nuclear weapons, was immensely
reinforced by the threat of mutually assured destruction.
That system came to an unequivocal end when the United
States, Great Britain and a handful of misguided 'allies'
invaded Iraq without a shadow of justification and without
the consent of the Security Council.
notice had been served on the Westphalian system a year
earlier by George W. Bush when he announced a new National
Security Doctrine that explicitly abjured deterrence in
favour of pre-emptive assault to safeguard the United
States' security and interests around the globe. The right
to pre-emptive assault was nothing short of a declaration
of Empire and by definition, implied an utter contempt
for national sovereignty.
Bush doctrine was a response to the rise of global terrorism.
But terrorism itself was a mindless and purely destructive
response to the assault on indigenous cultures that had
resulted from globalisation. Globalisation had begun to
erode previously stable social systems in the industrialised
counties as long back as the early seventies when the
technology-driven unification of national markets triggered
a migration of capital from the industrialised to a select
handful of developing countries and overturned the traditional
relationship between high and low wage economies.
the selectivity displayed by capital in its choice of
destinations accentuated the economic exclusion of other
developing countries, many of which turned into failed
or failing states. The extensive violations of human rights
in some of them became the pretext for frequent and increasingly
ambitious military interventions in these states. By the
time NATO launched its assault on Serbia in 1999 both
the pillars of the Westphalian system were close to collapse.
The Bush doctrine and the invasion of Iraq only delivered
the coup de grace.
the Cold War years, when India had been at the receiving
end of American suspicion and Chinese and Pakistani hostility,
Indian foreign policy had become increasingly defensive.
But in the past decade, India's international position
has undergone a profound transformation.
country after country has sunk into crisis; while every
military intervention by the major powers, however well
intentioned, has deepened the chaos in the international
system, and while the de facto rulers of the new world,
the US and its allies, have become embattled in a war
they cannot win and cannot afford to lose, India has made
a successful transformation into a market economy, has
experienced rapid and accelerating economic growth, and
has shown exemplary responsibility in the management of
its nuclear capability. Its democratic traditions have
prevented both terrorism and fundamentalism from gaining
a toehold in the country and, above all, it has remained
relatively free from internal stresses and strains. It
was inevitable that that it would be asked to share the
burden of management.
demonstrated its growing capacity to affect outcomes when
it lifted a battalion in record time to the Maldives in
1988. It demonstrated an impressive capacity to cope with
natural disasters after the tsunami. For several years
it had been contributing food and medicines to countries
affected by drought, floods and disease, and its sizable
economic assistance to Afghanistan has arguably been the
most effective of all the aid that has come in. It was
therefore inevitable that, sooner or later, India would
be asked to shoulder a part of the burden of managing
a world that is in the grip of an ever deepening systemic
far this new axis of cooperation had remained largely
unnoticed in India. But the crude way in which some American
Congressmen made a vote against Iran a condition for changing
domestic US law to facilitate the supply of nuclear technology
to India, brought it out into the open. The American threat
did weigh heavily on the minds of the prime minister and
his advisers, as did the pressure they came under when
they were in New York. But even had there been no threat,
it is difficult to see how India could, responsibly, have
voted any other way at the IAEA.
was fully aware that Iran had been hiding elements of
its nuclear programme from the IAEA, but that once these
had been discovered in October 2003, it had cooperated
readily in bringing these under full scope safeguards.
In its report of September 2 to its board, the IAEA had
certified that Iran had no prohibited nuclear materials.
All that it was not yet in a position to certify was that
there were no more undeclared elements of the programme
Manmohan Singh had discussed Iran in Paris with President
Chirac and in Delhi with prime minister Tony Blair, even
before the question of 'reciprocity' was raised in the
US Congress. These talks had led him to commit India to
working with the EU3 to prevent the development of another
Iraq type confrontation.
there were marked differences between the Indian and EU
stands. The EU claimed that Iran had violated the 'standstill'
Paris agreement of November 14, 2004, when it resumed
nuclear fuel enrichment at Isfahan on August 1.
India knew that Iran did this because of domestic pressure
that arose because the EU had failed to live up to its
own commitment to frame a long-term agreement that would
reconcile Iran's right to pursue its own nuclear programme
with 'objective guarantees' that it 'was exclusively for
peaceful purposes', by the end of July.
also knew that the EU3 had been unable to deliver because
the US refused to be satisfied with anything short of
depriving Iran of the right to produce nuclear fuels -
NPT be damned - and had tried to build an agreement around
knew, therefore, that Iran was more sinned against than
sinning. But if it had abstained from voting on November
24, it would have ruled itself out of the negotiation
process altogether. Instead, largely at its insistence,
the IAEA resolution reaffirmed Iran's right to produce
nuclear fuels, and gained more time for resolving the
dispute within the IAEA before it could be referred to
the Security Council.
India was forced to give in was on the all important finding
that Iran was in violation of article XII-c of the IAEA's
statutes. But it made it clear in its statement that it
did not agree with this part of the resolution.
its vote India has acquired a limited but very real capacity
to revive the Paris agreement. It has the moral right
to urge the EU3 to take a more even-handed stand on Iran's
right to produce nuclear fuel,
and to exchange a stricter safeguard regime for guarantees
on security and trade. If it does this, it will be far
better situated than they are to persuade President Ahmedinejad
to be more flexible and come back to the negotiating table.
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former
editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic
Times and The Financial Express,
and a former information adviser to the prime minister
of India. He is the author of several books including,
The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy
of Reform in Russia, India and China, and
Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a
regular columnist with several leading publications.