The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Can the UPA government live with American unilateralism'

Remember a BBC poll last year, soon after the re-election of George W. Bush, which showed that the American president's victory was welcomed only in three countries' India was one of those three countries: 62 per cent of Indians who responded to the survey then viewed another four-year Bush term in the White House as a positive development.

If a similar survey is undertaken today in India, following Manmohan Singh's stunningly successful trip to Washington, there is little doubt that it would show Bush's popularity graph at an all-time high among Indians. And if Bush presses forward on the path he has chosen to go along with Singh between now and his projected state visit to India in January next year, he may outshine Bill Clinton, who made his presidential trip to India five years ago ' or even Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet leaders, who received an exuberant welcome when they came to India in 1955 ' although Bush lacks the charisma of either Clinton or Khrushchev.

There is clearly more to this love of America's 43rd president among Indians than the mere fact that Bush is committed to building a robust relationship with New Delhi. The Bush administration's highly controversial decision during Singh's visit to Washington to support a process, which will eventually let India into the exclusive nuclear club of the privileged five great powers of the world, is no accident. It is by design, of course, yet it would be wrong to suggest that there is any grand design behind that decision.

By nature, instinct and temperament, the current US administration loathes international organizations, multilateralism and global treaties. As soon as it came to power in 2001, it decisively turned its back on the comprehensive test ban treaty ' to India's delight. Unlike the Clinton administration, which had submitted the CTBT to the senate for ratification (unsuccessfully though), the Bush team decided to abandon that course.

Similarly, Clinton acceded to a treaty creating the International Criminal Court. In May 2002, Bush not only abjured that treaty, he created what has come to be known as the 'Article 98 agreement', under which the United States of America and individual signatory states would exempt each other's citizens from prosecution in the ICC. That agreement is punitive: US aid could be legally withheld to countries which do not sign 'the Article 98 agreement' with the Americans. India is one of several countries which have signed the 'Article 98 agreement' bilaterally with the US. It is no coincidence that India has objections to the ICC too, and therefore, like the Americans, it never signed the treaty creating the international court.

One of the earliest foreign policy decisions of the Bush administration was to abrogate the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which was the bedrock of global arms reduction for many years, stretching back to the Cold War. Bush's decision to pull out of the ABM treaty shocked the Russians ' and the rest of the world. But that was well before it became the Bush administration's policy to show disdain to international treaties.

By far, the most controversial of such decisions has been on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, adopted as long ago as 1997 by the countries which are parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change. Although New Delhi ratified the Kyoto Protocol as early as August 2002, India is not required to reduce emission of greenhouse gases under the protocol: it requires developed countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. India signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol because the country will benefit from transfer of technology and foreign investments when the protocol goes into force.

Bush says Kyoto would wreck the US economy, and knowing that, he could not have signed the protocol. Last month he told Danish television that he even doubts the causes that are commonly associated with global warming and that more study is needed to determine whether human activity is primarily to blame for rising temperatures on earth. If India, like China, had not been exempt from emissions reductions, New Delhi too would have opposed the Kyoto Protocol like the US.

So, when Bush and Singh have their summit, it is more than a meeting of minds, it is a convergence of national moods and attitudes in their respective countries. Both in India and in the US, the overwhelming view is against test ban, a court that supercedes national sovereignty and Kyoto. Few pairs of countries have such identity of views or actions. Along with such shared opposition to these international treaties, the US and India are now united against the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

There is design behind Bush's decision to practically exempt India from the demands of the NPT, in that his administration has now extended its habit of seeing things in black or white ' with no shades of grey ' to the nearly four decades-old pact that still serves as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. North Korea's open effort to become a nuclear weapons power and Iran's suspected attempt to join the nuclear club, along with several other disturbing developments in the disarmament arena, have convinced the White House that an ostrich-like approach to the NPT has to change.

What Bush did last week was to extend his 'you are either with us or against us in the fight against terror' approach to non-proliferation as well. In the calculations of the White House, it does not matter any more that India and Israel are outside the NPT because these two countries do not threaten or undermine America's national security just because they have atom bombs. Not so in the case of North Korea or Iran, not even the ally Pakistan, thanks to a flourishing black market in nuclear material that Islamabad ran for years under the patronage of the father of its nuclear programme, A.Q. Khan.

In the coming months, what has been tentatively attempted with India on the nuclear issue and subtly written out in the Indo-US joint statement will evolve into policy. The Bush administration will put into a doctrine its new approach to a frayed global non-proliferation regime: it is the composition of governments and not the contents of their nuclear godowns that will determine America's tolerance of a particular country's nuclear programme or the status of a particular country within the global non-proliferation regime. Only when such a change in approach crystallizes into clear policy can the White House hope to carry through its promise to India to 'seek agreement from Congress to adjust US laws' to facilitate the transfer of nuclear technology and equipment for New Delhi's civilian nuclear programme.

There is little doubt that once the Americans have crossed the T's and dotted the I's of this new policy, the other nuclear weapons states and members of the nuclear suppliers group will fall in line. Just as they did in 1999 after passing a punitive UN security council resolution against Pokhran II only a year earlier, once India and the US began negotiations about nuclear issues.

The question that is yet to be asked, though, is whether the United Progressive Alliance government can live with all this. To do so would be to repudiate Jawaharlal Nehru in action if not in words. Nehru was an internationalist, a firm believer in multilateralism. A convergence of Indian and American approaches on the ICC, the crux of Kyoto, the CTBT and NPT constitutes a radical shift in favour of the unilateralist policies, which the Bush administration is committed to practise.

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