The Grand Bargain

28 Jan, 1998    ·   55

Michael Krepon believes that by assuming a "not now, not ever" approach to the CTBT, the United Front government threw away India's leverage and paid a heavy diplomatic price abroad

Nuclear bargains — grand or otherwise — require governments able and willing to compromise on sensitive subjects. It is far from clear that this basic prerequisite is in place in the United States , or will soon be in place in India . My own view, however, is that Washington has more leeway to discuss tradeoffs with India than earlier in the 1990s, and that New Delhi has less leeway than before.



Bargaining is hard to envision on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Government of India lost considerable leverage to bargain with Washington and other capitals on the CTBT by assuming a "not now, not ever" approach in Geneva and New York. With more adept diplomacy, New Delhi could have kept its nuclear options open while greatly increasing its negotiating leverage. But this would have required a far different stance than the one taken by the weak United Front government. A more confident government, while not signing the CTBT, would not have actively opposed it, and would have declared that after the five nuclear weapon states had ratified, the Government of India would reassess its position on the basis of progress made by the P-5 towards nuclear disarmament. This would have given India significant negotiating leverage, while retaining the nuclear option and diminishing New Delhi 's isolation on this matter. By assuming a "not now, not ever" approach to the CTBT, the United Front government threw away India 's leverage, paid a heavy diplomatic price abroad, but won plaudits at home.



Given this stance, what kind of bargaining can be expected over the CTBT between Washington and New Delhi ? I remain skeptical that much is possible here, given the water that has passed under the bridge. If India wishes to lessen it's isolation on nuclear testing and improve its chances for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it can rejoin the international scientific community that is monitoring the absence of testing and reaffirm prior public statements at the highest level that, despite its opposition to the CTBT, India does not intend to test, absent a test by China or Pakistan. These steps, however, would be India 's alone to decide. I would not expect these steps to be part of any nuclear bargain; instead, they would be part of a sophisticated strategy by South Block to lift its international standing and diminish its diplomatic isolation.



Likewise, I do not believe there is much bargaining leverage with the United States associated with India 's stance calling for time-bound nuclear disarmament. Very few in the United States take India 's position seriously; most view it as a way to deflect criticism of India 's negative stance toward the CTBT. India's call for time-bound disarmament doesn't affect US positions on any issues of consequence, nor would a change in India's position on time-bound disarmament (not that one is likely) affect any positions that the US Government is likely to take. So we must look elsewhere for bargaining, in my view.



The most interesting arena for discussion may well be the fissile material cutoff treaty. While some analysts in India view the "Cutoff" as yet another way for the United States to abscond with India 's nuclear option, other Indian analysts, such as Raja Mohan, have adopted a very different view, seeing a Cutoff accord as de facto recognition of India 's nuclear capabilities. I personally hope there will be a serious, thoughtful discussion in India about the Cutoff Treaty, one that does not try to stampede the Indian Government, and one that is based on fact rather than fear.



If the Government of India is willing to entertain a Cutoff, I believe that many interesting bargaining possibilities open up between New Delhi and Washington .