Pokharan II and the G-8 Summit

25 May, 1998    ·   98

Ashutosh Mishra writes on the effect of India's nuclear testing at Pokharan on the G-8 meeting

Cracks have appeared in the fortress of the Group of Eight, the most powerful industrial countries in the world, at their recent summit in Birmingham, U.K. The cause was the nuclear tests conducted by India in Pokhran on the 11th and 13th of May, 1998.



The lack of seriousness regarding this issue by the summiteers can be gauged from the fact that it figured as the fifth and last item on the agenda list after Indonesia , Kosova, Bosnia and Herzegovina , and the West Asia peace process.



Japan and the United States have reiterated their determination to apply sanctions against India , and urged their fellow members to follow suit. But the other G-8 countries- Canada , France , Germany , Italy , the United Kingdom and Russia , held back from taking punitive measures, as they remain unconvinced about the efficacy of the U.S. policy of sanctions against India .



The spokesman of U.K. Premier Mr. Tony Blair, said, "There will be no collective sanctions at the G-8." Though the G-8 expressed its anger and dismay over the tests, yet its spokesman, Alastair Campbell, said, "It would be a response that does not raise temperature. We want Pakistan to make more cautious response than they might. Each Government would respond in its own way to India ’s nuclear tests." This last sentence has great significance for India , because it reveals a lack of consensus among the member states who clearly give priority to their individual ties with India .



A tacit acknowledgement is emerging in the U.S. of India’s new status if one considers Mr. Bill Clinton’s statement, suggesting that it was important not to isolate India . It was necessary for the G-8 to send a firm, unambiguous message to India disapproving the test. But it was also imperative to maintain a constructive relationship with India . Clinton also said that India would be one of the great powers in the next century, along with China and Russia .



There are reports that France and Russia and, to a large extent, Germany were opposed to imposition of sanctions if India could be persuaded to initiate a process leading to its signing the CTBT. Surprisingly the West, which has been very keen on persuading India to sign the CTBT even the tests were conducted, did not find the test of Ghauri Missile to be a serious issue.



The G-8 have not responded to queries on the Ghaznavi, the longer range missile on the design board in Pakistan . There was also no mention in the briefings held by various G-8 countries on reports that the pending US - Pak deal for supply of F-16 planes would be implemented. But even this policy will lose its meaning should Pakistan also conduct its nuclear test



It is important to highlight the reason for the West’s support (especially Britain and France ) to India . Unlike the China-loving US president, the West understands the long term threat posed by the authoritarian regime in Beijing better than the US , which has monetarily gained from Communist China .



New Delhi on the other hand has been able to demonstrate its technological supperiority over Beijing despite various freeze in assistance. Besides the ASEAN, which sees China as an expansionist threat, finds a powerful ally in India to checkmate its designs. The West also does not want any upheaval in the ASEAN region, especially after its recent economic crisis.



As far as the US , Japan and Germany are concerned they will be losers in the end if sanctions are imposed rigorously. The reason - India is emerging as the largest buyer of energy stocks, and they would not like losing contracts to ASEAN, Paris and London .



Coming to US’ policy towards India , it is time that it ends further recrimination and moves to resolve the current stand-off. The five tests have raised hopes of greater flexibility in India ’s position on the CTBT, the FMCT and, in general, a more positive attitude towards the global Non - Proliferation regime. Though the stands adopted by the US and India are wide apart at present they can be bridged. India has taken the first step by expressing its willingness for talks. It is now the turn of the world’s only superpower.