The much-hyped two-day Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC, marked the culmination of President Barack Obama’s unprecedented nuclear disarmament diplomacy.
The two-day barrage of interactions was aimed at downsizing the role of nuclear weapons and preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. Even if belatedly, this upsurge in Obama’s disarmament agenda must bring some relief to the esteemed committee that conferred the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on him, based on little else, then, than a gut feeling.
Much of the work had been accomplished way before world leaders even landed in Washington. President Obama effectively deployed the repeatedly-postponed release of the US Nuclear Posture Review and the US-Russian Prague nuclear agreement as the backdrop to engaging world leaders, having frontloaded the threat of nuclear terrorism as the most serious threat of the 21st century.
Being the biggest summit for the US since the San Francisco Conference of 1945 that set up the United Nations, this was also an opportunity for about a dozen countries (including India) to have bilateral ‘mini’ summits with the Obama team, regarding the proverbial bees in their bonnets.
Learning from his belated intervention in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference last year, his advance footwork this time secured a solid show of support, leading to the mother of all photo-ops with ‘friends and allies’. This, of course, meant that several problematic countries were strictly excluded from being invited. Also, the absence of the prime ministers of Australia, Britain, and Israel did not go unnoticed. But, most significantly, both Iran and North Korea were not invited though they were at the centrestage of discussions, especially on the sidelines.
Unlike his predecessors, Obama remains convinced that nuclear terrorism poses the most immediate global security threat and needs urgent initiatives. This makes N-terrorism his top priority, opening new vistas for strengthening the Indo-US partnership. For India, this global groundswell for disarmament perfectly suits its own national security priorities, and further justifies the high moral ground taken by India, commensurate with its clean record. Given that India will be absent from the five-yearly Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York next month, the summit provided Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a golden opportunity to air India’s views, vision and priorities.
Continued engagement by India had ensured that discussions did not drift towards it being a non-signatory to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This remains especially critical as India’s evolving policy stance on both these treaties is not yet concrete enough for any formal announcement or public scrutiny.
So, despite several hiccups on bilateral issues like access to David Headley, rumours about Pakistan inching towards an India-like N-deal, India’s role in Afghanistan etc., the two sides broadly found themselves on the same page regarding their security and development priorities, while India stood its ground on the ineffectuality of sanctions against Iran. This comes on the heels of the recently-concluded negotiations on the reprocessing agreement from which India gets to take away better terms than even Japan or the Euratom countries.
The foreign minister is visiting the US in June, and the PM will once again share space with President Obama in Ontario at the G-20 Summit in June. Leading up to the possible visit of Michelle and Barack Obama before the end of this year, this should give our negotiators ample time to build on this high-profile, high-visibility bonhomie to bring back the momentum that had made George Bush Jr. a much-favoured US president with New Delhi.
Swaran Singh is Professor for Diplomacy & Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal