As the euphoria of the NSG waiver starts to ebb, I wonder how many of you realise India owes an enormous thank you to George Bush? He’s done for us what no other world leader could have done, and I would add, perhaps none other was prepared to do. But even if you insist there are one or two leaders — Putin or Sarkozy — who might have tried, I’m confident they would not have succeeded. America is the only country that could have delivered the NSG waiver. George Bush is the only president who decided to do so.
First, consider the enormity of the task Bush undertook. The Nuclear Suppliers Group, in its earlier avatar of the London Club, was specifically created in angry response to India’s 1974 Pokhran test with the conscious purpose of containing and restricting India’s nuclear ambitions. No doubt the USA took the lead role in that creation, but that only adds to the significance of Washington’s decision to roll back its own work. This means Bush has unravelled thirty-four years of non-proliferation legislation so a place can be found for India in civil nuclear trade.
To do so he had to confront not just the resistance of the NSG, which was on sharp display last weekend, but the strong non-proliferation lobby at home. Their verdict on the NSG outcome reveals how entrenched their opposition was. They called Vienna “a non-proliferation disaster of historic proportions”. They believe — and there’s a lot of truth in this — that giving India access to nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors allows it to use more (if not all) of its domestic uranium for military purposes. Bush knows that too. Yet he went ahead because he was determined to open the door to civil nuclear trade. He accepted that you can’t stop India making nuclear bombs but you can help it produce clean electricity, and in the process, befriend the country. He put friendship ahead of fear and distrust.
Last weekend showed that many at the NSG disagreed, and until they were bullied by Washington, some were not even prepared to try. The first effort in August produced over 50 amendments. America had to ensure each and everyone was set aside. No doubt India played an important part but we aren’t members of the NSG. Inside the plenary or the small committees, the work was left to America. Russia, Britain and, most of all, France helped but ultimately it was Washington that had to push, cajole or threaten. It succeeded but consider the verdict of this unnamed diplomat who spoke to Reuters: “For the first time in my experience of international diplomatic negotiations, a consensus decision was followed by complete silence in the room. No clapping, nothing”. Clearly there are a few NSG countries who are smarting and even unhappy.
However, the truly incredible part is Bush has done this for a country that is not a traditional ally. Indeed India, in American eyes, is better known as an awkward friend. We’ve never been shy of criticising Washington’s policies. In fact, think how readily we accuse America of imperialism, arrogance, racism not to mention crass materialism and cultural ignorance. We’re even suspicious when Washington supports democracy.
The truth is I can’t quite fathom why Bush has done this for us. I know all the explanations analysts offer and no doubt they make sense but they don’t fully answer the question. And the reason is they can’t explain the connection Bush feels for India. Yet clearly there must be one. Perhaps we’ll only know when Bush himself tells us, but who knows when or if that will be. Yet whilst we wait there’s something we need to say. And, I would add, say it loudly: Thank you, Mr Bush.
I concede George Bush’s Iraq policy or his approach to the WTO or his cowboy rhetoric merit criticism but that doesn’t detract from the thanks we owe him. Not in the least. For others he may be a dreadful president but not for us. For India he’s proved to be the best there’s ever been!