Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

NSG Update @ 1050 on Saturday

Vienna: The Nuclear Suppliers Group is about to resume its discussions this morning on the American proposal to grant India an exemption for its restrictive trading rules. When I checked 10 minutes ago, the Indian delegation was cautiously upbeat, hinting that this story might well have a happy ending by the evening.

There have been overnight efforts by the Indians and Americans to speak to some of the countries still holding out, including China. An Indian TV channel is reporting a possible Bush-Hu phone conversation on India but there has been no official announcement of this yet, nor a confirmation of this from any other news source.

Initial reports I am getting from diplomats from countries without a dog in the fight (think former Soviet Bloc in the widest sense) suggests we be cautious in analysing the precise role China is playing since both the Americans and the nonproliferation lobby have an incentive to spin this story for reasons of their own. I know the Chinese are being negative from three sources, including two who were in the meeting. The third was an Indian official who has getting virtually real-time information from inside the meeting. My stories in today’s Hindu reflect this. But what happened late last night? Did the meeting “break up” after a Chinese walk-out, as some reports have suggested? Consider this:

“May be [the Chinese] were a bit impatient at the delay last night but there was no demarche or walkout. Some [members of] of their delegation left early, as did many officials from many countries, but I can confirm the presence of Chinese colleagues in the small working groups till the time our work ended just after 1:30 a.m.”

Thus spake one of these diplomats in a chat with me this morning.

I must say that none of the 30-odd journalists who had staked out the Andromeda Tower where the NSG is meeting (in the 27th floor offices of the Japanese mission to the U.N.) — including me — saw anything resembling a group of Chinese diplomats leaving the building (in a huff or otherwise) around 0045 as some reports today are saying.

So while the Chinese remain a problem area, I think we need to be mindful of spin. The Americans would like India to believe the Chinese are the main villains here. And the non-pro wallahs would like to boost their own thinning ranks by bandwagoning with Beijing. Both narratives are perhaps accurate, and the Chinese have acted fiendishly but astutely in playing their hand so late. However, the binding constraint today is Ireland-New Zealand-Austria, and not China. If the three yield, you can be sure Beijing will not want to be part of a Gang of One. Not for any reason other than that the political cost in terms of bilateral relations with India would be enormous. A Chinese veto will ensure the one thing Beijing says it doesn’t want — an Indo-American alliance.

8 comments on “NSG Update @ 1050 on Saturday

  1. Sid
    September 6, 2008

    @ nukedukeSorry you feel that way. There are two kinds of pieces that get posted here. Most of them are my published newspaper pieces. Sometimes, due to the pressure of events and requests from readers, I post a quick comment, on the fly as it were. These are heavily influenced by events as they unfold and look on the ground. Sometimes the predictions pan out, sometimes they don’t. But please try and understand the complexity of international negotiations like these. I filed a story Thursday night after the first day of talks this time which had an optimistic headline and intro. After I was done, I went to the hotel where the Indian delegation was staying and had a drink with two senior officials. They looked ashen faced and crest-fallen, and were actually discussing the pros and cons of the ‘Kamal Nath option’. They couldn’t believe my upbeat assessment! I felt like an idiot for filing an upbeat assessment but as it turned out, that story of mine was borne out by subsequent events! But based on their downcast mood and logic, and some conversations I had with European naysayers on Friday morning, I did a negative story. Till 7 pm on Friday, the feedback the Indians wee getting from inside the room was depressing. Then there was some positive mood but again a downer at midnight. Finally, this morning, the air cleared. I take full responsibility for everything I write but only ask that you appreciate the complex, shifting nature of these talks and the feedback loop caused by official perceptions, media reports of these, and the events which finally unfold. News stories create perceptions, which then also affect the dynamics of the process. As for the stake through the deal piece, I had identified three scenarios and said, on the basis of the state of play at the time, that Scenario 1 was most likely. Now what will unfold, I am sure, is Scenario 2. By the way, the stake is still very much in the heart of the deal. Don’t expect much light at the end of the 123 tunnel, not because of the Americans, but because of the Indians.More later, and thanks for your question/comment.l

  2. Anonymous
    September 6, 2008

    SiddharthThree visits to Vienna and you got it so wrong….while I salute the information you have provided to all interested in the deal your prognosis has been repeatedly wrong. Just a look at your pieces indicates how you have got the trends wrong repeatedly…..A Stake is driven through the deal (????)….Rumblings etc…..could we expect a more factual approach will help us all.NUKEDUKE

  3. Anonymous
    September 6, 2008

    While the details have not come out officially yet, the deal is based on commitments made by India with regards to non-proliferation, no nuclear testing, and no arms race.Assuming that India delivered on these commitments, that is not a bad deal, is it?Non-proliferation is not just about getting commitments down on paper, but to establish a norm among states.The USA and India both refused to sign the Ottawa mine ban treaty, but have sharply limited the use of land mines because of the political cost.India, by joining the Nuclear club formally, now have the benefits, and the burden of being an incumbent regardless of their signature on the NPT and the CTBT.Let us hope Indians assume this burden wisely!LTR

  4. Indian
    September 6, 2008

    well, so the deal is done for India.The only sad point is, we have virtually become a pawn of US Super power. Or, is this thought grossly exaggerated? (i hope so)How are we ever going to avoid the US influence over our Foreign Policy affairs going forward?Is there any hope for the Iran Pipeline deal now?

  5. Siddharth Varadarajan
    September 6, 2008

    @ NukedukeIf you are not interested in the nuances of what is a very complicated story, you may wish to stick to your regular news sources. I mean this sincerely, with no offence intended.

  6. Anonymous
    September 6, 2008

    It is true that China is a problem. It is also true that they would not want to stand alone and be identified and would therefore hide behind the coat tails of some other countries so they can run with the hare and hunt with the hound. At least NZ/Austria and others have the courage and conviction and sincerity to say where they stand and why. We can respect them. If China wanted India’s goodwill and friendship so badly, it could done some very simple things:First issued a clear statement of support instead of vague legalese that means nothing and probably implies they are not for it.Secondly it could have asked its puppets in India to tone down their noise. So any smart Indian will know if we get this it will be despite the Chinese and not because of them. Any amount of spin by their paid and unpaid propaganda armies will not take away this reality.

  7. Anonymous
    September 6, 2008

    From: http://www.armscontrolwonk.comDear President Hu,I understand President Bush telephoned you to solicit China’s support for the US-India Nuclear Exemption Deal at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). While I am not in possession of a transcript of the conversation, here is a list of items that I am sure President Bush did not mention to you but that I am sure the Chinese delegates to the NSG, can confirm for you: – The proposed “exemption” from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) offers no certain sanctions on India if India resumed testing of nuclear weapons.– At present, India’s ability to build and expand their nuclear arsenal is limited by domestic supplies of uranium and their voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.– If India is granted the “exemption”, India will have the potential to divert 100% of their domestic (non-safeguarded) fissionable materials to weapons production while remaining entirely within the letter of the agreement. – India, under such circumstances, will be able to field a much larger arsenal of upwards to 1,000 nuclear warheads– Once India resumes nuclear weapons testing, it is a matter of time before they perfect thermo-nuclear weapons and those kiloton warheads become megaton city busters. – India is one of four nations (US, Russia, Israel) that have developed a rudimentary anti-Ballistic missile system that can potentially give their decision makers enough confidence to believe they can absorb and survive an attack by a small nuclear power like Pakistan or China.– India has deployed ballistic missiles that put most Chinese cities within range; and has under development missiles and other delivery vehicles that put virtually every city in the world in range.– In the “worst case” scenario, India could be armed with 1,000 thermo-nuclear warheads with the capacity to wipe out 1,000 major cities worldwide within 20 years.If China assumes that India’s actual and likely intentions in the future towards China are entirely peaceful, there is still the legitimate concern with India’s capacity to safeguard and secure such a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. Concerns can be legitimately raised as to the command and control of Indian nuclear forces, what sorts of safeguards are in place against accidental use of nuclear weapons and so forth.On the other hand, if there is any reason to doubt India’s peaceful intentions, then China must factor into the calculation the likely cost of countering a large Indian arsenal of thermo-nuclear weapons that will, at least, in part, be aimed at China.While it is beyond this note to address the cost of such counters, here are some potential and possibly real costs of China sitting idly by at the NSG: – Developing and fielding an enhanced nuclear deterrent designed to penetrate an adversary equipped with an anti-ballistic missile system will cost China at least tens of billions USD and possibly require the development of a new generation of missiles and warheads that cost billions USD more. – It is highly probable that China will require a larger arsenal of warheads, and more expensive and less secure means of maintaining a deterrent like mobile missile launchers that costs tens of billions USD more.– China developing these capabilities will, in turn, give Russia and the US concerns as to Chinese intentions, potentially sparking a renewed global arms race.– Development of even a rudimentary anti-Ballistic Missile system to protect even one site (parts of Beijing) is likely to cost hundreds of Billions USD.These costs are by no means hypothetical, but real costs that are likely to be incurred should India continue their conventional and nuclear weapons buildup and should Chinese Indian relations change for the worse. India is dangling the promise of perhaps USD$100 billion in nuclear technology trade as inducements to the NSG members. Not a single rupee of this trade has been offered to China. China is likely to receive virtually none of this Indian nuclear business, but at the same time, face the costs of a severely degraded security and strategic environment that will cost China at the minimum, hundreds of billions USD to mitigate (if it can be mitigated at all). If nuclear war broke out in South Asia, even if it did not involve China, it would easily cost China tens of billions just in collateral damage from nuclear fallout and lost business. If it involved China, the cost begins with the destruction of Chinese civilization and rises from there.As it stands, the US-India NSG exemption is facilitating an Indian nuclear weapons buildup and nuclear weapons testing to develop an arsenal of hundreds of thermo-nuclear warheads and delivery systems. If China cannot delay consideration of this deal to the next US administration (that will likely have very different ideas about effectively gutting the NPT regime that China has benefited from) the other option is for China to vote “NO”. The question is, can China afford to not exercise the veto on this deal regardless of short term costs to Chinese-Indian relations? A “NO” vote may damage Indo-Chinese relations, but a “YES” vote will irreversibly damage the cause of nuclear disarmament. I do hope you give President Bush and Prime Minister Singh a call and discuss these issues that they may not have bothered to tell you about in trying to sell this deal. Please do make these calls soon as both of President Bush and Prime Minister Singh are likely to be out of office shortly!Sincerely,Lao Tao Ren

  8. Anonymous
    September 6, 2008

    Batting for the Chinese is nothing new for you or the paper u write for….but where is the beef in your story except for a dip from the former soviet bloc. Why do u think Bush called the Chinese… thank them for their hospitality during his visit to Beijing last month? Despite all your sceptical and biased reporting…there will be a positive outcome today….wait and watchNUKEDUKE

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2008 by in Nuclear Issues.



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