President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) - Photo: 2014

Obama’s Talk Closer to Indian Position On Nukes

By Shastri Ramachandaran* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW DELHI (IDN) – Present-day summit meetings are about optics and atmospherics. It is the triumph of style over content. The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama was no different. In the age of tweet and TV-driven news coverage, events take precedence over outcomes and sound bytes over substance.

Documents such as the vision statement or the joint statement, which in times past served as a measure of the agenda and accomplishments of bilateral meetings, are today ignored as pointless verbiage unavoidable for the record.

So after all the hype and hoopla have subsided, a reading of the Modi-Obama statements reveals much that was missed in the euphoria of the occasion. One such outcome to which little attention was paid is the emphasis — in both the joint and vision statements — on nuclear disarmament and a non-discriminatory global nuclear order.

This marks a significant shift in the US position, bringing it closer to the Indian standpoint that has prevailed from Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. That President Obama’s line, reflected in the statements, may have no takers in the US Congress, strategic community or the military establishment, is a different issue. The fact is Obama has acknowledged India’s case for a non-discriminatory nuclear regime. This implies his acceptance of India’s rejection of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In their Vision Statement of September 29, the US President and Indian Prime Minister affirmed that they “will prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and remain committed to reducing the salience of nuclear weapons, while promoting universal, verifiable, and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament”.

In their Joint Statement the next day, Obama and Modi “pledged to strengthen their efforts to forge a partnership to lead global efforts for non-proliferation of WMDs, to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs, and to promote universal, verifiable, and non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament”.

The NPT is the bedrock of US nuclear policy; and “non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament” is another term for India’s rejection of the NPT, which the US has been pressing India to sign since the 1980s.

The US, which asserts its right to nuclear weapons, has sought to bind other powers like India to the NPT and also the CTBT. India has declined to become a signatory because these treaties are flawed and discriminatory. Now Obama is in agreement with India about these regimes being discriminatory. This is the first time a US President has done so. Perhaps, Obama has realised that it is pointless to keep pushing the NPT or CTBT — because when New Delhi has not bowed to US pressure in the past, it will certainly not do so now.

This development comes when Modi — who is avowedly anti-Nehruvian — is publicly committed to dismantling the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru. Universal nuclear disarmament is rooted in Nehru’s vision and is a legacy that Rajiv Gandhi brought alive, in 1988, as the Six Nation-Five Continent Initiative. With India’s failure to make the UN General Assembly accept his idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world, the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan (RGAP 88) was all but forgotten.

In 2010, RGAP 88 gained new life when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up an Informal Group inspired by Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague, where he spoke of “US commitment to seek peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.

Modi might now find use for the 284-page report, released in August 2011, of the PM’s Group for revival of the RGAP on Disarmament. Should he continue in the footsteps of Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, Modi may succeed where they failed: in the mission to take forward Nehru’s vision.

*The author is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator based in New Delhi. This article first appeared in DNA. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 7, 2014]

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Photo: President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Shastri Ramachandran’s previous IDN articles:

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