India nuclear deal hangs on PM’s communication skills: lessons for Canada

Anyone interested in the communication dynamics of minority parliaments—and political/technical communication in general—should watch for the outcome of negotiations between India’s ruling UPA and its communist coalition partners over the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal. These negotiations occur as I write this (mid-morning Ottawa time, early evening New Delhi time).

It is a true nail-biter. This deal has been in the works since 2005, and represents the most significant shift in U.S.-India relations since 1974. If it comes to fruition, India will be a nuclear weapons state, and civilian nuclear trade on a grand scale will commence with the rest of the world.

The Americans have hoped since the end of the Cold War to make India a strong ally, and this is the closest they have come. And since they are the ones who have driven the effort to open India to opportunities that other nuclear-trading nations could seize, they also want to make sure the U.S. nuclear industry gets its fair share of these opportunities. Their bargaining position reflects this.

The challenge for India’s government is that its left-wing coalition partners—the Communist Party of India and its Marxist offshoot—are anti-American. This means that the sheer complexity of the negotiations not only with the U.S. but also with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives the leftists ample opportunity to make their mark. They have said that the draft safeguards agreement with the IAEA is “too technical” and that in any case their problem is with the U.S. deal not safeguards negotiations with the IAEA (though successful conclusion of the latter is a condition of the former).

This means government negotiators have to spin the deal as one with the world, and not just the U.S. Moreover, their spin has to satisfy not just the leftists but other commentators who, like B.S. Raghavan, are well informed on the technicalities of the deal and still don’t like it. The future of the current Indian government therefore hangs on how well the PM, Manmohan Singh, and his colleagues use their communication skills. Singh is one of the very best in the game, so it will be interesting.

If Singh and his colleagues succeed, Canada will soon be called upon to support the deal in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (whose consent is another condition for the U.S.-India deal’s success). If our position is that we do support it, how will our own government sell it to the Liberals, given that the NDP and Bloc will surely cite the history of our relations with India—see article—as justification to oppose it?

Watch and learn.

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15 years ago

Your posting brings into question Canada’s relationship with India concerning nuclear weapons. I wonder what would have happened if things had gone differently and Canada had not given India any reactor technology? Would India still be there?

What seems to get lost so easily is that we have to find some way to stop carbon combustion in India. My proposal is that we talk them into using nuclear fission instead, whatever that takes. If anyone has a better plan, I am all ears. But please keep the focus – we have to put the coal fires out ASAP.

Steve Aplin
15 years ago

Randal, you’re right: there’s no doubt that the only way India can continue industrializing without jacking up the global GHG inventory is by massively expanding civilian nuclear power. No argument there.

You seem also to be implying that India’s bomb is not the proliferation threat it is being made out to be. You are right there too. It appears the Canadian federal government agrees with you. Canada looks ready to support an India excemption in the NSG.

However, you have to admit: excempting India puts a lot of square pegs into a lot of round holes. Maybe it is worth while to do this, in the interest of putting a lid on Iran (a bigger proliferation threat). But the excemption will be easy to attack, and in a minority government that could present problems.