January 30, 2006Foreign Affairs

Childish, strategic or both?

It’s America’s turn to decide how important it is to prevent a nuclear Iran

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Foreign policy is the business of doing what is necessary to safeguard and promote the national interest. Resolving that nasty business of Iran and its nuclear shenanigans is every bit more serious that settling scores with the US Ambassador for having dared to verbally threaten India with dire consequences if it does not play ball on Iran. So when some anonymous senior officials’ put out the word that India plans to abstain after Mulford’s remarks, the first impression is one of childishness, not realpolitik.

Yet this may well be a strategic move India’s part: a diplomatic threat to soften up the United States on the negotiations over the bilateral nuclear cooperation deal. The UPA government’s parliamentary allies are opposed both to the nuclear deal with the US and also to the vote against Iran. Furthermore, it is also clear — to both India and the United States — that delivering on the threat will impose undesirable costs on India. These factors make the threat credible. In fact, the United States would do well to take this threat seriously before India’s domestic political dynamic takes it out of Dr Manmohan Singh’s control.

How would the United States respond if it believed that the threat is credible? It has two options: turn David Mulford into a scapegoat, or be less inflexible on nuclear cooperation negotiations. Either of these will allow the Indian government to achieve (or declare) victory. What could go wrong here is that the US government’s decision-making process, like that of its Indian counterpart, can end up hostage to domestic political compulsions, unraveling the deal with India.

In any case, the ball is in Washington’s court. It has itself to blame for this, for Mulford’s remarks were altogether unnecessary. As for the Indian government, it is to be hoped that its posturing is the result of calculated strategy, not mere childishness.

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