Last month saw a small geopolitical revolution: India backed the west against Iranby Mark Leonard / November 20, 2005 / Leave a comment
One of the most significant geopolitical events of the decade has gone almost un-noticed in the west: at September’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, India joined the US and the EU in backing a resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear programme.
In deciding to vote with the west—rather than abstaining with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa—India signalled its willingness to join the top table of international diplomacy and to abandon its automatic solidarity with the developing world.
Western diplomats, who expect Delhi to repeat the move at the IAEA’s next meeting in November, are delighted. A French diplomat said that India has traditionally adopted the foreign policy of a porcupine: it is prickly and hides in a cave, especially when Pakistan is mentioned. The west’s policy, he claims, has been to coax India out of its cave. At the IAEA’s board meeting, Delhi bid farewell to its troglodyte existence with a dramatic flourish.
Of course, there are tactical explanations for the decision. Indian intelligence sources fear that a nuclear Iran could provide a trigger for Saudi Arabia to follow suit (buying weapons off-the-peg from India’s old enemy Pakistan). Another explanation is that the Indian decision was part of the deal that prime minister Manmohan Singh hatched with George W Bush in Washington in July, when the Americans dropped their long-standing ban on nuclear co-operation with India.
But the decision seems to be part of a strategic shift in Delhi. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, foreign editor of the Hindustan Times, thinks that it heralds a new era in Indian foreign policy: “This is part of India’s growing up as a great power. In the past, our approach has been to sit it out and free-ride on the capitalist west. Now we are starting to take calculated risks. We have done this a little in the past few years—recognising Israel, moving towards the US, opening markets, the rapprochement with Pakistan. Each time, the backlash has been smaller than people predicted, and with each successive move our confidence has grown.”
Foreign policy analysts in Washington have long hoped that a democratic India could be recruited as part of a balancing coalition against China’s rise in Asia. But the decision at the IAEA does not mean that India will become a fully signed-up member of the west. It is developing a close relationship with China, and…