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India-France Nuclear and High Technology Partnership

Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • December 10, 2010

    During his visit to India between 4 and 7 December 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy went to three important ‘capitals’: Bangalore - the science capital of the country, Delhi - the political capital, and Mumbai - the commercial capital. Reflecting the Presidential reach, the outcome of the visit was comprehensive and multidimensional. Several agreements and a joint statement emerged out of the visit.

    Like Barack Obama, the French President too endorsed the Indian candidature for the four multilateral export controls regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which controls nuclear goods, the Missile Technology Control Regime which controls missile and space related goods, the Australia Group which controls chemical as well as biological agents, and the Wassenaar Arrangement which controls conventional weapons and other dual use goods. The India-France joint statement reiterated full membership for India “in a manner consistent with procedures and objectives of these groups.”

    Indian diplomacy may once again be applauded for making the French President speak the idea of nuclear disarmament. In the last wave of the campaign for nuclear disarmament, which was launched for about two years before the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, France hardly paid any serious attention to the cause. It kept reiterating the relevance of independent nuclear deterrence. True, nuclear disarmament may not happen, but it may send a positive signal to the global nuclear disarmament lobby that India is working for global nuclear disarmament by taking commitment from all the NPT-defined nuclear weapon countries. Earlier, President Obama’s visit to India saw an India-US joint statement, which actually was the first Indo-US bilateral document that contained a US commitment for nuclear disarmament.

    On Iran, too, Indian diplomacy seems to have made France talk the language of dialogue and diplomacy. In the India-US joint statement released during Obama’s visit, the reference to a policy of dialogue was made with respect to Iran. In the Indo-French statement, instead of dialogue, the word ‘democracy’ has been used. In reality, it means the same. Indeed, this is a welcome and timely intervention given the growing Western and especially American mood to take pro-active measures, which basically means carrying out a pre-emptive strike against Iran. India could in the near future emerge as an important mediator between the Western bloc and Iran to resolve the impasse over the latter’s nuclear programme.

    In the nuclear realm, the most significant aspect of the joint statement was on nuclear energy. The joint statement has mentioned different agreements for civil nuclear energy. Both governments, through their respective departments and companies, have signed different kinds of agreements for intellectual property rights on the development of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, for protection of confidentiality of technical data and information relating to cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in nuclear science and technology for peaceful uses of nuclear energy, for implementation of European Pressurized Reactor Nuclear Power Plant Units at Jaitapur, Maharashtra.

    The statement notes that the French Commissariat a L’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives desires to work with India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership “as a means to contributing to multilateral cooperative efforts to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” In recent months, after Japan and the United States, France is another country which may work with the Global Centre. However, while Japan and the United States signed Memorandums of Understanding with India, the French organization has merely expressed interest. Hopefully, it may undertake more substantive work later. Besides, the joint statement also mentions that India and France would exchange views on the civil nuclear liability law to shape their civil nuclear energy development.

    Are the items on nuclear issues in the joint statement enough to impress Indians? Are they better than what India achieved with the United States? Unfortunately, the French presidential visit has not come up to Indian expectations. The Indo-French relationship has always enjoyed a different trajectory notwithstanding the fact that France belongs to the Western group. However, unlike other Western countries, France has generally been different. It has always shared a special relationship with third world countries. Therefore, India-France nuclear relationship is to be tested through different parameters.

    France’s exceptionalism and its unique foreign policy shaped by statesmen like Charles de Gaulle have helped France to emerge as an independent autonomous power in the world. France, guided by DeGaullism, recognized third world states as the most vibrant elements of change in world politics. It favoured technological empowerment of third world countries to promote a new world order. Despite being an ally of the United States, France always resisted America’s ‘hyper power’ tendency. In fact, one of the rationales for the French development of nuclear weapons has been to shed the humiliating reliance on the United States. France has refused to accept the status of a second class ally.

    And since the end of the Cold War, France has been working for a new interdependence in international relations. It has struggled to provide an alternative approach to globalization without renouncing international market forces and international political stability. France has searched for a new world role for itself. As a voice of the developing world in the Western world, it is hoped that France still remembers the Gaullist maxim: ‘the weaker you are the more uncompromising you must be.’ For this, France may have to stand up to the pressure of the Western world to shield the developing world.

    The Gaullist spirit of extending special treatment to third world countries disturbs the established Western powers. The NSG was formed to bring France into the nuclear control framework. The Zangger committee, which derived its mandate from Article 3 of the NPT to add clarity to the NPT’s provisions, was not able to engage the then non-NPT France. However, France’s continued reluctance to play the American game on nuclear control made the NSG virtually non-functional during the Cold War.

    What next? India and France may work together for a new alignment that is taking place in the world. In fact, President Sarkozy indicated towards it in his remarks during the visit. This could be a multi-polar world with shifting alliances. India is rising, and a rising India could be a valuable partner for France in its mission. However, rising India still needs advanced technological support in civil nuclear energy and other fields. DeGaullism should guide France’s advance technology cooperation with India. Instead of quibbling over non-issues like civil nuclear damage liability bill, it should make a determined effort to embrace and support India. For this, it may have to take several steps more than what the United States has done. It should remind the world that international law is for international cooperation, not global obstruction.

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