Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 15:48 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 15:48 | SYDNEY

Australia-India: Nuclear ideals versus national interests


Rory Medcalf


9 January 2008 17:03

The Australian media saw whaling and cricket as the two big take-outs (horrible word, I resolve not to use it again in 2008) from Foreign Minister Stephen Smith’s press conference on 7 January. Which is a pity, since even a skim of the transcript suggests that Mr Smith (who had just emerged from a chat with Gareth Evans) had a few other important messages to convey.

He said the new Government wanted Australia 'to take and play a stronger and more vibrant role so far as nuclear disarmament issues are concerned'.  He also said Australia needed to place greater emphasis on its relationship with India:

…in the course of this century the emergence of India as a very significant power, the largest democracy, its relationship with Australia is very important. We have a very, very good relationship with India but I think we can take that to an even greater length and extent. I see that relationship as being very important and Gareth was supportive of that approach.

I agree with Mr Smith that the cricket controversy won’t wreck Australia-India relations, though it does prove, as I argued yesterday, that cricket doesn’t necessarily generate peace and love between nations. But the more intriguing question the Minister has left in my mind is how Australia can reconcile these two priorities of better ties with India and progress on global nuclear disarmament. 

Each is a worthy goal in its own right, but when one recalls that nuclear differences have long bedevilled Australia-India relations it is obvious that there is a tension between the two objectives which will be, well, devilishly difficult to surmount. Putting aside the now-hypothetical debate about Australian uranium exports to India, it strikes me that the challenge ahead will be to find creative ways to co-opt India’s tradition of advocating global nuclear disarmament (which Rajiv Gandhi campaigned for in 1988, if anyone remembers) while at the same time working with the reality that India has nuclear weapons, lives in a dangerous neighbourhood, and cannot sign the NPT as things stand. Time for fresh thinking indeed.