Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 07:07 | SYDNEY
Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 07:07 | SYDNEY

India: Let not just give the nod


Graeme Dobell

This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

2 December 2011 12:18

This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

One of Australia's finest cricket writers observes that the combined talents of Bradman, Bismarck and Warren Buffett could hardly solve the governance headaches created by India's domination of world cricket administration. Gideon Haigh writes that India's cricketing power exemplifies the golden rule of realpolitik: 'whoever has the gold makes the rules.'

India showed its dominance last year with a swift veto of the bid to make Australia's former Prime Minister, John Howard, the head of the International Cricket Council. Disillusioned by that failure to get the job for Howard, Haigh writes, Australian cricket has since 'shoulder shrugged' on most of the big issues going to the ICC. India rules.

The shoulder shrug image is useful as the Australian Labor Party convenes to do something similar by reversing its ban on selling uranium to India. Maybe it is more than a shrug. At the least, this is a nod of the head to India's growing significance, perhaps even a bow.

Just as India will determine much that happens in running and financing cricket in the 21st century, it will reach for a similar stature in Asia's governance. Julia Gillard is acknowledging that truth, whether you see the change of Labor policy as little more than a shrug or closer to obeisance.

The proposition is that Labor will improve Australia's relationship with India by following the policy example of John Howard's Coalition Government (although Howard's shift on uranium didn't get him any credit points from India in seeking the ultimate job for a cricket tragic; linkage across spheres is always difficult).

The policy now being adopted by Gillard doesn't have that much to do with Buffett (markets) but lots to do with Bismarck (grand strategy and shifting national alignments). The lukewarm response of Australia's uranium producers rather underlines the point that this argument is about something much more than selling a commodity.

The key elements here are India's power, US policy and the impact on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT is what is suffering, although the two articles by Martine Letts demonstrate how Australia could seek to strengthen the non-proliferation regime in trying to negotiate with India. The outcome Martine describes will require some hard thinking and tough negotiation. And giving the other side what it wants before the bargaining begins is hardly good tactics.

The marathon march towards a Free Trade Agreement with China is an excellent example. To launch the negotiations, Canberra gave Beijing what it most fervently wanted: recognition of China's status as a Market Economy. Six years later, the talks drag on. In the same way, what India really needs from Australia is recognition, not uranium. And the Labor Party is about to hand over that important gift.

So, when those negotiations with India do begin, Australia needs to be clear about its aim: to bolster the non-proliferation structure, not to bow. That requires an ability to look past India's self-serving and often misleading depiction of its nuclear interests and actions. Such an endeavour could draw inspiration from a long-ago Australian High Commissioner to New Delhi, who recorded this reflection on the difference between Australian and Indian approaches to international affairs:

There was not much in India's policies to emulate. Yet, wrong-headed and hypocritical as India's policies sometimes were, one's mind was gripped by the undeviating direction of India towards national self-interest without concession to sentiment towards others, or to the 'loyalty' so evident in Australian official policies towards our 'traditional friends'.

The words are from one of the great Canberra mandarins, Sir Arthur Tange, who served in India for five years after his time as secretary of the External Affairs Department (1954-65) and before taking the top job in the Defence Department (1970-79). As the flintiest of realists, Tange might observe that this time round both India and Australia seem to be playing the roles he described for them. Australia, particularly, is making loyal haste to adopt the new India position adopted by our great and powerful friend in Washington.

Photo by Flickr user Pulkitsinha.