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M.L. Sondhi

For a variety of reasons India does not receive the attention and consultation which the People’s Republic of China does in the settlement of issues which are on the agenda of the international community after the end of the cold war. Part of the reason lies in our failure to secure for ourselves a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations and our continued inability to craft a policy that addresses this goal. Another important reason is that Indian policy makers tend to justify decisions on the basis of surface similarities between different crisis situations instead of making a serious intellectual effort to comprehend the complexities of the regional contexts in which international conflicts arise.

Some political commentators who are reputed to be close to South Block have recently orchestrated the view that India can use the arguments advanced by the late Kim Il Sung’s regime for strengthening its nuclear capability to balance out American pressure on India’s nuclear programme. This approach on the part of New Delhi works against the substance of security and peace-building in the regional context of north-east Asia. Talks between Washington and Pyongyang and later those between Pyongyang and Seoul will be structured around the denuclearization commitment of both the Koreas and the specific need to ensure the transparency of North Korea’s nuclear programme.


The aim of Indian policy should be to lend support to the evolution of a regional peace structure on the Korean peninsula while retaining our political strategic manoeurvability vis--vis the United States in relation for the global aspects of the NPT. By using the Korean nuclear issue to justify India’s resistance to Washington’s assertive postures New Delhi will only undermine the legitimizing factors in India’s nuclear activities.

The Ministry of External Affairs will have to alter its mindset if it is to comprehend the complexity and breadth of issues which will figure in the negotiations both at Geneva and at Pyongyang.

We can identify the following assumptions in Indian official thinking about the evolution of the crisis over the North Korean nuclear programme and the impasse in inter-Korean dialogue and exchanges which need rethinking.

First, there is a tendency in South Block to develop a negative image of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s role in the escalating conflict with Pyongyang. It would be perfectly legitimate to be unwilling to risk imperiling Indian security and therefore to firmly reject any false charges against Indian nuclear activities but it is quite another matter to demonise the IAEA as certain articles in the media have done.


If India is to address all problems in context, it should not hesitate to underline the fact that North Korea as a signatory to the NPT and the Nuclear Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA is obliged to demonstrate the transparency of its nuclear programme by full cooperation with IAEA inspections. India should also highlight the importance of the 1992 Declaration of the Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in terms of which both North and South Koreas are committed to developing nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. It is a sign of strength rather than weakness if New Delhi clarifies the points of reference in evaluating the performance of the IAEA. The lack of cognitive clarity as evidenced by alleged pro-US tilt only distorts the orderly conduct of our foreign policy.

Second, several influential voices have suggested that North Korea is only employing the nuclear card to win some diplomatic favours from the United States but it is not serious in its intention to possess nuclear arms. As a practical matter India should make up its own mind while assessing a particular country’s character and conduct and provide itself with guidelines on the modas operandi of states which are committed to serious engagement in confidence-building measures as part of a peace process. Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions certainly do not contribute to a more congenial regional atmosphere and New Delhi cannot endorse Pyongyang’s wish to gain military edge over Seoul by nuclearising its arsenal.

Third, there is a tendency in certain quarters in New Delhi to look upon former President Jimmy Carter’s “diplomatic masterstroke” as justifying the neglect of South Korean apprehensions about the nuclear enterprise of North Korea. It should be abundantly clear that while the Carter intervention created a unique opportunity for a reassessment of the overall situation in Korea, it would be a tall order to speak of any imminent end of the precariousness of the North Korean situation.

Indian policy makers would do well to bear in mind that Kim Il Sung in his talks with Carter committed himself to freezing North Korea’s nuclear programme and undertook to refrain from reprocessing nuclear fuel taken from the Yongbyon reactor and to keep in place the IAEA inspectors and monitoring equipment. This reflects a weakened and not a strengthened position in Pyongyang. India should not, therefore, hesitate to share its concern regarding clandestine proliferation in the Korean peninsula and should welcome the full-scale reactivation of the Joint Nuclear Control Commission of the two Koreas.


A review of the current situation and trends in armaments in Asia will make it abundantly clear that the two agreements concluded in 1992 i.e., the agreement on reconciliation, non-aggression and Exchange and Cooperation and the joint Declaration on the Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, still remain the most significant landmarks in constructive dialogue between North and South Koreas. New Delhi would do well to emphasise to both sides that the old lines of military confrontation should be given up but if an atmosphere appropriate to peace talks is to be created the North Korea infringement of the Declaration for the Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula cannot be pushed under the carpet on the pretext of being even-handed. India cannot play a legitimate or positive role in the Korean peace process if it continues to ignore the salient fact that South Korea would be the direct target of the North Korean nuclear threat.

Last, India’s diplomatic relations with the two Koreas cannot but be affected by the trade and investment flows between India and South Korea. Hitherto India has been extraordinarily sensitive to Pyongyang on account of the Nonaligned leanings which gave New Delhi a certain skeptical outlook on US-South Korean relations.


If North Korea continues its isolationist policies and also indulges in nuclear brinkmanship there is little that New Delhi can do to change the perception of North Korea as a hostile and aggressive polity in the comity of nations. On a more optimistic view the forthcoming talks might show that the moment is ripe for both negotiation and settlement of inter-Korean relations. Indian policy makers could play a major role in the background of the process by broadening their perspectives to focus on the basic needs of all Koreans – the 45 millions in South Korea and 27 millions in North Korea, and by helping both sides to overcome negative stereotypes and enemy images.

It is sometimes suggested that the 1995 NPT Review Conference will be the occasion for mounting pressure on India to subscribe to the NPT, and therefore New Delhi should be wary of precedents established in the case of countries like North Korea. India’s refusal to sign the NPT is related to basic principles of our defence and strategic policy and is in the overall context of our view on international security in a Nuclear Weapons Free World. India’s nuclear stance is consistent with the view that nuclear weapons should not fall into the hands of irresponsible decision makers. Our stake in a durable Korean peace is immense.
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