Dhruva Jaishankar is Program Officer for Asia at the German Marshall Fund, a Fellow at the Takshashila Institution and an occasional columnist for The Indian Express.
It should be no surprise that New Delhi would welcome an Australian decision to export uranium to India. Isolating India on nuclear matters proved a major — and some might say unnecessary — hurdle for US-India relations. Indo-Australian strategic relations too have been held hostage to the uranium ban; in fact, India specifically advocated that Australia be excluded from multilateral security dialogues, the uranium ban being one significant factor influencing New Delhi's position.
While cogent cases have already been made for reversing Australia's stance on diplomatic and security grounds, MV Ramana's criticism, citing non-proliferation concerns, is intriguing.
In the strictest sense, he is right: Australia on its own can't guarantee that India will adhere to world-class safety standards or non-proliferation norms. But he's incorrect in assuming that Australia won't make a difference. In fact, there's already been a shift in India's behaviour following the Nuclear Suppliers Group's decision to exempt it in 2008. India's approach to the non-proliferation regime at the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva on such matters as a fissile material cut-off is but one notable example.
India's shift in position has also helped convince a previously sceptical Obama Administration of the merits of the controversial deal brokered under George W Bush. Moreover, the US-India nuclear deal has not resulted in the dire predictions made by many non-proliferation specialists (including those cited by Ramana) about India rushing to build nuclear weapons once unencumbered by the global nuclear export regime. In fact, India's decision not to upgrade or even replace its primary sources of weapons-grade plutonium suggests a continuing commitment to its existing deterrent.
The decision is ultimately Australia's to make, but, combined, the diplomatic, security, and non-proliferation dividends make for a compelling case in India's favour. As the world reaches out to India, Australia can't afford to be left behind.
Photo by Flickr user US Embassy New Delhi.