When they meet in Delhi today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott should, hopefully, clinch the long-awaited agreement on civil nuclear cooperation that would allow Canberra to export uranium to India.
But the two leaders should also look beyond the nuclear issue and lay the foundation for enduring defence and security cooperation that will contribute to peace and stability in Asia and the Indo-Pacific littoral.
The nuclear deal is indeed an important breakthrough in bilateral relations. It is, in essence, about burying the past, when differences over non proliferation issues constrained the engagement between the two countries. These differences boiled over when Australia reacted sharply against the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998.
Canberra found it hard to export uranium even after Delhi concluded a historic civil nuclear initiative with Washington that ended more than three decades of India’s atomic isolation. There were deep divisions within the Australian political class on allowing uranium exports to India.
As part of its strong and unilateral non-proliferation commitments, Australia had decided long years ago that it will not export uranium to countries that did not sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The problem for Australia was that the India-U.S. nuclear initiative was about finding a way to circumvent the question of NPT.
While India was not in a position to sign the NPT, it offered strong assurances to the international community that it will not use material and technology obtained through international cooperation for military purposes. India also reaffirmed its impeccable non-proliferation record and expressed full support to the global non-proliferation regime.
The challenge in Australia was to get the political elite to look beyond the NPT, understand the value of India’s integration into the global nuclear order and above all appreciate the broader benefits of building a lasting partnership with Delhi.
To their credit, Prime Minister
Abbott and his predecessors in both Liberal and Labour parties, worked hard to overcome the internal political differences and get the country change its long-standing policy on uranium exports by taking a strategic view of the relations with India.
Once the deal is through, Australia could become one of the important sources of natural uranium exports. The real story, however, lies beyond uranium. Australia is rich in mineral resources and is a natural long-term partner for India’s industrial growth. Whichever way Delhi’s strategy for energy security might evolve in the coming years, Australia, with its abundant coal