New Delhi: International diplomacy is often about being imaginative with the truth. Nations engage one another keeping national interest in mind. Their respective national interests may not be suited to making absolute alliances. They could be comfortable with ententes, for example, which could be converted to alliances as and when the need arises. They could baulk from binding commitments not knowing what the future holds. International diplomacy comes in many forms.

Diplomatic licenses are also resorted to when two nations are compelled to engage with one another even though public opinion in one or both countries is not fully convinced of the engagement or the conditions attached to it. The manoeuvres employed in this situation are frequently meant to placate domestic opinion and this is most often the case when the two engaging countries are democracies.

The mild controversy over the “nullification clause” in the Indo-Japanese civil nuclear deal brings to mind the frenetic diplomacy amongst Imperial Germany, Great Britain and France as Europe raced to the doom of World War I. The correct way to look at the “nullification” or “cancellation clause” is this. The Indo-Japanese deal will be terminated if India withdraws from its unilateral moratorium and tests nuclear weapons. At the same time, the nuclear deal between India and Japan represents a work in progress. It fits with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s preference for a half-full glass to an empty one. And it ties with the wisdom of nations that work on opening doors even if they are no more than a crack in the beginning than those awaiting wide open portals and welcoming arms.

The Kaiser wished to keep Great Britain out of the looming war and desired an absolute alliance to that effect. Britain said no. Up to that point, Great Britain followed a policy of keeping a distance from European rivalries and offered an entente to the Kaiser. The entente was less than an alliance and did not bind Great Britain to stay neutral or come to Imperial Germany’s aid in case of a war with France and Russia. In any event, it was doubtful that Britain would accede to more than an entente, being troubled by Imperial Germany’s rise, its bullying of weaker neighbours, and its petulant determination to compete with the Royal Navy, which constituted the core of British Great Power.

Imperial Germany’s loss was France’s gain. Before France and Great Britain signed the entente, their military staffs were in close consultation and coordination. The navies had especially come closer. France correctly calculated that the logic and momentum of the French-British military staff engagement would transform the entente into an alliance in a short duration. This is exactly what happened. Russia was drawn into this arrangement and this formed the basis for the Allied countries to come together against the Central Powers led by Germany. The point is simple. Seize the opportunity when it presents itself. The opportunity could be gradually moulded to suit your interests and objectives.

The Indo-Japanese nuclear deal must be viewed from the perspective of the two statesmen who made it possible: Modi, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Abe needed the cancellation clause to get the nuclear deal past Japan’s pacifist Parliament. On the other hand, Modi manoeuvred to keep the clause in a secondary document so that the main deal remained untainted. India needs Japan for economic and military reasons. Japan, for its part, needs the legitimacy and military heft of India to power its own rise to contain China. Since India is a non-NPT nuclear power, Japan needed some sort of fig-leaf to get the nuclear deal through. But the nullification clause is not cast in stone. If and when Japan goes nuclear, the day not being far, according to this writer, the cancellation clause will lose its import and relevance. Indeed, Japan may well request India for use of its nuclear test facilities.

Prime Minister Modi is farsighted to sign the nuclear deal even with some caveats. He expects India-Japan relations to grow to a point where the caveats will lose their meaning. Currently, India does need to test its fusion weapons since the 1998 tests were only partially successful. A time may come in the future when India may feel no further need for tests, its weapons thoroughly validated by other means. The Indo-Japanese nuclear deal is a significant beginning. Much can, and will be, built on it. That seems to be the Prime Minister’s thinking; and there is considerable vision and imagination invested in it.

Editor’s Note: 1. Rahul Gandhi’s concern for the poor is admirable. He should now give up his expensive lifestyle, his rich cache of personal luxury vehicles, and his bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi. He is single. He can quite easily share 10 Janpath with his mother, who moreover needs her son besides her being rather unwell. The burden on the taxpayer will considerably lessen, indeed, if all the Nehru-Gandhis were to live under one roof. Surely, that will be a small sacrifice for Rahul Gandhi who is so concerned about the poor.

2. Mamata Bannerjee never fails to advertise that she is a “clean” politician. In which case, why is she so opposed to demonetization? The Saradha scam savaged the poor. She suffers from no guilt about the scam. Demonetization has caused temporary hardships. No one has lost money except the hoarders. It cannot by any stretch of imagination compare to the Saradha scam which ruined multitudes of poor and middle-class households in Bengal. The Saradha scam must be reopened for a thorough inquiry.

3. This writer and this magazine have been excessively harsh on Manohar Parrikar. The Union Defence Minister will learn to his advantage that it pays to be quiet in the sensitive office he holds. For the rest, he is a first-class Defence Minister, perhaps the best since Y. B. Chavan reversed our ignominy of 1962.