Case #2023.0

Nuclear Power & the Language of Diplomacy: Negotiating a Game-Changing Nuclear Trade Agreement with India

Publication Date: June 18, 2014
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This decision-forcing case focuses on a diplomatic challenge faced by US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran between April and July 2005: the writing of a 400-word joint statement and framework agreement that--if they were successful--would be the first step in a very complex negotiation between the United States and India to establish a civil nuclear trade pact. The bulk of the case consists of background material, explaining why the Bush Administration favored the negotiation of such a pact, though it reversed 30 years of US foreign policy with respect to nuclear weapons proliferation. It summarizes several important topics, crucial to understanding the issues involved in the negotiation of the joint statement: the history of US-Indian relations, India's history with respect to nuclear weapons, and issues in the international nuclear non-proliferation agreements. It gives an example of the kind of wordsmithing Burns and Saran would have to engage in, to complete the joint statement. And it explains, in brief, five areas of particular difficulty that the two diplomats would have to address in some fashion. A brief sequel describes an 11th hour crisis in the negotiation and its resolution, provides the text of the final joint agreement, and very briefly summarizes the final outcome of the three-year negotiation that followed.

A 12.5-minute video short, featuring U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns and Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, two of the protagonists of the early negotiations that resulted in the India-U.S. Joint Statement of July 2005, provide a behind-the-scenes look at the process that led to that groundbreaking agreement. From the initial distrust between the U.S. and India to the way in which compromises were found to address the two countries’ seemingly irreconcilable priorities, Burns and Saran vividly recall the many tense moments and intricate wordsmithing that characterized the meetings and the down-to-the-wire conclusion of the first round of negotiations.

Learning Objective:
This case can be used for students of negotiation or diplomacy to think about how the United States and India might navigate the first stage of a delicate negotiation. Part of the challenge was to come up with language that finessed certain areas of discord well enough to allow the full negotiation to proceed. The case allows students to consider how they might approach this task with five tricky topics. Students will be able to read the final, actual text of the agreement.

Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley
Video Producer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Lead:
R. Nicholas Burns
Pages (incl. exhibits):