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Indo-Us Nuclear Deal

Twists and Turns Recent weeks have seen a quickening of the tempo of deliberations on the proposal, first mooted at a summit meeting in Washington DC in July 2005, to resume civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the US. Yet at the oneyear anniversary mark of the initial agreement in principle, analysts are divided over the balance of potential gains and losses for India.

INDO-US NUCLEAR DEAL

Twists and Turns

R
ecent weeks have seen a quickening of the tempo of deliberations on the proposal, first mooted at a summit meeting in Washington DC in July 2005, to resume civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the US. Yet at the oneyear anniversary mark of the initial agreement in principle, analysts are divided over the balance of potential gains and losses for India.

After a draft agreement was submitted by the US side in March, numerous revisions were reportedly proposed by India in May. The first round of direct negotiations over the contours of the agreement took place in mid-June in New Delhi. Though specific details have not been revealed by either side, the negotiating teams have by all accounts had to refer some of the more delicate issues back to their national capitals for added clarity. India’s unhappiness with a clause that would effectively end all cooperation if it were to test a nuclear explosive device though, has been publicly articulated.

The Bush administration had initially proposed that it be empowered to negotiate an agreement with India, which would win legislative approval unless both houses of the US Congress were to oppose it by two-third majorities. This authority, sought as a gesture of commitment to a new beginning with India, was denied by Congress, which did not take kindly to the proposed abridgement of its powers. Meanwhile, the relevant committees of both houses took up and adopted resolutions permitting an India-specific waiver of the stringent norms specified under the US Atomic Energy Act for countries benefiting from nuclear commerce with the US.

What was suspected to be present in the draft agreement submitted by the US administration in March is quite decidedly an element in the bills adopted by both committees. The US Senate version explicitly states that the waiver of export control norms would cease to be operative if India were to test a nuclear explosive device. And the US House of Representatives variant frames its numerous clauses within the overall policy thrust of capping fissile material stockpiles in all the states of south Asia, and working towards ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons in the entire theatre.

If India has consistently sought to retain the focus on the energy dimensions of the deal with the US, lawmakers in that country are showing, from India’s viewpoint, an irksome insistence on the arms control aspects. Two elements in the US bills embody, between them, the potential to limit India’s ambitions to maintain a relatively unfettered right to build a nuclear arsenal. There is first the effort to convert India’s voluntary moratorium on testing, in force since 1999, into a binding obligation. And then there is the requirement that India should “work actively” with the US in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva for a “multilateral Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty”.

Further difficulties are foreseen in the US Congress’ decree that the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) – a large and by no means compliant body – should approve the resumption of nuclear trade with India by consensus. An annual presidential “determination” that such a consensus exists in fact is mandatory under the draft legislation, along with various other testimonials to India’s good behaviour. The heavyweights within the 45-member NSG, notably the US, Russia, Britain and France, are known to be in favour of ending India’s long years in a nuclear limbo. But China and an influential group of European states are disinclined to allow a resumption of business as usual, failing ironclad disarmament commitments from India.

India’s efforts to manoeuvre around the conflicting perceptions within the NSG are unlikely to be helped by its commitment to pursue the US agenda within the CD. Ever since it negotiated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1997, the CD has remained deadlocked on account of conflicting perceptions among its more influential members. The US, which has embarked upon a technologically grandiloquent and financially ruinous “national missile defence” programme, is averse to seeing the prevention of an arms race in outer space introduced into the CD deliberations. Other major players in the disarmament debate are convinced however, that without some progress on this front, assenting to a fissile material cut-off would be strategically unwise. The common sense course may be to take up both issues in parallel, though there is unlikely to be a consensus around the mode of negotiations. That India would be effectively deprived of a voice in this debate on account of its prior commitments to the US, is likely to be a source of considerable discomfiture in the coming years, only compounding the embarrassment that has come from being seen as an accomplice in recent years in the US’ adventurist course of action over Iran and North Korea.

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Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

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