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Nuclear Deal: US Designs, India's Choices

US Designs, India


US Designs, India’s Choices

hat is telling about the general response in India to the Henry Hyde Act for Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation, the US legislation covering the terms of the Indo-US nuclear agreement, is that despite the word peaceful, the debate practically is about nuclear weapons. The two primary debating sides are agreed on the desirability and importance of nuclear weapons. On the one hand are those, like the BJP, who want no controls whatsoever on the nuclear weapons programme – the more weapons and the more destructive, the better. Joining them are some retired department of atomic energy (DAE) officials who seek to keep open every option for advancing the nuclear weapons programme, both qualitatively and quantitatively. And on the other hand, there is the government and its various organs that seek to reassure the public that no harm will come to the nuclear weapons programme.

Between these two loud voices is an unfortunate silence. There is practically no public opposition (unfortunately even from the Left) to the deal for the right and principled reasons: that it will actually promote the continued acquisition of murderous weapons of mass destruction and impede nuclear disarmament, and that it aims at expanding an expensive and environmentally harmful nuclear energy programme. Also, in this case barring the Left parties, few seem to be averse to joining the sole superpower in its grandiose machinations.

Much of the debate surrounding the Indo-US deal has been on the conditions imposed by the Act. Onerous as they may seem to be to those desiring bigger and more destructive nuclear weapons, these should have been expected. The nuclear deal is the culmination of several steps taken by the Bush administration, whose aim was to draw India closer to the US and its geopolitical strategic manoeuvres. One such aim, to promote India against China, has been widely commented about.

The role envisioned for India, however, is circumscribed by some limits; India would have to follow rules implicitly laid out by the US. Among them is that India’s nuclear weapons status will be tolerated only as long as it does not destabilise the nuclear and strategic order envisioned by the neocons; in particular, India pushing China into a further round of nuclear weapons modernisation is undesirable to them. Another nuclear weapons test might be such a trigger, and hence the US naturally seeks to curb that possibility.

Once the idea of including India in US geopolitical strategy became accepted in Washington, the question was what India’s foreign policy establishment desired in exchange. For over a decade now, Indo-US diplomatic discussions have prominently featured three demands from the Indian side: access to civilian nuclear power technology and dual use technology, and cooperation in civilian space research. Through constant repetition, these demands have acquired the status of being preconditions for improved bilateral relations.

The July 2005 statement on Indo-US nuclear cooperation represented the Bush administration doing its part of the quid pro quo. On our side, the vote against Iran at the IAEA was a sign of the times to come. Though there have been seemingly intense negotiations between Indian and US diplomats since then over the terms of the nuclear deal, it soon became clear that White House was more than willing to give in on most matters of dispute.

Despite this, the architects and negotiators of the deal must be somewhat taken aback by the opposition that has built up within India. But since this opposition is not principled and because they all agree on what is desirable, namely, more nuclear weapons and power, it is more likely than not that after some routine noises in Parliament, the deal will go through.

Even at this late stage there are some choices that are ours. The first is whether we want to play the role that the right wing hawks that dominate US policy-making these days have dreamt up for India. If the answer is no, then one cannot ask for favours from the US. For all of the swagger and tall talk adopted by our negotiators, and the promises made by the government that we will retain our independence in foreign policy, once the bribe offered – the nuclear deal – is accepted, the US is unlikely to countenance any refusal to act according to its script.

There is another matter of choice that is ours – deal or no deal. That is to forswear the horrendous weapons of mass destruction justified through the language of deterrence and shift focus from the expensive, unsafe, and environmentally damaging means of producing electricity, i e, nuclear power, to more ecological sustainable sources of power. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly December 23, 2006

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