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Indo-US Nuclear Deal
Some Victory, Some Defeat
By Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.

Published in (Voice of Conscience) Indian Currents (A National Weekly) Issue 19, 07 May 2006


India and the United States, in the words of President George Bush, have "concluded an historic agreement" in their relations, striking a deal on civilian nuclear co-operation. The deal was the centerpiece of President Bush’s first visit to India in March this year. It recognizes India’s unique position as a responsible nuclear power entitled to rights, benefits and gains denied for three decades. It is expected to lead to changes in the global nuclear order and accommodation of India.

The unprecedented deal came after President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met at the White House in July 2005 and further fine-tuned in Delhi during Bush’s visit in March 2006. The announcement amounts to a huge policy change by the Bush administration, which is likely to signal to other nuclear powers that India’s situation and position is unique.

The agreement has now been sent to the US Congress for approval. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has defended the nuclear cooperation before the US Congress. As US Under Secretary of State Burns put it, "They (Congress) can’t just be expected to sign off on something without having held hearings ... and without having been able to get the detailed answers from the American government which they are entitled to." The deal must be ratified by the US Congress and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group that controls the trade in civilian nuclear technology and fuel.

It is considered both a moral and a substantive victory for India, which has argued for years against the discriminatory nature of the nuclear world order and insisted on maintaining its nuclear weapons status. Under the deal, India will open 14 of 22 nuclear plants for international inspection and will be allowed to buy nuclear fuel and power plants from the US and the other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

India has not signed the 1972 Non-Proliferation Treaty which many US lawmakers consider a cornerstone to control the spread of nuclear weapons. India tested a "peaceful nuclear device" in 1974 which brought the embargo and then conducted weapons tests in May 1998 that were matched by Pakistan the same month.

The Prime Minister had said at a joint press conference with President Bush that the nuclear issue had been resolved to his "great satisfaction". India’s Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, described the outcome as one that "exceeded expectations". The US is said to look at India with new eyes because of the changing global scenario. India has become America’s new love.

President Bush has agreed to "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy co-operation with India" and work with the US Congress to "adjust US laws and policies" and work with other nuclear powers to change "the international regimes" to allow this new path to be charted. He has made a commitment inviting India to participate in international nuclear research, something that India has demanded for years. Bush’s commitment is interpreted as a gesture not just improving, but "transforming" relations with India, the emerging global power in the world. In exchange, India is to ensure that its military and civilian nuclear programmes are separate, place its civilian reactors under international safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency and continue India’s moratorium on nuclear testing.

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Expectations

During a debate in the Lok Sabha recently, the Prime Minister emphasized to the House that the basis for the nuclear deal was a clear recognition that "India was a responsible nuclear power with an impeccable record on nuclear non-proliferation". He had said: "We expect the same rights and responsibilities as other nuclear powers. Reciprocity is key to the implementation of all the steps enumerated in the joint statement. Indian actions will be contingent at every stage on actions by the other side".

Science and Technology Minister, Kapil Saibal was the one who initiated the debate on behalf of the Manmohan Singh government on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. He is convinced the deal, if consummated, would be a catalyst for an unprecedented tangible science and technology alliance between the two countries that could impact not just India and the US, but have global implications. Rice has told the US Senate that the Nuclear Deal won’t fuel arms race in the South Asia. She stressed that the nuclear energy agreement was a strategic achievement that was good for America, good for India and good for the international community. She has said: "This initiative would not only advance international security, but also increase energy security and increase business opportunities for US, leading to around 5,000 direct jobs and perhaps three times more indirect jobs."

Burns stated, "What we have done is to develop a broad, global partnership of the like that we’ve not seen with India since its founding in 1947. This has consequences for American interests in South Asia, but also has larger consequences for what we are trying to do globally, in terms of promoting democracy, fighting terrorism, fighting HIV/Aids."

Republican Senator Lugar has said, "The Indo-US nuclear deal is one of the most ambitious foreign policy initiatives to come before the Congress in many years. A closer link with India is valuable for US." He explained that India’s energy needs are expected to double by 2025. The US has an interest in expanding energy operation with India to develop new technologies.

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Deal Under Attack

The Indo-US nuclear is under attack from different quarters. The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had presided over India’s nuclear weapon tests in 1998 and proclaimed India as a nuclear weapon state, protested against the deal saying it did not represent India’s recognition as a nuclear weapon power.

The Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, Mr. Anil Kakodkar, has accused the US of "changing the goal post". He insists that the determination of which facilities are civilian and which are military "has to be made by the Indians. India’s strategic interests will have to be decided by India and not by others".

Pakistan has criticized the deal that the Indo-US deal would not be helpful to the shared objectives of stability in South Asia and a strong global non-proliferation regime. It is said that the deal is not a benevolent gift to India. It is a cleaver move to put India out of the competition for fossil fuel, which is getting scarcer. US President spelt it out cleverly during his visit: "It is in our economic interests that India has a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off the global demand for energy. To the extent that we can reduce demand for fossil fuel, it will help the American consumer."

China has voiced its concerns about the deal, stating that India and the US should remain within the realm of NPT; implying India should sign the NPT, renounce its nuclear ambitions and thereafter be allowed access to nuclear materials and technology. India’s recent anti-Iran votes are criticized as being part of attempts to please the US and save the nuke deal.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association considers the deal as controversial. He has urged the US Congress not to approve the nuke deal unless India stops production of fossil material for weapon purpose. He thinks the deal could become a catalyst for an Asian nuclear arms race.

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Concerns

The deal raises a number of questions about the Government’s policies in the field of nuclear energy, disarmament, ‘promotion of democracy,’ energy security and strategic stability in Asia. Is it really difficult for India to cope with its energy needs without this nuclear deal? We know nuclear power is a double-edged sword. How far is it wise on our part to look for nuclear power options in today’s world of terrorism? What will be China’s reaction? What about a nuclear deal between China and Pakistan? Why is the US keen to help India now? Why didn’t it come up with this package earlier? Is there a national consensus on the issue? What is the stand of India’s eminent scientists on the treaty? Were they consulted?

The timing of the deal is important. It has come through at a time of soaring petroleum prices and the threat of peak oil. India and China have been putting pressure on the global supply of fossil fuels consuming larger quantities. The Indo-US agreement is seen as US attempt to shut the rivals out of competition.

The deal is guided by an assumption that nuclear energy is clean and that it is the energy of the future that will combat "peak oil", that too by two of the biggest polluters of the world. Building more nuclear reactors will create public outrage in the US. So the safest bet is to transfer the nuclear technology to a responsible client country in the Third World. This is exactly what is happening with this Indo-US nuke deal.

The US had adamantly opposed to the scheme of building a pipeline to deliver Iranian gas to Pakistan and India. This scheme, called ‘Peace Pipe’ was to reduce India’s dependence on western oil companies. Iran has the world’s largest gas reserves after Russia, and Teheran views India as a very important market. Pakistan, on the other hand, will receive a hefty annual transit fee. And India, an energy deficient market, needs the gas for its booming economy.

But Mani Shankar Aiyar was stripped of the Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas portfolio, probably to facilitate the nuclear deal. Aiyar had vigorously pursued the Iran gas pipeline project and had even gone against the decision of the Ministry of External Affairs over the issue. It is said that Washington had pressured the removal of Mani Shankar Aiyar as he refused to toe the American line on the project.

The Government owes it to the people to provide a detailed account of its nuclear policy in the form of a White Paper. The Government needs to place on record its estimate of how much the proposed separation of civilian and military nuclear facilities will cost and what the rights and benefits of the deal will be.

The peace movements view the issue differently. They support the separation of civilian and military facilities and full transparency. But they do not believe nuclear weapons have any positive aspect or impact and they are irrelevant to security. They are opposed to their existence and legitimization everywhere. The Government should openly say that nuclear deal or not, India will continue to work for global disarmament.


(Presidential address delivered at ICC hall at a seminar organized by the Swadeshi Research Institute, Kolkata
on April 17, 2006.)

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