Nuclear deal will gut India's security
By Bharat Karnad
US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns is confident that the nuclear deal will be done soon. Fresh from his Washington trip, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon too sounded optimistic. This is a bit baffling, as none of India’s concerns has been addressed, leave alone resolved.
The mystery can be explained by the government’s game plan outlined by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. Speaking at an India-US business forum in Delhi on May 4, he voiced the desire to obtain the nuclear deal “expeditiously in a way that it adheres as closely as possible to the framework of the July 2005 joint statement and the March 2006 separation plan.”
“As closely as possible” is another way of saying that, under American pressure, Delhi has chosen to de-link the mention in the Joint Statement about India’s accepting the same “responsibilities and practices” as the United States from the requirement that the same “benefits and advantages” enjoyed by America, accrue to India. The reciprocity principle of “no equal treatment as a nuclear weapon state, hence no deal” has been ditched; Manmohan Singh’s solemn promises in his suo moto statements in Parliament in March 2006 and again in August last year notwithstanding.
The new Indian thinking is the outcome of the American strategy combining a full-court press by the US (inclusive of the orchestrated hoo-ha over an alleged DRDO role in passing an obsolete missile-useable microchip to Iran) with targeting the weakest link in the decision chain — the strategically blinkered Manmohan Singh!
Personal calls by the US President to be followed up by George W. Bush squeezing the Indian Prime Minister in the proposed one-on-one meetings, are expected to deliver Washington the goods.
To minimise the risk of failure, US officials reportedly convinced Sonia Gandhi to encourage Dr Manmohan Singh to accept the 123 agreement. Happily for the Americans, Sonia Gandhi understands no more about nuclear matters, about what is involved in the deal and how it will irreparably damage India’s sovereignty and nuclear security, than do the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the MEA negotiating team.
Attempts by the nuclear establishment to involve scientists in the negotiations have been rebuffed. Indeed, the government seems not to care whether the Department of Atomic Energy supports this initiative or not. In a meeting the foreign secretary sought before he left for Washington, DAE chairman Dr Anil Kakodkar reportedly hinted to Menon that he would resign if the MEA failed to protect and preserve the country’s nuclear estate and interests.
Earlier, Manmohan Singh had ignored the plea by retired senior nuclear scientists and supported by Kakodkar to involve scientists in the negotiations so that the technically proficient American negotiators don’t make monkeys out of their Indian counterparts.
Keeping the scientists out, resulted, for instance, in the March 2006 separation plan that bears the stamp of generalist novices on the Indian side. Hence, the criteria for safeguardability found mention in the preamble of the separation plan — something Washington is bound to use to hinder the development by India of dual-purpose nuclear facilities and technologies in the future.
With the advice from the Trombay Complex going unheeded, the predictable has happened. The US has consistently bamboozled first Shyam Saran, the PM’s special envoy, and now Menon, by using empty phrases the Indians have mistaken for substantive concessions. Remember Saran’s crowing in the wake of the Joint Statement that the US had accepted India as “a state with advanced technology” and therefore as a nuclear weapon state?
Condoleezza Rice had responded quickly and sought to disabuse gullible Indian policymakers by asserting that the deal in no way conferred nuclear weapon status on India. But Delhi continues to be guided by Saran’s original confused take. Had scientists been involved in the talks leading to the Joint Statement they would, for example, have quickly pinned the Americans down technically and specifically on just what they meant by this phrase, and how it would affect India.
What transpired in the run-up to the Hyde Act and in the negotiations on the 123 agreement since then have confirmed Washington’s priority of pushing India into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty regime and the Non-Proliferation Treaty net. Little else has mattered to the Americans than thus “capping and freezing” this country’s nuclear weapons programme. Ironically, it is an unelected (and unelectable) Prime Minister who is seeking permanently to strategically hobble this great democracy.
Consider this. The offer of uninterrupted fuel supply for imported reactors (that Menon carried back with him) tries to get around the clause preventing the stockpiling of fuel by offering no reliable alternative other than restating what is in the explanatory note attached to the Hyde Act.
The continuity of fuel supply, this note says, is limited to contingencies when there is “disruption due to market failures or similar reasons” whereupon “friendly supplier countries” can be expected to redress the situation. Permission to reprocess spent imported fuel, and the mooting of a joint mechanism to consider how best to mitigate the effects of the inevitable economic and technology sanctions should India ever test again — that Menon supposedly wrangled — are executive measures that the Bush administration may, in fact, concede in order to seal the deal, but these mean nothing.
The permission to reprocess fuel will be ended as abruptly as the fuel supply when, not if, owing to the politico-technological necessity, India tests again. Here the government’s willingness to make the resumption of nuclear tests by India palatable to Washington by linking it to renewed testing by the US and China presumes that the unproven, unsafe, unreliable and hence non-credible Indian thermonuclear designs, whose performance need desperately to be validated by rigorous physical testing, are on par with the thoroughly tested, verified and versatile thermonuclear American and Chinese arsenals, which can do without further tests.
This is taking delusional strategic thinking to a new high, and India will pay dearly for it.
Testing aside, the truth is, in case India violates any of the Non-Proliferation Treaty constraints in any manner or form or falls short in any of a myriad ways detailed in the Hyde Act and in the umbrella US Atomic Energy Act like, for instance, in observing the stringent reporting requirements and the non-nuclear weapon state-related IAEA safeguards and norms, and in adhering to the restricted technology trade strictures of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Missile Technology Control Regime — how has the mention of the unconnected missile technology sneaked into the Hyde Act? — neither of which technology denial regimes India subscribes to, its Section 129 kicks in and the nuclear deal is instantly terminated in whole and in its parts.
Agreeing to these provisions, moreover, signals the Manmohan Singh government’s formal acceptance of non-nuclear weapon state status for India under the nearly defunct NPT.
The likelihood of other Nuclear Suppliers Group members helping out is voided by the Hyde Act enjoining the US government to ensure NSG solidarity.
As far, as the joint mechanism is concerned, what can it reasonably be expected to do once India tests, as it must for its nuclear weapons to pack even minimal credibility, considering a presidential waiver can be countermanded by a Congressional vote at any time?
Short of radical overhaul of the Hyde Act and the overarching US Atomic Energy Act, which is ruled out, there is little to prevent the economic and technology sanctions from coming down automatically, the underway nuclear transactions from ending mid-stream, and India being left high and dry.
And note, if the US applies closure to the deal at any time and for any flimsy reason, the Indian civilian nuclear facilities will continue to be under the non-nuclear weapon state-related International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and Additional Protocol.
Further, there has been no movement whatsoever in resolving major differences regarding a host of other negative provisions in the Hyde Act.
For instance, the US Congress, under the guise of end-use monitoring has, vide Section 104, conceived of “fallback safeguards” and under Section 115 accorded the US National Nuclear Security Administration a parallel role with the International Atomic Energy Agency in policing Indian nuclear activities, gathering sensitive information, and as per Section 109, in even suborning Indian scientists! Besides GNEP (Global Nuclear Experimental Project), that India can access but only as a customer, will be used, as Secretary Rice indicated in an April 2006 US Senate hearing, to tap Indian nuclear and other high technology talent.
Worse, even as the Hyde Act requires India to respect the NSG and MTCR prohibitions, it clarifies that India cannot benefit from open commerce with the member states. And the impracticable clause in the Hyde Act requiring India to return all materials and technologies in case of the deal breaking down remains untouched. As does the part of the Hyde Act predicating “civil nuclear cooperation” on India’s harmonising its Iran policy with US objectives — a linkage confirmed by leading US legislators in their recent provocative letter to the PM.
And finally, there is absolutely nothing in the Hyde Act or the proposed 123 agreement offering financial relief to India in terms of reimbursing the costs of importing reactors and building up the related infrastructure and compensating for the economic losses incurred by an abrupt cut-off of fuel supply and hence of electricity in the grid.
This deal will not only gut India’s nuclear security, compromise foreign policy options, and hold energy security, economic progress and the testing option hostage to the threat of fuel supply cut-off, but cost the exchequer hundreds of billions of dollars.
The innumerable provisions in the Hyde Act contextualising the 123 agreement, which are detrimental to India’s sovereignty and strategic independence and contravene the Joint Statement and the Prime Minister’s promises in Parliament, remain intact.
Prudence, abundant caution, and some sense of national self-respect ought, therefore, to persuade Manmohan Singh to reject a 123 agreement and the nuclear deal. Or, is that expecting too much of a PM who seems bent on proving himself a sap and India a sucker?
Bharat Karnad is Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and author of Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security now in its second editionCourtesy_