|It is India’s growing international standing and economic significance that has made the United States and the western world acknowledge its place on the world stage as a nuclear power.|
In the aftermath of the successful conclusion of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, a number of concerns have been raised in India. The main concerns are that India’s strategic programme, including nuclear weapons testing, would be compromised; that the Agreement would compromise India’s three stage programme leading to the utilisation of thorium; and finally that it would impinge upon India’s autonomy in the conduct of its foreign policy .
The caption of the Agreement reads as follows: ‘Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of India Concerning Peaceful uses of Nuclear Energy (123 Agreement).’ Any import of extraneous interpretation to say the least is unfortunate.
In specific terms, the concerns being raised stem from the applicability of U.S. national laws, including the original Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Act and the Hyde Act of December 2006. Critics believe that Article 2 of the 123 agreement, which mandates that both parties are bound by their respective national laws, in effect binds the United States to bring nuclear cooperation with India to a complete halt and demand the return of transferred nuclear materials and equipments if India tests a nuclear device in future. It is also being alleged that the United States has not quite offered ‘full’ nuclear cooperation to India while professing to do so since sensitive nuclear technology as well as the transfer of dual use items would have to be pursued through future addenda to the agreement.
Such criticism does not appear to be based on a correct reading of the 123 Agreement and the context in which it has been negotiated. Any such negotiated bilateral agreement necessarily involves an attempt to find an optimal solution in the context of the policy constraints faced both by the U.S. and by India. The fact is that in the light of those constraints, this is the best and most practical agreement that could have been hammered out. As noted by Dr. M.R. Srinivasan, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission: “most of the concerns are addressed in the agreement; however a few points are not up to our expectations but we have to live with it.” He also felt, on the whole, that the deal in its final form would end India’s isolation in the global nuclear arena and that, in effect, India has got the same rights as a nuclear weapon state. In fact, India has also got better terms and conditions with regard to reprocessing of spent fuel than three other nuclear weapon states, China, France, and the United Kingdom.
Through this agreement, India has opened the doors to imports of enriched uranium and light water reactors in order to meet its huge needs in the power sector without compromising on its strategic nuclear programme; its three stage fast breeder programme; or its autonomy in nuclear research and development. This has transformed India from a position where we were treated like untouchables in the nuclear field to a situation where most nuclear powers are now backing the agreement and are even making advance commitments regarding fuel supplies.
As it stands, India should be able to stock fuel for lifetime operations of all the reactors. The 123 agreement does not stipulate that the facilities imported from the U.S. should use only U.S.-supplied fuel. Under the circumstances, India is free to acquire lifetime fuel supplies for reactors supplied by the U.S. from non-U.S. sources without being subject to any right of return by the U.S.
As regards the broader issue of whether the Hyde Act limits India’s autonomy in foreign policy and ties it strategically to the coat-tails of the United States, it must be noted that the Hyde Act is a domestic U.S. legislation that is not binding on India in any manner. Its extraneous and prescriptive provisions relating to seeking India’s cooperation in containing any enhanced nuclear cooperation with Iran and relating to India stopping production of fissile materials are not binding even on the U.S. government since they are only advisory in nature. Therefore to claim that they will be binding on India would not be correct. Nor should we be so paranoid and defeatist as to assume that any Indian government will compromise the independence of its foreign policy because of some advisory addenda to a foreign law.
The 123 agreement, by allowing India to separate its civil and military nuclear programmes, effectively grants India a de facto nuclear weapon state status while giving it access to international civil nuclear commerce as a special case — despite India not having signed the NPT. India is bound only by the 123 agreement and not by the Hyde Act, which is an internal law of the United States.
In addition, unlike the 123 agreement that the U.S. had signed with China, India has been granted greater rights with regard to enrichment of transferred fuel; a clear cut guarantee on fuel supplies, including the development of strategic reserves to guard against supply disruption; and mutual verification measures for the separated civil nuclear reactor if the International Atomic Energy Agency decides that application of safeguards is no longer possible. On the other hand, China has even agreed to bilateral checking by U.S. inspectors, a condition not applicable to India. Moreover, by allowing India to source nuclear fuel supply not only from the U.S. but also from other sources, by allowing India to build up a strategic fuel reserve, and by separating its civil and military nuclear programme, including its fast breeder reactor programme, India has sufficiently gained in terms of access to international civil nuclear commerce. This will enable India to tap nuclear power on a massive scale to meet its spiralling power demands.
It is true that further hard negotiations may be required to enable India to access international cooperation in fields like heavy water enrichment and reprocessing. It must be acknowledged nonetheless that the 123 agreement is a quantum jump from a position of nuclear isolation to a considerable degree of cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, which would enable India to meet its power needs without significantly restricting its strategic and foreign policy options. It is India’s growing international standing and economic significance that has now made the U.S. and the western world acknowledge its place on the world stage as a nuclear power. As K. Subramanyan says: “India has been considered special and exceptional.”
The positive response from reputed scientists like Dr. M.R. Srinivasan, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, former chairman of ISRO, on top of the clarification given by Atomic Energy Commission chairman Dr. A.M. Kakodkar, are manifestations of an honest and credible deal, which is unprecedented in the history of nuclear world. Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while speaking on the India-U.S. nuclear deal, said he did not like this deal and that he would have negotiated this deal differently, but he supported it because he could not afford to alienate India. We need the same maturity to appreciate the significance of the greatest national event in keeping with the highest legacy of diplomacy crafted under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh. The nation should be proud of the achievement of its Prime Minister.
(M. Veerappa Moily, a former Chief Minister of Karnataka, is a Congress Working Committee member and chairman of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.)
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