U.S. has offered India a great deal
The text of the Indo-US nuclear agreement is now public property. The course of negotiation and the intense disputes on choice of words and even punctuation have been long and laborious. The concluded agreement is an achievement by our officers who have shown remarkable subtlety of thought and clarity of exposition. Their patience and perseverance have been monumental. They deserve our appreciation and gratitude. But all these qualities, admirable as they are, would not have succeeded but for the profound and unshakeable confidence of US President George W. Bush in the integrity and sagacity of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his equally unqualified faith in India’s responsible behaviour as the world’s nuclear power without succumbing to pressure to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty.
India has also to thank the Indian community settled in the United States who have secured Congressional support for the deal. The deal is the greatest post-Independence achievement of India in the field of foreign relations and the biggest feather in the cap of the Congress government. Yet in the sordid world of Indian politics this does not mean that it will not be viciously attacked, misrepresented and attempted to be scuttled. The dirty campaign is already on.
In May 1998 we exploded our second nuclear bomb, 24 years after the first. Without losing much time Pakistan responded by its own explosion. Our foes certainly did not approve of what we had done, but even our friends were angry. We had breached the sacrosanct non-proliferation walls that had been studiously built up by the five nuclear powers. This was an affront to the entire club and an impudent show of defiance by a nation with not a fraction of their military power. Ever since then we have been treated like international offenders and subjected to a very effective and hurtful regime of sanctions and penalties.
An unnamed nuclear official complained to one of the national dailies that since 1975, the developed countries have stopped giving us vital technology, thus affecting our nuclear power generation which at the moment is pitiably low at 1,700 megawatts. At this very time, China deepened our frustration by conducting its 44th nuclear weapon test on June 7, 1996.
Similarly, the Telegraph of August 20, 1997, in an editorial, claimed, "India’s entire nuclear power programme deserves evisceration because it costs the earth but provides not even a dream. Accounting for subsidies land cost financing and other costs India’s reactors take far more out of the economy than they put in. Our nuclear plants provide less than two per cent of the annual electricity supply." The paper concluded that atomic energy has proved to be an expensive and potentially dangerous illusion. During the squeeze a friendly Soviet Union was providing us some heavy water but clandestinely and in quantities of less than 1,000 kilograms at a time.
Our energy requirements and deficits have steadily grown and we have faced the prospect of industrial stagnation and periods of darkness in our urban homes and offices. Thanks to Manmohan Singh and his deft handling of the US government that the latter not only agreed to condone our 1998 impudence, but to do something significantly more. The Americans would actively help us to shop for and purchase nuclear fuel from the Suppliers Group without being obliged to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
India sorely needs at least 50,000 megawatts of electric energy to keep its industries running and to compete with the rest of the world in the somewhat difficult regime of globalisation and WTO regulations. While the deal helps us to solve our problems, what it costs the US government is unfortunately not appreciated or understood by the critics of the deal. The US President, by no means at the height of his popularity and power, has to persuade Congress, which he certainly does not control, to make exceptions for a defiant India in the matter of enforcement of their Atomic Energy Act. Proliferation experts in and outside the US are greatly outraged by the President’s partiality to India particularly at a time when the US is involved in curbing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. It is a bonanza for India but nothing like that for the US.
It may well be that Indo-US trade in machinery, fuel and other necessary concomitants will flourish, but India has got to buy them and pay for them from some country or countries, then why not the US? Only chronic and senseless enemies of the US will make a frivolous point out of this.
Let us now dispose of the major arguments designed to kill the deal. First, does the deal interfere with India’s sovereignty? Now no honest person can deny that India desperately needs nuclear fuel. We were desperately looking for suppliers. They were not looking for buyers. Sovereign India has not been able to acquire it by any methods suggested either by some railing scientists or by the Left parties or the BJP. When our national needs compel the deal, all talk of sovereignty is meaningless. Every contract treaty or covenant freely entered into imposes obligations not to act in defiance of the terms agreed upon. This is exertion of sovereignty and not its denial or dilution. The five nuclear powers themselves have all undertaken to ban further nuclear tests. They have stopped producing more highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons.
Does the deal impose any ceiling on our deterrent capacity? The answer is "no."
The critics’ complaint is false and a piece of public deception. India is not preparing for nuclear aggression against anyone nor is it at the moment threatened with nuclear aggression. We have to settle all outstanding disputes with Pakistan and China. We have already in place a treaty of peace and tranquillity with the latter. The Chinese are not presently interested in Indian territory. Their target is the Indian market which we have allowed them to completely capture. The border dispute is capable of being solved by judicial methods. India does not have to build bombs and it must studiously avoid such a foolhardy venture. We are stronger than Pakistan and cannot hope to match the combined nuclear power of Pakistan and China without bankrupting ourselves like the Russians did in their race with the Americans.
It is true that the Agreement can be terminated by one year’s notice creating a right to reimbursement for investments made, but this is true of all international treaties. It is a settled rule of international law that every contracting party has a right to terminate a treaty on a vital change of circumstances. The US Supreme Court has affirmed the power of the President to terminate any treaty even without requiring the approval of two-third majority from the Congress. Even if the power to terminate was not expressly incorporated in the Agreement, a wrongful unilateral termination can only provide some cause of action before the International Court of Justice. The remedies of domestic law are simply not available. This deal is being entered into because even the US considers friendship with India and strengthening its newfound friend beneficial to American interests. That this shall continue to be the scenario is the best guarantee of the durability of this agreement.
The critics are raising the bogey of international inspection of our nuclear arsenal. India has nothing to hide. In any event, the critics should make a candid public confession that our uranium-enrichment plants, our plutonium reprocessing plants or our planned plutonium producing fast-breeder reactors remain on the military list and all are beyond the supervision and regulation by the IAEA. India’s enemies who do not want India to grab this deal argue that India may make bombs in exercise of its liberty to expand its nuclear arsenal and secretly put technologies and skills imported for running civil reactors to military use. India’s enemies are also arguing that America is causing damage to the entire non-proliferation structure by permitting India to reprocess American supplied nuclear fuel and also by permitting it to build fuel stockpiles, thereby neutralising any cut-off by the US in the event of serious Indian breaches of the agreement. The Americans meekly but unconvincingly answer their critics that India with its respectable record on non-proliferation can be trusted in all situations.
The most conclusive evidence in favour of the deal is that all our known enemies are against it. The critics of the deal who are either part of the establishment or pretending to be friends of India are only playing the enemies’ game.
Now that the two democracies have come together as partners we must guide and control each other’s behaviour. We might as well negotiate and put in place a treaty of mutual defence and at the same time remove irritants with Pakistan and China. The Left had applauded India when we entered into a similar treaty with the Soviet Union many years ago. It should be prepared to shed irrational anti-Americanism and work towards this noble objective. The Kashmir problem must be solved while Manmohan Singh and General Musharraf are still around. The almost moribund peace process needs to be revived and rigorously pursued.
Finally, I hope the government will not yield to blackmail. It should announce that if the deal is not approved it will dissolve Parliament and put the matter in the supreme court of the people of India.