The Left parties continue to accord priority to having a secular government and keeping the communal forces at bay. But this cannot be taken by the UPA government as licence to go ahead with a long-term agreement that has such serious implications for India’s independent foreign policy and sovereignty.
The Left parties have called upon the United Progressive Alliance government not to proceed further with the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. The bilateral agreement arrived at between the two governments in the end of July 2007 has resulted in a political crisis. At no time has an external agreement negotiated by the Indian government raised such a political storm as the nuclear cooperation deal with the United States. The last time there was strong opposition was during the negotiations for the Marrakesh treaty, which led to the setting up of the World Trade Organisation.
Without going into the complex and technical issues concerning civilian nuclear cooperation, it is necessary to take a wider look at the implications of the agreement. Is this only a nuclear cooperation deal or is it part of a wider agreement? If so, does it protect our capacity for an independent foreign policy and how will it affect our sovereignty? One can legitimately question whether India should partner the United States in the global democracy enterprise. “Regime change” and the implanting of democracy have yielded horrific results in Iraq.
The nuclear cooperation deal is only one part of the wide-ranging alliance that the UPA government has forged with the United States. This was spelt out by the Indian Prime Minister and the American President in the joint statement in July 2005 in Washington. This agreement covers political, economic, military, and nuclear cooperation. This alliance entails not just nuclear cooperation but talks of the two countries promoting global democracy, revamping the Indian economy to facilitate large scale investment by the United States, and a strategic military collaboration.
Prior to the joint statement of July 2005, the UPA government signed a ten-year Defence Framework Agreement with the Untied States. It is evident that without the defence agreement, the Americans would not have agreed to civilian nuclear cooperation. This seems part of a quid pro quo.
Repeated assertions that India’s foreign policy will not be subject to external pressures have not evoked confidence after the Iran episode. Spokesmen for the Bush administration have often cited India’s attitude on Iran to be a test. Even before the nuclear cooperation agreement was finalised, the government responded by voting against Iran not once but twice in the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The first serious conflict with the Left arose when the UPA government did a volte-face on the Iran nuclear issue. The government voted along with the U.S. and other Western countries in September 2005 and was not even prepared to go along with the position adopted by the bloc of Non-Aligned Movement countries.
The Left parties have been watching with disquiet the way the UPA government has gone about forging close strategic and military ties with the United States. The Left came out in strong opposition to the Defence Framework Agreement. According to this agreement, India is taking steps to interlock our armed forces with that of the United States in the name of “inter-operability.” The framework agreement is leading to various steps like the Logistics Support Agreement and the Maritime Cooperation Pact. The Left has been vehemently opposed to joint military exercises such as the one that took place in the Kalaikunda air base in West Bengal. These exercises were held despite the strong protests of the Left parties and the Left Front government of West Bengal. The years 2005 to 2007 have seen a sharp increase in joint exercises between the two armed forces. This is now being extended to the “quadrilateral” exercises as desired by the U.S. with Japan and Australia in the September naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal.
The United States has been going about stating the obvious strategic and commercial benefits that will accrue from the nuclear deal. Apart from the sale of nuclear reactors, the U.S. is mounting pressure on India for military contracts to purchase fighter planes, naval ships, radar, and artillery. Along with steadily increasing military and security collaboration with Israel, India will find itself entangled in U.S. strategic designs in Asia.
A major reason put forth being made for the nuclear cooperation agreement is that it will help India meet its energy needs. This ignores the very limited contribution that nuclear power makes to our overall energy generation, which is just 3 per cent and cannot exceed 7 per cent even if the ambitious plans for expansion are implemented by 2020. To make India’s foreign policy and strategic autonomy hostage to the potential benefits of nuclear energy does not make sense except for the American imperative to bind India to its strategic designs in Asia.
Owing to the consistent pressure of the CPI(M) and the Left parties who had raised a number of questions regarding the draft legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the Prime Minister gave certain categorical assurances to Parliament on August 17, 2006. At that juncture, these assurances were in line with the concerns raised about protecting the country’s interests on the three-stage nuclear programme we have adopted.
However, the situation changed after the U.S. Congress adopted the final legislation to give a waiver for nuclear cooperation with India. This legislation known as the Hyde Act runs contrary to most of the assurances given by the Prime Minister in August 2006. The Act includes provisions imposing restrictions on transfer of technology and barring access to dual use technologies, thus denying India a full nuclear fuel cycle. The U.S. President has to report to the Congress every year on how India is complying with the provisions set out in the Hyde Act. The Act enjoins on the administration the prevention of fuel supplies and equipment from other countries to India if the U.S. terminates the bilateral agreement. The argument that the bilateral text overrides the clause cannot be accepted, as the text also states that “national laws” will prevail. To say that the Hyde Act is not binding to India is irrelevant. The point is that it is binding on the United States.
Outside the sphere of nuclear cooperation, the Hyde Act contains directions on India’s foreign policy and other security-related matters. There are nine references to India’s role having to be one of support and complicity with U.S. designs on Iran.
After the Hyde Act was adopted in December 2006, the CPI(M) stated that it contained provisions that were contrary to the assurances given by the Prime Minister to Parliament on August 17, 2006. The CPI(M) repeatedly asked the government not to proceed with the bilateral negotiations for the 123 agreement until this matter was cleared up. But the government did not heed this advice.
The United States is already moving for another round of sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council. Indian companies have been warned not to export to Iran even non-lethal materials. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will not proceed if this nuclear agreement is put in place, despite the government’s protestations to the contrary. It will be unwise and shortsighted for India to spoil its relations with Iran and other West Asian countries, given the vital role these countries play in fulfilling India’s energy needs.
When the UPA government was being installed in 2004, a Common Minimum Programme was drafted. When the Left was consulted, we insisted on the deletion of a reference to “strategic relations with the United States.” There is no mention of strategic ties with the U.S. in the Common Minimum Programme. But soon after, the government proceeded with forging a wider strategic alliance with Washington.
The Left parties have, after carefully assessing the implications of the 123 agreement, demanded that the government should not proceed further to operationalise the agreement. The objections to the deal have been spelt out in detail in the statement issued by the Left parties. The Left is clear that going ahead with the agreement will bind India to the United States in a manner that will seriously impair an independent foreign policy and our strategic autonomy.
A wise and expedient step for the government will be to acknowledge that there is widespread opposition to the agreement. The question is not whether it should be put to vote in Parliament or not. It is clear that a majority in Parliament is opposed to the agreement. The best course would be for the government not to proceed further with the operationalising of the agreement. Till all the doubts are clarified and the implications of the Hyde Act evaluated, the government should not take the next steps with regard to negotiating the IAEA safeguards, which are to be in perpetuity, and proceed to get the guidelines from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The Left parties continue to accord priority to having a secular government and keeping the communal forces at bay. However, this cannot be taken as licence by the UPA government to go ahead with a long-term agreement that has such serious implications for India’s independent foreign policy and sovereignty.
[Prakash Karat is general secretary of the CPI(M).]
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By setting boundary conditions for the Government, the CPI(M) has opened a door for addressing India’s concerns over the nuclear agreement with the U.S.
The CPI(M) Polit Bureau meeting in New Delhi on Friday to discuss the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal.
Saturday’s statement by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal is as unyielding as the Left parties’ earlier stand but the recommendation that the Government not proceed “till all the objections are considered” opens a passage for moving forward provided the Prime Minister chooses to do so. The Left statement of August 7 had baldly asked the Government “not to proceed further with the operationalising of the agree ment.” In contrast, Saturday’s announcement allows the debate to move from general or outright rejection to a consideration of specific objections.
At the same time, the CPI(M) statement reminds the United Progressive Alliance that “a majority in Parliament [does] not support the nuclear cooperation deal.” The threat implied is clear: If negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency begin without “all the objections [being] considered” and the Hyde Act’s implications being evaluated, the future of the Government will be jeopardised. The Prime Minister and his advisers may resent this kind of ultimatum but they have only themselves to blame. After all, Dr. Manmohan Singh should have known better than to seek publicly to call the Left’s bluff, and to do so in an interview to a newspaper published from the Red bastion of Kolkata.
Whatever the Government’s discomfiture, there is a silver lining for the country in the opposition the 123 agreement has evoked inside Parliament. Until now, it is Washington which has leveraged the executive-legislative divide to extract more than its pound of flesh from Delhi. The Hyde Act passed by the U.S. Congress last December subverted the finely wrought reciprocity of the July 18, 2005 (J18) joint statement and the fuel supply assurances of the March 2, 2006, separation plan (M2). India’s negotiators fought their way back in the 123 agreement but the spectre of Hyde remains to be exorcised.
On the eve of crucial interactions with the IAEA and Nuclear Suppliers Group, with one major element of the nuclear deal already “frozen,” it is vital that the sentiments of the majority of elected representatives be used to strengthen the hands of India. The NSG is particularly vital. In J18, the U.S. pledged to “work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India.” This means the NSG waiver allowing nuclear trade must be unconditional and non-discriminatory. However, given the Hyde Act’s provisions and recent statements by U.S. officials, it would be naïve to assume this is what Washington intends to secure. No doubt India has supporters at the NSG — Russia and France are more anxious for the 45-nation cartel to alter its guidelines than even the U.S. — but America’s capacity to play both sides of the fence in order to wrest back concessions made to India in the 123 negotiations should not be underestimated. In this respect, the current controversy in Parliament sends a clear message to the U.S. that India will walk away if the NSG waiver does not meet the J18 benchmark.
As for the concrete technical and foreign policy objections the CPI(M) wants the Government to consider, many of these have already been articulated inside Parliament as well as by commentators outside. The more tightly these objections are framed in the weeks ahead, the greater is the likelihood of MPs forcing the Prime Minister to address them.
Even on issues where the Government can trot out an easy answer, the Prime Minister should consider using Parliament to strengthen his hand. By taking Parliament into confidence about the contours of the civil-military nuclear separation plan on February 27, 2006, Dr. Singh was able to present Washington with a fait accompli and fend off pressure to place India’s fast breeder reactors and most pressurised heavy water reactors under international safeguards. The Prime Minister repeated this exercise in August 2006 to draw red lines as far as reprocessing, fall-back safeguards, and some other issues were concerned. But since the majority of MPs feels the 123 agreement still contains ambiguities — especially when read together with the Hyde Act — a similar exercise is called for today.
For example, some commentators have noted that the Indian 123 agreement does not contain a sentence found in Article 2.1 of China’s 123 agreement with the U.S., namely that “the parties recognise, with respect to the observance of this agreement, the principle of international law that provides that a party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.” Thus, it is felt the U.S. administration can always claim the Hyde Act’s restrictions trump the 123 agreement’s more generous commitments.
Though the Indian negotiators had an identical line in all their drafts and tried till the end to incorporate it in the final agreed text, the U.S. remained unyielding, claiming that Congress would shoot it down. But the Indian side did manage to push through another article, 16.4, that the agreement “shall be implemented in good faith and in accordance with the principles of international law.” The phrase “principles of international law” is a clear reference to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Article 27 of the Convention, which, as a part of customary international law, does not have to be cited to be applicable, states: “A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.”
Insofar as the text of an agreement can protect one side when the other is bent on reneging on its commitments, Article 16.4 of the Indian 123 and the Vienna Convention give New Delhi as much legal cover as Article 2.1 of the Chinese 123 gives Beijing. Of course, India would get more effective protection by building a strategic fuel reserve on its territory. There is, however, the issue of the U.S. “right of return” of exported material in the event of termination of cooperation and the fear that this strategic reserve may not be fully immunised from returnability.
Though Article 14 of the 123 provides effective protection for India, the Government should consider the merit of adding a further layer of insurance under domestic statute just to be doubly sure. Specifically, Parliament could enact an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act of 1962 as well as a change in the Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) guidelines making it illegal for nuclear material or equipment to be transferred out of the country if the transfer would disrupt the continuous operation of our power reactors or pose an environmental or security risk. Similarly, the AEA could be amended to make it illegal to import into India any reactor under a commercial contract that does not explicitly provide for the reprocessing of spent fuel.
In other words, rather than seeing the Left’s call for Parliament to play a role in validating the nuclear deal as something adversarial, the Prime Minister should realise the legislature is very much an instrument of modern diplomacy. By amending its domestic statute, India can effectively balance the provisions of the Hyde Act. If the U.S. insists in the future that internal law trumps the 123 agreement and uses that to build a case for demanding the return of material even when the strict conditions of Article 14 have not been met, India would be bound by its own internal law not to oblige Washington.
All of this, of course, begs the question of India’s capacity to hold its own internationally. Washington’s aim is to build a strategic relationship in which India can act as an outsourcer of U.S. hegemony in Asia. But there is a dialectic here as well. The U.S. created the NSG after the 1974 nuclear test to isolate Delhi from all high technology trade; but today, in order to allow itself to enjoy the strategic and economic benefits of nuclear commerce with India, it must perforce open the door for everyone else as well. What Washington intends to be a chain that will tie New Delhi down could very well turn into its opposite.
Unfortunately, the Manmohan Singh government’s lack of confidence in the country’s negotiating strength has led it to make vital concessions over the past two years. Even today, many decisions of enormous foreign policy significance are taken casually, without due application of mind. Next month’s Quadrilateral Power naval exercise (with an embedded Singaporean ship thrown in as cover) is one example. In this respect, it is perhaps more crucial that the Government be urged not to operationalise the June 2005 Indo-U.S. Defence Framework Agreement rather than the nuclear initiative.
Deal or no deal, there will always be pressure on the foreign policy front. In a country like India with sharply polarised class interests, compromising decisions can be taken even without external pressure. India’s ability to withstand external and internal pressures will depend crucially on the configuration of political forces within the country at any given moment in time. The balance of forces today favours an independent foreign policy. There is no reason why this should change tomorrow.
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