As the U.S. readies for the battles of the 21st century, India must not ignore the resurgence of Russia, the rise of China and the relevance of Iran. It must manage its relations with all these powers.
The India-United States nuclear deal that was supposed to be a path breaking agreement has run into stiff opposition in both countries where critics say that each has given too much for too little. For India, the deal was supposed to provide nuclear energy to make good the shortfall, access to hi-technology, be an economic bonanza for the future and grant legitimacy as a major power. For the U.S., it was part of a larger game plan. The deal was a means to cap India’ s strategic programme, provide access to India’s growing defence market, and become a strategic partner in U.S. foreign policy initiatives globally. One of the abiding primary bipartisan U.S. objectives has been to restrict, roll back and cap the Indian strategic deterrent. Bill Clinton tried it earlier when he wanted India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and announce a moratorium on fissile production. But critics in the U.S. fear that the deal has weakened the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime.
There have been different interpretations of the deal in the two capitals. New Delhi asserts that the agreement assures continued supply of fuel and that if there is any disruption, the U.S. would help find an alternative source. American officials do not agree and will help only in the case of technical or logistical difficulties. This means that there would be no assistance in case India violates some aspects of the agreement or tests a nuclear device or reprocesses U.S. origin fuel.
The 123 Agreement has been extensively commented upon by strategic analysts, experienced commentators and scientists. One of the arguments being that the Hyde Act suggests that India should work bilaterally with the U.S. for an early conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty instead of what India has wanted — a universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable arrangement. The Americans would want to rely on national technical means which would make the deal bilaterally intrusive. The deal does not give India access to reprocessing, enrichment or heavy water technologies or dual use components. In addition, the right of return of nuclear material, restrictions on reprocessing or building fuel reserves, verification and end-use monitoring, have been built into the agreement. This could restrict our strategic capabilities and options in the years ahead.
The deal was supposed to give India several benefits but the pressure to sign the deal by a specific deadline mostly came from the Americans, almost as if India was being hustled into this. The old principle of never ever signing anything in a hurry was abandoned. The Japanese, for instance, spent seven years discussing the deal before signing it. The China-U.S. 123 agreement of 1985 specifically states that both sides would observe the principle of international law under which neither party could invoke a domestic law to justify failure to perform a treaty. The India-U.S. 123 agreement does not have this safeguard.
It would be unreasonable to expect that the U.S. would give us a carte blanche on the business of testing and fissile material. But it was also unnecessary for us to have allowed what was a voluntary moratorium on testing become binding in a bilateral arrangement. It was also not necessary to agree to a U.S.-led fissile material cut off instead of a multilateral arrangement in Geneva. This is what we had agreed on July 18, 2005 and since then it has been a steady process downhill. In March 2006, we agreed to place 14 of our 22 reactors under safeguards and eventually shut down the Cirus reactor permanently. By voting in the manner in which we did at the IAEA on the Iran issue, we have set a precedent that may be difficult to live down. From now onwards, whenever we vote along with the U.S. or do any deal with it, opponents to this action will accuse the government of having become subservient to the U.S.
Unfortunately, the official response to the various criticisms or doubts has been dismissive and disappointingly inadequate. No one has bothered to sit down and explain that the various doubts and fears expressed were either incorrect or exaggerated. Instead, the response has been to depict criticism as a reflection of tunnel vision of cold war mindsets or nitpicking by ignoramuses. In the midst of this emotional debate, it was forgotten that dissent is also a form of patriotism. Protagonists of the deal have claimed that the 123 Agreement overrides the Hyde Act. This is incorrect because the 1954 Atomic Energy Act is the mother of all such Acts; the Hyde Act is a stringent enabling India-specific legislation for the 123 Agreement to be signed within the parameters of the Hyde Act. It has been suggested that in case the deal did not go through, Pakistan and China would collaborate for a similar deal. Surely this would have been factored in when the deal was being negotiated. It does not require any special clairvoyance to predict that whatever the outcome of the India-U.S. deal, Pakistan would want to seek a similar arrangement either with the U.S. and failing which, with China. In a high pitch drive, it has even been suggested that this deal would now open the doors for all sorts of hi-tech technologies. Conversely, should India be seen to be in violation of this deal, these technologies would be withdrawn from us followed by sanctions.
The Nick Burns statement in Washington on July 27 is a clear enunciation of what the U.S. expects from the deal. He said that the 123 Agreement “brings India … back into the nonproliferation mainstream in a way it was not before. And that is a tangible gain for India, as well as the U.S. and the rest of the world.” From then flow the rest of the arguments about the strategic consonance on Iran, reducing India’s dependency on countries like Iran for energy supplies. He also spoke of the advantages that American companies will have in selling the “finest nuclear technology” to India. Yet he did not mention that no American company has built a single reactor in the U.S. since 1979. Mr. Burns also hoped for greater defence co-operation between India and the U.S. leading to more exercises, training and defence sales. Both countries were already working together in South Asia on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and “in trying to form a better functioning relationship between India and Pakistan.” He hoped that the two countries would form a global partnership and work together in East Asia and Africa. The India-U.S. nuclear deal is part of an overall plan which includes the Defence Framework Agreement, the Agriculture Deal and the Disaster Management Agreement. The idea is to engage India at all levels.
The U.S. has been pursuing a military basing policy extending globally as it prepares to take on a resurgent Russia and a powerful China. There are about 1000 bases of various descriptions and purpose strewn all over the globe and Chalmers Johnson points out in his book Nemesis, India has agreed to have a ‘lily pod’ base along with Thailand, Australia and the Philippines. (Pakistan already has four such bases with much larger facilities). These ‘lily pods’ e nable pre-positioning of weapons and munitions to which U.S. access has already been negotiated. This does not mean permanent U.S. presence but only in times of emergency. No wonder Washington is very keen that the two countries sign an Access and Cross Servicing Agreement which would allow logistic support to the U.S. from locations in India. A natural corollary to this would be the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) which would give U.S. troops immunity from violations of laws of the host country. U.S. joint exercises in and around India also make perfect U.S. military sense. There is a clear agenda and a pattern.
The Washington-based American Enterprise Institute is considered to be the unofficial headquarters of the neo-cons. Writing in the July 2003 issue of the AEI National Security Outlook, just a few months after U.S. troops had landed in Iraq, Thomas Donnelly and Vance Serchuk spoke of U.S. military missions being transformed into a ‘global cavalry’ that would need a radical overhaul of America’s overseas force structure and creation of a worldwide network of frontier forts as well as a system of frontier stockades “necessary to win a long-term struggle against an amorphous enemy across the arc of instability.” This arc of instability extends from Morocco to the Philippines inclusive of Eurasia which is predominantly Muslim in the peripheries of Russia and China with India and Israel stuck in the middle.
As the U.S. readies for the battles of the 21st century, India must not ignore the resurgence of Russia, the rise of China and the relevance of Iran. It must manage its relations with all these powers. It needs to therefore pause and think about ways of smoothening the wrinkles in the nuclear deal. If the sense of the House is that there are reservations about the deal then the party in power must address them adequately, in keeping with the convention that India’s foreign policy is pursued through consensus. It should not be construed to be the handiwork of a tyranny of a minority in a minority.
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