Friday, December 15, 2006

It is a Big Deal

We must recognise that the US has done us a favour in lifting the nuclear embargo on India.We are desperately short of natural uranium and technology and the negotiation with the US is the only way in which the doors of the Nuclear Suppliers Group cartel, which have been shut to us, will open.

If anyone has alternate suggestions, I will welcome them.

This article was published in Hindustan Times December 13, 2006

Critics of the Indo-US nuclear deal are playing the game with loaded dice, weighted heavily with their anti-Americanism. The condemnation, some positively bilious, has been based on a selective reading of the new US nuclear cooperation law. Any analysis of the deal made, with the US depicted as an ‘enemy’ or ‘hostile’ actor, means that every word or phrase of the new US law can be seen as the imposition of an onerous condition or a hidden trap.

So, efforts by the US to ensure that civil technology is used for the purpose claimed, are viewed as a sinister effort to spy on India’s nuclear technology. Say this much for the Left, they do know their politics well and clearly understand that the key American aim in giving India the extraordinary concession — of ending their 30-year-old successful embargo of our nuclear establishment — is to do with befriending India. And everyone knows that the Left does not want India and the US to be friends.

For 30 years, US laws, accepted by 45 other countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, banned the export of even a light bulb to any Indian nuclear establishment. An agreement that enables India to access nuclear raw material and technology from around the world is, therefore, not an every day event. More so, because it does so without any obligation on India to give up or restrict its nuclear weapons capability.

As for the issue of spies who may come in the guise of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors: the military and civil parts of the nuclear establishment will be physically separated. The military parts will operate out of the Kalpakkam and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) complexes.

The obligations the US seeks are quite legitimate. These are rules and regulations that will assure the US and the NSG that the opening of civil nuclear trade to India will not, in anyway, aid India’s nuclear weapons capability. Considering India defied the world community and tested nuclear weapons in 1998, this is not an unreasonable expectation. Since our hearts are pure and military facilities will be in separate enclaves, there is no reason why we should worry about the intrusiveness of inspections.

What the red and saffron filter does not reveal is that the US has come more than half-way to accommodate India. Leave alone dropping the insistence that India “cap and roll back” its nuclear weapons programme, the US has actually laid the groundwork for intensive collaboration with India in the civil nuclear sphere. For example, much is being made of the fact that the Hyde Act does not mention the issue of reprocessing US-supplied nuclear fuel in India. As of today, the US prohibits this, regardless of the country. But, say officials, the very fact that it has not been mentioned in the legislation is the loophole that a subsequent technical ‘123 Agreement’ can be used to enable this. A clause in the Bill makes India the only country in the world that can have US reprocessing and enrichment technology, albeit conditionally.

Much has been made of annual certificates needed to continue cooperation. Actually on Indian insistence, “certification” has been changed to “assessment”, the difference being that negative reports will not lead to cessation of cooperation. Another claim of US’s bad faith is that it had the NSG inspection laws tightened to target India. G. Balachandran, a long-time analyst of the issue, says that the change in the rules were mooted in the NSG in mid-2004, a year before the Indo-US nuclear deal, and approved by the outfit’s plenary in June 2005.

The opponents of the Indo-US nuclear deal need to answer how they propose to meet the deficit of natural uranium that afflicts India’s civil nuclear power programme?

The shortage is not a matter of speculation. The mid-term appraisal document of the Tenth Five Year Plan states this. In July 2005, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, A. Gopalakrishnan, now a vocal critic of the deal, wrote in the Economic and Political Weekly: “at present the DAE (department of atomic energy) is beginning to face a serious shortage of natural uranium, even to fuel the 18 pwhr (pressurised heavy water reactors) currently under operation or construction.”

This is a good place to examine the attitude of some of our retired scientists who are criticising the deal. All of them know how the US-led embargo crippled the Indian nuclear programme. They seem to be inspired by a sense of technological vengeance in insisting that India go it alone and prove its three-stage nuclear plan. This could well be technological hubris. Balachandran says India has just about enough natural uranium to run a 10,000 MW programme, sufficient to trigger the fast-breeder reactor programme using a plutonium-rich fuel to breed more plutonium. “If there are no imports, then everything hangs on the fast breeder reactor,” he says. “If, for some reason, this technology does not perform, we will be stuck at that level.”

The only deal that will satisfy our scientists is one in which the US not only unconditionally gives in to all Indian demands, but also rewrites the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to accommodate India as a nuclear weapons State. This attitude can only be born out of dotage, or a wrenching awareness that their world will be changed forever. Instead of the cloistered institutions they ran with little accountability, India, in the changed circumstances, could well have a vast nuclear establishment with many new actors, including probably private sector companies, both Indian and foreign. Nuclear power research, today, is a cooperative affair, involving several countries and institutions — both private and public — primarily because of the costs associated, as well as a desire to spread the technological risks.

There is one last thought that needs to be addressed. In international relations, all State-to-State relations are between equals. When Prime Ministers and Presidents make joint statements and declarations, this principle operates. The reality is, however, that while all nations are sovereign equals, in the real world, geographic location, economic and military power, and resilience of political institutions create differentials.

It is on this template that we need to examine the Indo-US deal. So, while the July 18, 2005, statement and the PM’s statements in Parliament work on the belief that it is an agreement between sovereign equals, the practical procedures that the two countries work out cannot avoid reflecting the real differential. The US, the world’s largest economy and military power, is also a recognised nuclear weapons State under the NPT; India is a pariah State when it comes to nuclear weapons and technology, as well as a poor country in desperate need of energy.

The US, the lead State in maintaining a global embargo against States that have not signed the NPT, has been remarkably generous with India. Not only has it tacitly accepted India as a nuclear weapons State, it has explicitly agreed to lift its embargo against India’s civil nuclear programme in exchange for assurances that there are no leakages from India’s civil programme to the military. To see this as sinister or demeaning is either obtuse or perverse, or perhaps, a combination of both.

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