Saturday, October 11, 2008

What does the US gain from the Indo-US nuclear deal ?

We all know what India stands to gain from the successful passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal— the ability to import uranium fuel, nuclear reactors, their financing and components, and a slew of the so-called dual use technology denied until now. But what does the US gain?

The answer lies in contemporary international politics. The US wants to befriend and strengthen India. As one unnamed official put it in 2005, the US wants “to help India become a major world power in the 21st century…we understand fully the implications, including military, of that statement.”


Contrary to first impressions, there is nothing sinister about that statement. Global powers like the US are impelled to promote world order concerns, as much as they pursue their selfish national interests. Indeed a rule-based world order is seen as an essential component of national interests. By entering into a nuclear deal, the US is following this compulsion, as are the other powers like Russia, China and France who have signed on to the US-led process.
The rise of China has created a vortex in the Asian region and now the globe. The emergence of an economically and militarily strong India will help stabilize the region and benefit not just the US but the world, including China itself. Inviting New Delhi to attend G-8 outreach meetings is not quite the same as having India as a participant in meetings that decide global issues, be they economic policy, non-proliferation or international security.
Removing India from a list of countries which are under a major global embargo for nuclear and other high technologies is the first step in a process that could see us become a member of the G-8, the Nuclear Suppliers Group or even a permanent member of the UN Security Council in the years to come.
There is a great deal of innuendo about how the US will gain business from the process. Reference has been made to a letter of intent India has given to the US to have American companies set up 10 nuclear power reactors in India. But that is not the real prize. The business consequences of the reactors which could cost anywhere upto $30-40 billion cannot be sneezed at, even by the US. Nor can the exports arising from the lifting of the embargo on a number of dual use technologies.
But it is also a fact that the US has rarely used foreign policy to promote its economic interests in the manner, say, France or UK have done. Indeed, the Americans have gone out of their way to deny countries like India computers, weapons, equipment on various grounds. The embargo system that the US has created actually seeks to promote policy by denying commerce.


Now for the logical follow-up question: Is this good or bad for India? There is nothing ominous about the US helping India become a stronger power. This is what they did in the 1950s and 1960s as well. Between 1954 and 1966, the US helped set up some 14 engineering colleges and provided visiting professors to IITs in Khagragpur, the College of Engineering in Roorkee, Pune, Guindy and the Bengal Engineering College. The most significant US connection was in the establishment of the Kanpur IIT in 1960. Our first research reactor, our first nuclear power reactor, our first sounding rocket, all came with the help of the US.
Under the Technical Cooperation Mission, the US government as well as the Ford Foundation provided assistance for hundreds of Indian engineers to be trained. Indeed many of the nuclear scientists like R. Chidambaram and K. Santhanam who led the Pokhran II nuclear tests, were trained in the US or benefited from an exposure to US laboratories. American aid provided funds to enhance the quality of Indian labs like the National Physical Laboratory and the National Chemical Laboratory. US funds were also provided under the Development Loan Fund to enhance the technological capabilities of the Indian private sector.
Funds and technical assistance were also provided to a cross-section of engineering and medical colleges and specialized institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Perhaps the most significant aid the US provided was for the Green Revolution in the country, not to forget the food aid India received in the late 1960s that helped stave of starvation of millions.
Those who worry about India becoming a part of the US order of things and an American client state are patriotic Indians and are right to be concerned about the issue, but they are way off target. Indeed they reveal a tendency towards an ahistorical and linear analysis. For example, what the record actually shows is that despite the enormous help the US gave India in the 1960s, New Delhi did not support Washington’s war in Vietnam.
Indeed, there have been two occasions in the past when a weak India sought to become a client of the US, but was rebuffed. Just after Independence Pandit Nehru used Lt Gen B.M. Kaul, then military attaché in Washington, to seek out a US alliance. Pakistan, too, did the same, but both were turned down by the US. The second was in the wake of the disaster the Indian Army suffered in Bomdi La at the hands of the Chinese. A broken Nehru wrote to the US seeking outright military alliance. The embarrassed US was saved by the Chinese declaration of ceasefire, but at no stage does the record show that the US even contemplated anything but a limited arms transfer relationship with India.
In recent years, too, India has not hesitated to stand apart from the US on issues of vital concern to Washington. Despite terming the US as a “natural ally” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee refused to support the US war in Iraq. Likewise, by walking out of the WTO deal earlier this year, India hardly behaved like a lackey of the US. Neither is it likely to do so whenever Indian interests clash with those of the US.


The opposition to the Iranian pipeline does not come from any alleged subservience to the Americans, but real issues that the critics are ignoring, primarily the security of the pipeline that must pass through regions where insurgency has taken root. In the past year, Balochi rebels disrupted gas supply to parts of Pakistan several times. There is also a problem with Iran’s nuclear activities. This has not been dreamed of by India, but is subject to four critical UN Security Council resolutions. India is not letting down Iran; Tehran is being ill-served by its own leadership.
Raising such issues and groundless fears do disservice to the country. Today’s India is a far stronger entity than it has ever been since independence. We have the ultimate doomsday weapon to ensure that no external force can overwhelm us. We are self-sufficient in food and have substantial foreign exchange reserves and a booming economy. More than that, we have the self-confidence of having survived 60 years in which we have overcome war, famine, near-bankruptcy and rebellions.
If geopolitics has brought the US to our door, we should welcome the event and see how our new relationship can benefit us, rather than trying to invoke the chimeras of the past. invoke the chimeras of the past.
This article was first published in Mail Today October 10, 2008

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