India-USA: The nuclear deal continues to ring

Posted in India | 08-Aug-05 | Author: Siddharth Srivastava

Some reports say that the agreement was so hastily inked that the Bush administration has no idea how to implement it in the face of difficult questions from the US Congress and non-proliferation experts.

NEW DELHI: Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush signed a historic nuclear deal, despite India being a non-signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). The agreement set up parameters for civilian nuclear co-operation between the two countries and effectively recognizes India as a nuclear power.

However, as happens with such delicate issues, it has not been an easy ride since the deal has been signed. In India, Manmohan has been facing the fire from the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and coalition partners, the Left parties. Manmohan has been stoutly defending the nuclear deal and has rejected the charge that India has surrendered the autonomy of managing its strategic nuclear assets. Replying to a special discussion in Parliament on his US visit, Manmohan said, ``we have not surrendered in any way the effectiveness of our strategic nuclear assets programme.’’

Manmohan informed that the approval of the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was taken before the joint statement with Bush was signed. He said he was ``cautious’’ about the issue and until he had received the approval of AEC chief, he refused to sign it leading to a delay in inking of the pact by 15 minutes. Manmohan has said all safeguards have been made to protect country's strategic interest even while taking ``calculated risks’’ for bringing about energy security.

``There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that our nuclear research programme will suffer. There should be no doubt that our strategic assets programme will not remain exclusively in our own hands,’’ he said.

``What we have done during our visit is if there are risks, it is our calculated risks. They are worth taking to achieve eight per cent economic growth and develop infrastructure to prevent what we saw in Mumbai during the recent downpour happening in other cities,’’ Singh said.

As a matter of fact, Manmohan has been at pains to explain the new levels of Indo-US relationship at every public forum. At a book release function, Manmohan recalled the way of Bush introduced him to First Lady Laura Bush. ``Laura do you know of any other country of one billion people trying to seek its salvation in the framework of a democratic polity? 150 million Muslims not one of them joined the rank of al-Qaeda. So, it was a deep sense of pride that I have,’’ Singh said.

India has an active and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to generate 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity by 2020, from the current levels of close to 3,500 MWe.

However, India uses indigenous uranium as it is outside the NPT and hence excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered development of civil nuclear energy. India has not signed the NPT, which it believes is a flawed document as it gives the right to a few countries to possess and pile nuclear weapons which can work against the national interests of other countries. The strains had come into focus since India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices in 1998, thereby completely flouting the existent global nuclear order.

As things stand, 16 % of world’s electricity is nuclear powers. France and Lithuania get around three quarters of their power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and Ukraine get one third or more.

Difficulty in US

Reports from Washington also suggest difficulties about the deal. Some reports say that the agreement was so hastily inked that the Bush administration has no idea how to implement it in the face of difficult questions from the US Congress and non-proliferation experts.

According to analysts, in order to translate the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement into reality, the US will have to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 and work with almost 40 other countries to amend the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The US has also to account for the dismay caused to Pakistan. Last month, Bush spoke to Musharraf on phone and said that the Indo-US pact was not directed against Pakistan and would not in any way tilt the ``balance of power’’ in South Asia. Although the conversation related to US concerns about Pakistan being a fountainhead of terror, Bush utilized the occasion to convey that Washington is aware of Pakistan's security requirements and will fulfill them.

Perhaps, in an attempt to assuage its long-time ally, with whom the US does not want any nuclear arrangement, Washington has announced an initial shipment of two F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. The decision comes two weeks after the Manmohan visit. It may be recalled that Bush last year named Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, making it easier for the country to acquire US arms, but has made it clear that it is not happy with Pakistan’s record of peddling nuclear technology around the world.

In another bid to make peace with Islamabad US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca told editors of Pakistani newspapers in a video conference last week that US would not assist India in producing nuclear weapons. The nuclear pact signed was only to help New Delhi generate energy through peaceful nuclear technology, she said.

However, there is every indication that both the US and India are quite serious about the deal and want to push it through. Washington wants to move on the issue. Following Manmohan’s visit, the US has decided to remove Tarapur and Rajasthan atomic power stations from its entities list.

This will allow US companies to freely trade on a range of items and material at both these plants. Earlier, this was difficult because being on the entities list of the US Department of Commerce meant several rounds of screening and review which was a disincentive to companies. There are more than 150 organizations on which US sanctions continue to hold.

The decision will be of particular help to the Tarapur nuclear reactors which were set up in 1969 with US help. General Electric Company of the US played an important role in getting two reactors at Tarapur off the ground. US companies can once again get involved in the project.

As Mamohan has stressed, despite the odds, he believes that Bush is personally committed to ``adjust laws and regimes.’’ Technically, the Indo-US nuclear agreement could fall at the US Congress itself, but it is also true that currently the White House, Senate and House of Representatives are all controlled by Republicans. Further, many experts also say that the shift in foreign policy towards south Asia by the Bush administration is likely to be followed by future regimes as well.

The Times of India comments: ``Certain long-standing denial regimes remained in place, regarding transfer of sensitive nuclear and missile technologies. The separation of civilian and military facilities may take a while, but it is unlikely to break the bank. In fact, as the PM assured the House, the decision was taken only after an internal assessment by the AEC. Nuclear weapon states, including the US, have the right to shift facilities from civilian category to military and there is no reason why this should not apply to India.’’

(Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist)