Nuclear deal: last wake up call
by Virendra Parekh on 20 Sep 2008 1 Comment

The latest disclosures about the Indo-US nuclear deal are a final wake up call for the government if it cares even a farthing for national interests. Will it care to retract its steps even now?


The artificial hype about the Indo-US nuclear deal created by the Congress Party and its media cohorts has been punctured once again by the Americans.


While the Indian government is still misleading its own people by irrelevant half-truths (“the Hyde Act does not apply to us”) and plain lies (“India shall have full access to sensitive technologies”), the Americans have clarified, not for the first time, that there is no guarantee of an uninterrupted fuel supply, that sensitive dual-use nuclear technologies will not be transferred to India, that all cooperation will end if India tests a nuclear device, that India has no right to reprocess the spent fuel, that the US shall have the right to institute its own inspections in addition to the stringent IAEA safeguards…


Each of these assertions directly and squarely contradicts all that the Government has been claiming all along. Worse, the Government has known it all along, and yet, has deliberately chosen to tell lies and half-truths to its own people.


Indeed, the noose around India’s neck is much tighter than what even Americans care to spell out at this juncture. A nuclear test will certainly end all cooperation. But it is not the only contingency that can trigger such a consequence. For example, if we default in keeping the account of uranium that we import, mine and use, if we fail to cooperate wholeheartedly with US in any of its non-proliferation initiatives or if we default on any of the numerous conditions prescribed in the 123 Agreement, the Hyde Act, the agreement with the IAEA, as well as under the Guidelines of the NSG, the US can pull the plug on fuel supplies. Indeed, if the US president decides for his own reason not to give India the periodic compliance certificate, there is nothing India can do, except perhaps bending more to his will.


“But why are you harping on the US statements again and again? There are other suppliers who would sell us fuel, technology and other materials, even if the US does not.” That indeed, we are told, is the significance of the NSG waiver permitting India to resume nuclear commerce with all the 45 suppliers.


Wrong again, on several counts. The US has ensured that no other supplier would sell India what the US does not, or under conditions more lenient than those offered by the US.


The much-touted ‘victory’ at Vienna has turned out to be an elaborate trickery to force a multilateral, legally binding non-proliferation commitment on India. The NSG waiver for India was neither clean nor unconditional. The NSG added two critical conditions before clearing India’s plea to resume nuclear commerce. The waiver says that suppliers are required to “exchange information, including about their own bilateral agreements with India”, placing India’s nuclear programme under constant glare of the global watchdog. To rub it in, it adds that if these countries “consider that circumstances have arisen which require consultations, participating Governments will act in accordance with paragraph 16 of the (NSG) guidelines”.


Paragraph 16 of the NSG Guidelines provides that suppliers should (1) consult if, inter alia, one or more suppliers believe there has been a violation of a supplier/recipient understanding; (2) avoid acting in a manner that could prejudice measures that may be adopted in response to such a violation; and (3) agree on ‘an appropriate response and possible action’ which could include the termination of nuclear transfers to that recipient.


NSG members, especially the sceptics, have made no secret of the importance that they have attached to Pranab Mukherji’s statement at Vienna reiterating India’s unilateral moratorium on further testing. What was an act of voluntary self-restraint has been converted into a multilateral legal obligation.


This is not all. As the Washington Post has revealed, the 45-nation NSG has “privately agreed” that “none of its members plans to sell sensitive technologies to India” in the foreseeable future”. They also plan to “tighten up” NSG rules, for which India's concurrence is not required, so that no member can deviate from what they have “privately agreed” to.


In short, India will get only what the Americans want to sell it and that too only on terms and conditions that they decide. On the other hand, India’s obligations are clear, exhaustive, upfront and perpetual. Its strategic programme has been severely hobbled. India will also be prevented from developing state-of-the-art missile technology. In effect, we have agreed to cap our nuclear weapons programme and become hostage to the wiles of a US-controlled cartel. This is the “historic” victory, the “landmark achievement” that every patriotic Indian is called upon to hail.


The Americans are naturally pleased no end with themselves. As Condoleezza Rice put it, “It is an important step forward… And I think that it is a really very big step forward for the non-proliferation framework.” That says it all. She added, “I have to say that India showed a lot of leadership.” That is an American way of saying that India made lot of concessions. At forums like WTO, US constantly urges India to take leadership, but our negotiators, knowing what it means, refuse to oblige.


Following these disclosures, any government with even a modicum of respect for national interests would have sensed something rotten in the package and stopped in its tracks. It would have told US Congressmen, “Do not bother. If this is the deal, we do not want it.”


Instead, the official spin doctors have launched a fresh round of self-serving deception. They are telling us that we need not worry about President Bush’s denial of ‘assured’ fuel supply; that we need not take seriously the NSG's deceit, no doubt manipulated by the US; and, that once the 123 Agreement is signed, everything will be fine.


But is Bush not talking about the same 123 Agreement on which they are pinning their hopes? The cleverer ones inform us that all this is part of the Bush Administration’s effort to get the 123 Agreement past the Congress in a short time, before it adjourns on September 26. But if we do not challenge the American interpretation of vital provisions even after it becomes public knowledge, will it not be taken as our tacit approval of that interpretation?


Even at the risk of sounding cynical, it has to be said that the nuclear deal forged by the Prime Minister is not meant to either protect or promote India’s interest; it is, and has always been, about promoting American interests—commercial, strategic and non-proliferation, regardless of our national concerns.


While Americans are brazen about promoting their interests, Indian officials are apologetic about India’s interests. There is no other explanation for Pranab Mukherji’s craven response to the audacious demand of Condoleezza Rice that India should not strike separate nuclear cooperation deals with other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, most notably Russia and France, before the formal closure of the 123 Agreement and thus deprive American businesses of multi-billion-dollar contracts and Americans of jobs.


From US point of view, this plea was understandable: US has not taken all this trouble to see India emerge as a global power or other NSG members pocket lucrative business deals worth billions of dollars. A key American objective all along has been to revive its moribund nuclear power industry and generate jobs for Americans.


What is not understandable is the servile response of Mr. Mukherji, assuring her that the UPA government will protect American interests. If India stands to benefit by striking deals with France, Russia or any other country, should it wait upon a clearance from US?


The latest disclosures on the nuclear deal are a final wake up call for the Government. If it has any regard for national interests, it must stop even at this late hour from going ahead and repudiate everything that has gone before.


However, this is too much to expect from a Prime Minister whose eyes are fixed on the photo opportunity with his American master on September 25. As it is well said, you can wake up a man who is sleeping, but not one who pretends to be asleep.


The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai


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