Don’t let N-deal be constrained by US politics
by P. K. Iyengar on 06 Sep 2008 0 Comment

[One of India’s most respected nuclear scientists, who has consistently opposed the Indo-US Nuclear Deal even when other voices fell silent, comments on the recent revelations from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives. This statement has been made available to us by reliable sources, and is hereby reproduced in good faith on the understanding that the embargo on its release is being lifted on 6 September 2008 - Editor]


The letter released by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives has clearly shown that:

(a)    If India conducts a nuclear test, America will immediately abrogate the 123 Agreement, and take back all nuclear materials, including fuel, it has supplied;

(b)   There are no guarantees of perpetual fuel supply or provisions to stock for lifetime;

(c)    There will be no transfer of sensitive nuclear technology such as reprocessing technology;

(d)   The US does not consider the 123 Agreement as the only document governing civil nuclear cooperation with India – it’s actions will also be dictated by the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act and the Hyde Act (see answer 3).


There is nothing new here (though it is disturbing if this letter was not shared with the Indian Government). This is what many of us have been saying for a long time. But now, for the first time, these facts are being confirmed by the American Government. Should we take note of it or not?


The Indian government continues to bury its head in the sand and insists that the 123 Agreement is the only thing it will look at. It is now made explicitly clear that the US Government does not share this view, and nor will the NSG. The intention is, clearly, to cap India’s strategic programme, and not allow it to grow or modernize. Any non-proliferation law which will enable them to do that, will be applied.


Once we sign the agreement we will find that all the implied understandings vanish, and we will be confronted only with the harsh realities of being treated as a non-nuclear power – in direct contradiction with the 18 July 2005 declaration, which the Government maintains is the touchstone for the entire nuclear deal.


The Government also keeps tiredly reiterating that the 123 Agreement does not prohibit us from conducting a test. But it fails to inform the people that if we conduct a test we will be punished, by the cessation of all nuclear cooperation and the return of fuel. It is very likely that the NSG will also make this a conditionality for their approval. The later this happens, the bigger the financial catastrophe and, even more importantly, the energy catastrophe. Is this punishment acceptable to us? The Government does not address this point.


One could ask: why test? Because it is impossible to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent, without at least some degree of testing beyond the five tests we conducted ten years ago. Why maintain a nuclear deterrent? Our growing geo-political presence, and the worsening political situation, in our neighbourhood, in Pakistan, between the West and Russia over Georgia, between Israel and Iran, etc., all point to the need to maintain a strong strategic programme. This is why the nuclear powers are in no hurry to move towards complete nuclear disarmament.


Therefore we find ourselves in the following impossible situation. If we go ahead with the nuclear deal, and, by some miracle, we even manage to import nuclear power at competitive prices (but many years from now), we simultaneously destroy our strategic programme as well as put ourselves at the mercy of the nuclear cartel. In return, we will not even get any sensitive nuclear technologies! How can this deal be in the national interest?


The letter reveals other things that we could learn from. Firstly, the level of technical detail of the questions which the US Government has had to answer. They have not been able to get away with vague generalities, as the Government has in India.


Secondly, the direct questions asked about PM Manmohan Singh’s statements in various fora (questions 42-44), and their implications for the 123 Agreement – there is no pretending that statements made within India are irrelevant to the Agreement.


Thirdly, the deep questioning of the meaning of terms, such as ‘disruption of fuel supplies’ (question 15) and ‘corrective measures’ (question 25), which again have gone unquestioned in India. All this shows a degree of transparency and responsiveness to the legislative branch of their Government, which has been lacking in India.


I hope that our elected representatives take note of the categorical statements made in the letter, as also the depth of technical questioning, and revisit the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament. The time to debate these issues need not be constrained by US politics.


This is also an appropriate time to ask if the country needs to revisit the ‘checks and balances’ present in our Parliamentary system, to ensure that governments cannot commit the nation to very serious constraints, without a greater degree of debate and consent.


The author is Chairman (Retd.), Atomic Energy Commission

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