Asia-Pacific geopolitics: US comes closer to India on nuke power, defence
by Ashok B Sharma on 29 Jan 2015 2 Comments

It is abundantly clear that the United States needs India more than the latter needs the former. The US has forged strategic partnership with India in the region of its particular geopolitical interest – the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean. One of the main intentions of Washington is to checkmate Chinese ambition in the region.


The document – US-India Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region – inked during the visit of President Barack Obama has spelt out the ambition for partnering support in the region extending “from Africa to East Asia.” Further the document talks of infrastructure connectivity and economic development linking South Asia, South-East Asia and Central Asia. It calls for “safeguarding maritime security” and ensuring freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the region, particularly in South China Sea.


Further to strengthen its hold in the region both India and US have spelt out the ambition for partnering with third countries in the region, apart from strengthening regional fora, where both countries are associated. The US has supported India’s interest in joining the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended his ambition further by saying that through his Act East Policy he views the western shores of United States.


There is no doubt that President Obama could not have found a more suitable strategic partner in the region to fulfill US ambition of acting as a “pivot” and seeking to “rebalance” in Asia-Pacific. This has prompted the US to break the logjam in the implementation of the decade old India-US Civil Nuclear deal, without seeking to dismantle India’s civil liability law.


The US has thereby recognized India as a responsible nuclear power even though the latter is not yet a party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The trust reposed by President Obama in India and the visit of the India Prime Minister Modi to the US in September 2014 gave added momentum leading to the Contact group meetings twice in London and once in Geneva.


The US has finally agreed to provide electricity from the reactors built by its technology and through its cooperation in India, without any changes in India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act. It has given up its proposal of tracking its equipment and materials to be used in the nuke power plants and agreed to IAEA monitoring as suggested by India.


India’s civil nuclear liability law was a matter of concern for several international investors. However, President Obama has cleared the apprehension by paving the path for US investments in this sector. The US agreed to the concept of India’s Nuclear Insurance Pool which is compatible with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which India has already signed. It is also convinced that India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act is in tune with Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage.


It is now up to the business parties to decide how to proceed, taking into consideration the cost of investment.


The administrative arrangements for the 123 agreement signed way back in September 2008 have also been finalized in consonance with bilateral legal provisions and practices on IAEA safeguards.


The US knows that the French and the Russians are already partners in India’s nuclear power sector. Japan and Canada are likely to enter. Canada which was insisting upon monitoring of its equipment and materials will now have to leave this to IAEA. Australia has already agreed to supply uranium for India’s nuclear power plants. In such an emerging situation the US companies would have lost the opportunity of doing such business in India had President Obama had not cleared the logjam over implementation of India-US Civil Nuclear deal.


That the US now relies upon India as a responsible nuclear power is clear from its support for India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.


The US knows for certain that India, being under constant terrorist attacks, is very much concerned over non-State actors accessing nuclear knowhow and materials. Although not party to NPT, India has been an ardent supporter of developing an effective nuclear non-proliferation regime. Similarly, it is not a full-fledged member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) but it has taken part in many of the exercises as an observer.


India joined the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). It is one of the few countries to ratify the July 2005 Amendments which were made to plug some of the loopholes in the original legislation. This is the only legally binding treaty for the physical protection of civil nuclear energy facilities. But this Amendment is yet to come into force after ratification by requisite number of countries.


India also supports the fifth revision of the recommendations in the Information Circulars of the IAEA. It is also a party to the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and supports the Code of Conduct on the safety and Security of Radioactive Sources. India has always argued for strengthening the central role of IAEA on nuclear safety and is a party to Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.


Similarly, President Obama agreed to four “pathfinder” defence projects for co-development and co-production, namely, next generation Ravin Minis UAVs, roll-on-roll-off kits for C-130s, mobile electric hybrid power source and Uniform Integrated Protection Ensemble Increment-II. Two of these projects will have US companies as partners and in the other two the US Administration would be partners. Attempts will also be made to explore the possibilities of technology sharing and design of aircraft carrier and co-development of jet engine technology.


India offers a lucrative market for defence products. Russia is a top supplier of defence platforms and equipment. About 70 per cent of India’s defence platforms are from Russia. Mr Obama certainly would not like US companies to lose out in this game. The Russians were the first to begin co-production and co-development; the Americans are just following suit.


Mr Obama has expressed a desire to participate in India’s ambitious 100 GW solar energy programme, development of smart cities, Digital India programme, work out bilateral investment treaty and relaxing business visa regime under a proposed totalisation agreement. With such engagements, the US looks towards India as a valuable partner in the Asia-Pacific region.  

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