Deals and doubts

Published : Aug 12, 2005 00:00 IST



Behind the euphoria generated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's state visit to the United States, there are lurking fears about the American intentions, particularly with regard to defence and India's nuclear programme.

THE Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was received in the United States with a 21-gun salute at the beginning of his state visit. President George W. Bush usually reserves such ceremonial pomp for close allies such as the British and Australian Prime Ministers. Indian Prime Minster also addressed the U.S. Congress, again a privilege that the Bush administration has accorded only to close allies.

No wonder that Manmohan Singh's visit is being described in euphoric terms by influential sections of the media in America and India. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told the media that the visit had led to a "transformation in relations that is here to stay".

After a gap of more than 30 years, India and the U.S. have agreed to resume cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy. The joint statement issued in Washington at the end of talks between Bush and Manmohan Singh said that the U.S. would now work with "friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy and trade with India". Bush hailed India as a "responsible state", deserving the "same benefits and advantages as other such states". The agreement will allow India to buy nuclear fuel and advanced reactors from the U.S. and other countries.

The signing of the U.S.-India Framework Defence Agreement was the final prelude to the Bush administration bestowing de facto nuclear status to India. The joint statement talked about India being "a state with advanced nuclear technology". In preparation for the nuclear deal with the U.S., the Indian Parliament had passed legislation relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in June. It was widely perceived in the international community that the action was essentially a response to American pressure. According to reports in the American media, the Bush administration had made it clear to New Delhi that such legislation would improve India's chances of receiving civilian nuclear technology from the U.S. and other countries.

The American offer of nuclear energy cooperation was in lieu of New Delhi's agreement to grant international agencies the right to inspect civilian parts of its nuclear programme. Still, it may not be smooth sailing for New Delhi, for Bush has to get Congress to approve the nuclear deal. Even as Manmohan Singh was on his way back home, the Energy Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives began questioning the deal.

The committee has adopted an amendment to the Energy Bill prohibiting any export of nuclear technology or equipment to countries such as India, which have tested nuclear weapons and not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). A senior Democratic member of the committee, Edward Markey, said that the Bush administration was playing a dangerous game. He questioned the logic of selling "controlled nuclear goods" to India, describing it as a "dangerous proposition and bad non-proliferation policy". He thought that such a move would set a precedent. "What will the Russians say when they want to sell more nuclear material and technology to Iran? You can be sure that Pakistan will demand equal treatment. Will the Bush administration announce nuclear cooperation with them?" he said.

Britain has said that restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technology to India will stay. "The U.K. policy on the issue remains till India signs the NPT. We want all nuclear countries to adhere to the Treaty," a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said on July 21. France, on the other hand, has taken "positive note of the important agreement between the United States and India on the peaceful use of nuclear energy". The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said that the development was in line with the effort initiated by President Jacques Chirac several years ago, in particular in the Group of Eight, to allow major emerging industrial countries, whose needs for clean energy are considerable, to import civilian nuclear technology.

France and Russia are both keen to sell civilian nuclear reactors to India. Until recently, Russian diplomats were sceptical about the possibility of selling such reactors as the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) were ironclad. The NSG's guidelines are tougher than those of the NPT; they prohibit the transfer of certain dual-use materials and items to countries such as India that do not have full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The Bush administration has promised the Indian government that it will use its influence to relax the NSG guidelines. A State Department official said before Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington that as India "puts its house in order" the U.S. would ease its additional export controls, which are more stringent than the NSG guidelines.

But influential commentators and newspaper editorials in the U.S. questioned the "concessions" given to India. Michael Krepon, President Emeritus of the Henry L. Stimson Centre, said that America could not change the rules against proliferation "only with respect to our friends". He went on to add that France, Russia and China "[would] want to play by the same rules for Iran, Pakistan or Syria". George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told The Boston Globe that the strongest country "can't keep changing the rules. We tell the Russians not to sell to X, Y and Z, but we sell them to India".

Strobe Talbott, President Bill Clinton's point man for South Asia, wrote that the previous administration's emphasis had been to work out a "genuine compromise" with India, without insisting that India join the NPT. Such an agreement, according to Talbott, would have given India more access to technology necessary for its civilian nuclear energy programme in exchange for meaningful constraints on its weapons programme, consistent with India's declared policy of aiming for only a "credible minimum nuclear deterrent". Talbot accused the Bush administration of giving up that position: "By all indications, the Bush administration last week gave up on that trade-off and granted India the privileges of an NPT member with very little in return."

Talbott pointed out that India had not given any assurance about halting the production of fissile material used to make nuclear bombs. The five de jure nuclear states, the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France and China, have halted the production of fissile material. According to Talbott, the Indian Prime Minster's visit no doubt advanced the goal of turning the U.S. and India into "natural allies" but the "short-sighted nuclear deal" would result in "a more dangerous world".

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has briefed Mohamed El Baradei, the IAEA chief, on the developments. She has also spoken to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf about the nuclear agreement with India and "reaffirmed" the central importance of Pakistan to the U.S. as a strategic partner in the war against terror. The Pakistani Foreign Office had reacted angrily to Manmohan Singh's statement in Washington questioning the safety of the country's nuclear assets. Islamabad has reiterated that it has had an elaborate command-and-control mechanism in place since 2000.

The "nuclear deal" came in for criticism at home too. The Bharatiya Janata Party was supportive of the 10-year Framework Defence Agreement, but criticised the nuclear deal. Former Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that it was "difficult to resist the feeling that while India has made long-term and specific commitments in the joint statement, the U.S. has merely made promises which it may not be able to see through in the exclusive nuclear club". He added that though the Bush administration had called India "a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology", it was still far from recognising the country as a "responsible nuclear state". Brajesh Mishra, who was National Security Adviser during Vajpayee's tenure, said that the new deal with the U.S. "amounts to a cap on the size of New Delhi's minimum credible nuclear deterrent". At the same time, however, Mishra congratulated the Prime Minster on a "successful" visit to Washington.

THE Left parties' criticism was more principled. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat told Frontline that his party remained opposed to the nuclear weaponisation programme that the BJP-led government implemented after the 1998 nuclear tests. The CPI(M) said in a statement said that it "does not subscribe to the views emanating from those who advocate nuclear weaponisation as a path for India's `great power' status".

The statement stressed that the CPI(M) and the other Left parties had argued "consistently that India should have an independent nuclear policy". It pointed out that it was the BJP-led government that had first shown a willingness to be a junior partner of the U.S. in exchange for recognition of India as a de facto nuclear weapons state, without acquiring a legitimate position in the nuclear club. "The current agreement marks an end to India's nuclear disarmament policy," the CPI(M) statement said.

The Left also expressed apprehensions about the "intangible" promises made by the U.S. "It is important that India carefully calibrate its steps strictly in response to the measures taken by the U.S., the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA. The CPI(M) expects the government not to undertake unilateral measures which may compromise national interests," the party statement emphasised. It wants the government to clarify "what the U.S. government has got in return for offering civilian nuclear cooperation".

Influential American commentators say that the nuclear deal is another strong signal that Washington aims to build up India as a counterbalance to China. "The crux of the announcement is what it tells us of the U.S. grand strategy, and that behind whatever else is going on here the U.S. is preparing for a grand conflict with China and constructing an anti-China coalition," said Joseph Cirincione of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "In that scenario, India is even more valuable as a nuclear power, rather than as a non-nuclear country. This is a plan that chooses the good guys and the bad guys, and says what matters is power politics and not non-proliferation principles," Cirincione told the American daily The Christian Science Monitor.

Russia, China and the European Union will be watching the developments closely. Russia recently reinforced its strategic ties with China, announcing that it would sell most of its oil and gas to China, ignoring demands by Japan. The E.U., which had suspended arms supplies to China at the behest of the U.S., will also be watching the emerging scenario with interest. Many American commentators are warning the Bush administration to avoid plans of counterbalancing India and China and to focus instead on developing relations with both countries in a cooperative way.

There is a suspicion that U.S. companies will corner much of the lucrative market for civilian nuclear reactors, if and when they are allowed to be sold to India. This suspicion has been strengthened by Manmohan Singh's assertion to the editors of The Washington Post that the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline was fraught with risks and that no international financial consortium was willing to underwrite the project. Condoleezza Rice, on her last visit to New Delhi, had threatened to impose sanctions on India and Pakistan if they went ahead with the gas pipeline project. Rice had offered the bait of civilian nuclear reactors to induce New Delhi to opt out of the proposed pipeline deal.

Petroleum Minster Mani Shankar Aiyar has reason to be upset by the Prime Minster's remarks in Washington. Negotiations with Teheran and Islamabad on the construction of the gas pipeline are at an advanced stage. Aiyar was recently in Teheran and Islamabad in connection with the pipeline deal. Aiyar has said that the nuclear deal was not quid pro quo for abandoning the project. "India's enormous energy requirements cannot be met without accessing gas from Iran," he said.

The Left parties went a step further and said that the gas pipeline would be an "acid test" for the United Progressive Alliance government's commitment to an independent foreign policy serving the national interest. "It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister has made such remarks in Washington when it is well known that Washington is opposed to the project. The Prime Minster should immediately clarify whether the commitment to the pipeline project has been diluted as a result of his visit to the United States," a statement released by Left leaders said.

The Left wants the government to clarify whether any commitments have been made for the purchase of American military equipment worth billions of dollars. Pentagon officials told The Washington Post that they expected India to start purchasing conventional military equipment worth $5 billion as a result of the nuclear deal. Among the items short-listed are anti-submarine patrol boats which, according to Pentagon officials, will be able to spot Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean and Aegis radar for Indian destroyers operating in the strategic Straits of Malacca.

The joint statement issued in Washington emphasised the resolve of the Indian Prime Minister and the U.S. President to promote democracy globally and fight terrorism. It said that the "U.S.-India Global Democracy Initiative" would be strengthened. Manmohan Singh, in his address to the U.S Congress, also made democracy his central theme. The Global Democracy Initiative is the successor to the "Community of Democracies" created by the Clinton administration. Though the BJP-led government had supported the American move, there was very little support internationally. The Bush administration's commitment to democracy is being questioned even in America's immediate neighbourhood.

Manmohan Singh chose to support unquestioningly the American stance on terrorism, though the Bush administration's double standards on the issue are evident. An illustration of this is the Bush administration's refusal to hand over Luis Posada Carriles, one of the most notorious terrorists in Latin America, for trial in Venezuela, for the bombing of a civilian airliner. Manmohan Singh virtually echoed the Bush administration's "you are with us or against us" position on terrorism. He glossed over the issue of state terrorism, epitomised in the actions of the Bush administration in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

India may have got de facto recognition as a nuclear power, but the Bush administration has not made any commitment about a seat for India on the United Nations high table. The U.S. has opposed the G-4 resolution in the U.N. regarding the expansion of the Security Council. Washington has backed only Japan's bid for a Security Council seat.

Even if New Delhi manages to get Washington's backing, it will be for a membership without veto power. New Delhi is amenable to a seat in the Security Council without a veto, but the African Union is against the concept of a permanent Security Council without veto powers. Now, with India so closely identified with the U.S., getting the support of non-aligned nations will be all the more difficult. Many African nations are already upset about India getting together with Japan, Germany and Brazil to form the G-4.

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