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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > December 22, 2007 - Annual Number 2007 > Nuclear Deal: USA’s Game Plan and GOI’s Abject Surrender

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Nuclear Deal: USA’s Game Plan and GOI’s Abject Surrender

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh


The USA has kept on “encouraging” (read “urging”) India to complete the nuclear deal despite its manifest disapproval by the majority of Indian parliamentarians. This way it exposes its own hypocritical love for democracy. The USA is eager for completion of the deal because this will put India under the same obligations as all other non-nuclear state signatories of the NPT are. This way India, which has long been protesting the discriminatory NPT, will be ending its isolation in the US hegemon’s eye. On the other hand, this deal, by causing India’s tilt towards the USA’s strategic alliance, will completely isolate this country from the non-aligned world. No NAM member will trust India thereafter. The USA’s Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, says “this deal will make us more equal”. When nearly 85 per cent of India’s nuclear facilities will come under both the USA’s and IAEA’s inspections, none of the USA’s facilities and arsenals will be subject to any external body’s inspection or verification. Equality indeed!!

India’s apologist for this deal, K. Subrahmanyam, says in The Tribune (dated December 4, 2007) that “this 123 agreement is a passport for India to have nuclear commerce and technology transfer from 45 countries which together control all nuclear-technology-related resources” and, therefore, “it is not merely a bilateral agreement with the USA only”. India’s External Minister Pranab Mukherjee, too, in his reply to the debate on this deal in Parliament, has called it a passport. How it becomes a necessary passport has not been made clear. Possibly, they mean that once the USA begins nuclear trade with India, none will dare to resist. But a question remains. If India finds that import of n-reactors from France and of uranium from Australia are cheaper, can’t bilateral deals with France and Australia be made independently? Have the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) as a whole authorised the USA to give a once-for-all-time clearance on its behalf? This needs clarification.

Subrahmanyam further says the Hyde Act does not matter to us: if we do not enter into any specific transaction with the USA, we can remain outside its purview. Is the matter so simple? The USA will take the burden to be our partner in civil nuclear cooperation and leave us free to import from other countries shunning the USA? Does the USA’s track record show such cosmopolitanism in matters of international commerce?

The matter became curious when, on November 28, 2007, India’s Prime Minister and also the External Affairs Minister asserted in Parliament that “the Hyde Act is not binding on India but the provisions of the 123 Agreement are” and at the same time the top US executives kept asserting that “any 123 Agreement to be implemented by the USA has to be in a manner fully consistent with the Hyde Act”. They also aver that Article 2.1 says “each party shall implement it in accordance with its respective applicable treaties, national laws, regulations and licence requirements”. The US executives are in the habit of interpreting “national laws” to mean their domestic laws. Since it was inconceivable to Indian negotiators that any country’s domestic laws could ever be called upon to govern their international agreements, they possibly never enquired about what lay behind this innocuous-sounding phrase, “national laws”.

To add to this, some top US legal experts have come forward to say that “any 123 Agreement is subject to all the present internal laws of the US agreement, right from the US atomic Energy Act 1954 and the Hyde Act, 2006, all inclusive. Not only that, it will be subject to amendments to the present laws and to any new law that may be enacted in the future”. The applicability of “future amendments of domestic laws” to international deals may be debatable under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. But it is crystal clear that once the deal is concluded, the world’s lone superpower will keep trying to squeeze India from various sides. Now that the signs of inevitable and irreconcilable conflicts have become so obvious on this crucial issue, it is wise to withdraw from the deal on this ground itself. Semantics can be formidable snares. Words with hidden meanings are meant to lure, capture and exploit.

There are more. An explicit provision of the proposed deal gives the USA the unfettered right to suspend supplies straightaway while issuing a one-year termination notice by citing any reason it wishes. This instant suspension of supply is rather unique in the history of agreements. How the Indian side could agree to this is a wonder. This only showed the Indian side was, during the negotiating stage, overawed by the USA’s show of abiding and boundless goodwill.

YET another lethal provision in the proposed deal is that the USA has the right to demand the return of nuclear reactors, fuel and related materials, and the technology supplied by it in case India does something which is so unacceptable to the USA that it has to seek permanent termination of the agreement. There can be many things to cause the USA’s displeasure which can prompt it to decide negatively. Conducting nuclear test is only one of these. The US Senate has imposed a clause in the Hyde Act stating that in future, national security agencies of the USA, which mean the CIA and FBI, will collaborate with India in the matter of nuclear proliferation. Evidently, this is meant to serve two purposes. One is to make sure that India does not divert any fissionable material from the IAEA-safeguarded facilities to produce weapons. Two, to make India subserve the USA’s foreign policy objectives. Only these surveillance agencies’ reports will enable the US presidency to issue yearly “good conduct” certificate for India to the US Congress. Will anything be left of India’s sovereignty after this?

For all these risks of penalties, what is India supposed to gain? To get access to new technologies? India’s Minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal, says: “The USA has a longstanding policy of not transferring processing and enrichment equipments, even under safeguards.” This means, access to related advanced technologies will be out of question. The explanatory statement attached to the Hyde Act, in clear terms, assures the US Congress that “there will be no such cooperation with India”. If the advanced technologies of uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel are ruled out of the ambit of cooperation, one wonders what the cooperation is about. Is it about the transfer of light-water reactor technology which increases India’s need for uranium enrichment? Or is it merely about the supply of uranium, which is controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group of countries? If uranium availability has already become so critical, is it not a warning that more plants will bring greater scarcity in future?

Notably, the nuclear technologies developed by India indigenously plus those imported from Russia are enough to run our nuclear power plants. India needed only to develop the technology to use thorium reserves for running the fast breeder reactors, which technology no country has, as of now. Possibly, none aspires to it either. In fact, India has no need for American nuclear technology. India did not approach the USA for anything nuclear-related. Yet, when the offer came from the USA, India became interested and got bowled over.

Maybe, in 2005, President Bush sincerely wished for genuine Indo-US collaboration. But the military-industrial complex over which he presides, converted it into a sugarcoated pill which infringes India’s sovereignty and is fraught with India’s economic, environmental, political and social destruction. Economic ruination will come from killing burdens of reactors—and allied imports and dissipation of funds, utilisable for renewable energy forms which could yield much greater benefit. Environmental ruination will come from pervasive spread of radioactivity, no less dangerous than greenhouse gases. Social ruination will come from compulsive entry into the straitjacket of centralised, high-cost-bearing enterprises and liquidations of distributed, small-means enterprises. Political ruination will come from the end-result of greater energy insecurity on account of India, the land of sunshine, sinking to the status of becoming energy poor.

From the US power elite’s point of view, it has everything to gain from this deal. First, it brings the reluctant and hitherto defiant India effectually under the NPT regimen by the backdoor, and by capping its fissionable material production potential without cutting off the USA’s own fissionable material. Secondly, the USA’s nuclear reactor industry, starved of orders for nearly three decades, is likely to get substantial orders from India at enhanced prices. Thirdly, by making India switch to light water technology fuelled by enriched uranium, it may perhaps swerve India from her chosen nuclear road map—and, by creating enriched uranium scarcity, increase India’s dependence. Fourthly, it is likely to deflect India from the path of developing technology for the use of thorium in fast breeder reactors—a technology which, if successful, could have placed India ahead of the USA in nuclear power generation.

The present writer is convinced that the nuclear energy path can only aggravate energy problems. By squandering money on nuclear power plants, we would be retarding and starving the renewable energy enterprises. Even the closure of existing nuclear plants will not mean much loss in electricity. The little three per cent which “nuclear electricity” today accounts for in India, can be made up by way of reducing the electricity transmission loss, which is now as high as 22 per cent. In the era of global warming, too, nuclear energy has no role, as will be shown in a separate article. And the nuclear arsenal that India has already come to possess should be a deterrent to the mightiest challenger.

Hence, India, instead of signing the deal and accepting humiliation later or inviting more bitterness in inevitably conflictual situations in future, would do well to wriggle out of the deal and concentrate on a campaign for Universal Nuclear Disarmament. The movement’s primary and immediate task would be to send a UN team to inspect every country’s every nuclear facility and to move towards the goal of progressive dismantling and destruction of the atomic stockpiles.

Dr Manmohan Singh should stop giving his biased interpretations of the Indo-US nuclear deal—an outcome of his and his aide’s meek and inferiority-complex-ridden negotiations. His perceptions are prima facie unreal and his convictions, too, are unreliable. After submitting the Julius Nyerere-led South Commission’s Report which had recommended utmost South-South cooperation, this worthy Member- Secretary, in his next job in the Government of India, pursued a diametrically opposite path and served to increase India’s dependence on the countries of the North. Then, as the Finance Minister of Narasimha Rao’s government, he led India down the garden path to pro-TNC liberalisation, globalisation (which is “global pillage by the world’s finance capital”) and to WTO.

The Indo-US deal which he is pushing down our throats now is nothing but national harikiri.


IN an article published in The Tribune dated December 10, 2007, O.P. Sabherwal pleads that the greatest gain from the proposed nuclear deal is the recognition of India as a de facto nuclear weapon state and that this recognition comes unannounced through the agreed demarcation of India’s nuclear military facilities from its civilian nuclear facilities. He further argues that India would achieve this without signing NPT. Further, he warns that if the scope of getting this recognition is allowed to go by default, there will be demands for jettisoning India’s atomic weapon stockpile.

Sabherwal may be asked to answer a few questions. What benefit India gets from the said indirect recognition if it is still kept under the leash of the Hyde Act? Despite the Indian side’s disclaimer, the US executives have not retracted from their statement that the deal is subject to the Hyde Act. Then, if India takes the initiative for a forceful, global campaign for Universal Nuclear Disarmament demanding the dismantling of all nuclear powers’ atomic weapons and offering the dismantling of its own arsenals, who can hit India? The need is to decide which path—nuclear or the non-nuclear renewable energy path? The centralised, global megalomaniac-controlled energy system or the people-led, people-controlled decentralised energy system? Preserving nuclear stockpile? Or creating worldwide, irresistible popular pressure for destruction of every country’s atomic stockpile?

While writing this epilogue, the present writer discovers that two eminent Indians—General V.P. Malik, our former Chief of Army Staff, and Smt Arundhati Ghose, India’s former Ambassador to the UN at Geneva—have opined in favour of this deal. Possibly, their concern for the solution of the immediate problems of uranium shortage and regional power balance as also their insufficient attention to the problem of meeting India’s more than a billion people’s energy needs viably and eco-harmoniously in an era of global warning and radiation hazards have led to their present stance.

This agreement is a fit case for a national referendum. Let us all seek it and abide by it.

The author, who in the fifties was the Secretary of the Economic Unit attached to the Central Committee of the undivided Communist Party of India, is one of the country’s earliest environmentalists and a social philosopher.

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