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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 34

At Stake : National Interest


Saturday 11 August 2007, by SC


The Left parties have come out with a fairly detailed critique of the bilateral Indo-US “123” Agreement constituting the basis of the civilian nuclear cooperation deal between the two countries. Its text is being presented in this issue for the benefit of our readers. It will be transparent from the text that the charge of the Left being “paranoid” when it comes to cooperation with the US—a point repeatedly made by sections of the media euphoric about the nuclear accord—is not only subjective but also based on a kind of prejudice against the Left’s present policies on such issues rooted as those are in our anti-imperialist, independent and self-reliant foreign policy that found expression in the non-aligned course we have been pursuing in the international arena since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru—a course which sections of our elite, both in government and outside, are now seeking to jettison in their own self-interest.

-One of the major reasons to support the agreement, as explained by its protagonists, is that it will help India get access to dual-use technology so far denied to this country by the Western powers, notably the US. The Left parties’ statement clearly points out that, as has been explicitly underscored in Article 5.2 of the 123 Agreement, despite the use of the phrase “full civilian nuclear cooperation” in the document, as in the Joint Statement of 2005, access in any form to fuel enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production technologies is denied in the accord, the statement of intent that a suitable amendment would remove this lacuna having no operative value. And then it explains that “this denial also extends to transfers of dual-use items that could be used in enrichment, reprocessing or heavy water production facilities”—a stipulation of the Hyde Act. Indeed, as has been elucidated in a brilliant article in The Hindu, “123: Rethink before we go forward” by a nameless author (who declines to reveal his identity and instead uses the term ‘Special Correspondent’), “...123 Agreement is, in effect, subservient to US national laws. The Hyde Act has many conditionalities and even dictate foreign policy. This can be invoked at any time to create serious difficulties for India.” Even The Hindu editorial which hails the 123 Agreement and praises the Indian negotiators for having given shape and form to a “sound and honourable” accord, does not shy away from referring to the limitations of the agreement and places the US refusal to “lift its embargo on the sale of components or even dual-use items intended for the safeguarded Indian reprocessing plant” as the foremost constraint on this score. The Left parties have also aptly underlined:

It might be noted that dual-use technologies pertain to a wide variety of items, which are used well beyond the nuclear sector and by this clause (Article 5.2) the US has effectively armed itself with a lever for imposing sanctions on a range of Indian activities.

This is a serious matter which must be addressed.

As for the US motivations behind the agreement, these are best exposed by the ‘Special Correspondent’ in The Hindu:

In any analysis, one looks for motives. In this case, there are two clear US motives, articulated as explicitly as possible by various US sources: the commercial gain from nuclear commerce, and the more important one of containing India’s nuclear weapons programme, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Bringing the breeder reactor programme under international safeguards, pushing India to sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and continuing embargoes on uranium enrichment and re-processing are all part of this strategy. Should this be acceptable to us?

This question cannot possibly be brushed aside.

However, the adverse political fall-out of concluding the deal is being brought into focus by persons who cannot remotely be described as ‘Left’. Former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra falls in that category; he has, in a recent interview, clearly indicated the contours of future problems the accord would entail:

If the deal gets through, the two countries (India and the US) will be very close. Then we will have problems of aligning our views with their views... in that case, take the example of Iraq. What are you going to do? ... Say, in the case of Iran, can it (the government) say that we don’t agree with you (the US Administration) and we will continue with our cooperation with Iran?
This question too is of vital importance, the point having been brought out in the Left parties’ statement as well.

Noted diplomat and foreign policy expert Satish Chandra, who was our High Commissioner in Islamabad and is the former Deputy National Security Adviser, writes in The Pioneer:

The deficiencies in the agreement are amply reflected in the fact that it does not meet the concerns voiced by the Prime Minister in Parliament on August 17, 2006. The agreement neither secures full civil nuclear cooperation for India nor ensures the "irreversible removal of restrictions" on civil nuclear cooperation. It fails to ensure lifetime supplies of nuclear fuel for our reactors and in no way mitigates US legislation making civil nuclear cooperation conditional on our foregoing our right to test.

It does not eliminate the Hyde Act mandated scrutiny of India’s nuclear weapons programmes, annual Presidential assessments of India’s good behaviour and fall back safeguards or end use inspections which will lead to US officials roaming about our nuclear facilities. It also does nothing to attenuate the innumerable conditionalities imposed by the Hyde Act on India on issues like Iran, the FMCT, the PSI etc which impinge on India’s foreign policy independence.

This succinctly spells out the basis of informed criticism of the deal. To brand such criticism as ‘ignorant’, ‘jaundiced’ or ‘prejudiced’ does not do any credit to whosoever is levelling these charges.

One must take an objective, dispassionate and holistic view of the whole exercise and study the problem in its entirety. Dealing with the United States is a tricky affair and if one is not vigilant then the chances of getting entrapped in Washington’s machinations are exceedingly high. That is precisely why the criticisms and concerns voiced by the Left parties and other political organisations as well as experts, analysts and close observers of the deal need to be discussed in depth instead of summarily dismissing them as the product of closed minds. What is at stake, it must be reiterated, is national interest and nothing else.
August 9 S.C.

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