Indo-US nuclear deal
By Shyam Khosla
The Indo-US nuclear deal struck during Prime Minister'srecent visit to USA has provoked a national debate on the merits and pitfalls of the agreement. What has made this debate a worthwhile exercise is that besides top political leaders, eminent scientists and security experts, who should know what they are talking about, participated in the debate in Parliament and media. Former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, under whose leadership India became a nuclear power state, raised pertinent questions and expressed his disquiet over certain aspects of the deal.
Responding to the debate and in his suo moto statement on his visit to Washington, the Prime Minister threw light on certain gray areas in the joint statement. Not that all this led to a national consensus on this crucial issue but the debate did help a lot in understanding this complex issue. Honest differences of opinion on the subject, that is not a partisan issue, should be welcomed. What is important is that the debate shouldn'tbe marred by petty partisan interests, dogmas and stale slogan mongering in which the Communist parties indulge quite often. As a vibrant democracy, we should not be afraid of discussing issues of national importance threadbare without imputing motives. An informed public opinion and a vigilant opposition are the best guarantees against government of the day making compromising national interests under international pressures.
Dr. Manmohan Singh made an earnest attempt to clarify the terms of the Indo-US cooperation on the nuclear issue and did succeed to a certain extent to remove apprehensions expressed by political leaders, security experts and scientists. The most significant point the Prime Minister made was that the treaty was based on reciprocity. Indian commitments on the issue, he asserted, would be conditional upon the United States fulfilling its obligations. This would be most reassuring if Washington were to come up with an identical, or similar, interpretation.
Indian commitments on the issue, he asserted, would be conditional upon the United States fulfilling its obligations. This would be most reassuring if Washington were to come up with an identical, or similar, interpretation.
Reports in the American media suggest that the Bush Administration was unlikely to propose legislation immediately but would wait for a month or two to see how New Delhi meets new non-proliferation commitments. India, they say, may take months to begin to meet some of the commitments and to complete others. ?The Indians know we are going to wait and see all this occur?, unidentified officials in the Bush Administration are said to have observed. This is no reciprocity. Prime Minister'sassurance that ?we don'tgive until we take? must be honoured in letter and spirit. For that the UPA Government will have to take a no-nonsense stand to ensure that Indian security and strategic interests are not compromised. Meanwhile, there are reports in the media that Washington has decided to drop Tarapur and Rajasthan nuclear plants from entities list that would encourage US companies to trade on a range of items and material at both these power plants. If implemented, it will be a minor concession for it only clears the way for trade in items needed outside the reactor but is not linked with the issue of fuel supply to the reactors that is our prime need.
The gravest apprehension expressed by experts as well as former Prime Minister that is shared by the man in the street is that the treaty would in effect cap our military nuclear programme that would put us at a great disadvantage against other nuclear powers in our neighbourhood. Most of our nuclear facilities, it is pointed out, are in the civilian sector and the Prime Minister has committed the country to open them to inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Separation of civil and military facilities will require massive financial and human resource inputs. The Prime Minister says separation is feasible and that he signed the joint statement after it was cleared by Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, who was part of the Prime Minister'sdelegation. True, separation of civil and military facilities will be done in phased manner and hopefully keeping in view our national interests.
Meanwhile, there are reports in the media that Washington has decided to drop Tarapur and Rajasthan nuclear plants from entities list that would encourage US companies to trade on a range of items and material at both these power plants.
The Prime Minister asserts that the treaty would not impinge upon India'sautonomy. His perception is that it would enhance our autonomy by giving us access to technologies and fuels that had long been denied. Separation of civil and military facilities, Dr. Singh asserts, would give the military programme greater ?autonomy and scope?. That is a bit baffling. The Prime Minister needs to be more specific on this aspect and needs to reassure the nation that India would have complete, unrestricted and autonomous control over its nuclear programme.
The pact was projected as a ?big gain? for India on the premise that President Bush has recognised India as a nuclear power state. Vajpayee challenged this assertion saying all that America has admitted is that it is a ?responsible state with advanced nuclear technology?. The Prime Minister frankly admitted that that was so and explained that India could not have joined the select nuclear club, as it was not a signatory to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). He claims that the basis of the understanding between him and President Bush is the clear recognisition that ?India is a responsible nuclear weapon power with an impeccable record on nuclear non-proliferation? and that the reversal of the three decades-old nuclear blockade against India is based on the principal that India should have the same benefits and advantages as the five nuclear power states recognised under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty. Even if these claims are valid, these benefits can flow to India after major changes in American laws and international policy are made. It is bound to be a long drawn process that is full of uncertainties and pitfalls.