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Nuclear deal: What 'ironclad' guarantees?
July 19, 2006
The Indian media has been euphorically exclaiming that the India-US nuclear deal legislation has cleared the first hurdle, the US House and Senate committees.
One television news correspondent, for instance, heaved a public sigh of relief from Washington that the two versions of the bill did not contain any 'deal breakers'.
Such euphoria seems premature. The legislation passed the congressional committees so easily, and probably will pass through the full Houses of Congress, too, precisely because it has been loaded with terms that ensure that under the rubric of nuclear cooperation the US achieves its long-standing non-proliferation objectives vis-�-vis India.
If India follows a proper democratic consultative process before signing up to the deal, it might well be India, not the US Congress, that will reject the deal.
For one, this bill does not grant a blanket exception to India from domestic US non-proliferation laws as was repeatedly promised by Bush administration officials following the July 18, 2005 agreement.
What it does is only grant a presidential 'waiver' to India with regard to only one requirement under US domestic non-proliferation laws. Rather than having to subject all of its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, India need only put those facilities that it has declared as civilian under safeguards.
For another, the House Bill -- the milder of the two versions -- states expressly that nuclear cooperation will cease if India conducts a nuclear test again. The intent behind this clause is clearly enunciated in the 'Sense of Congress' and 'Statement of Policy' parts of the bill, parts that have been dismissed rather callously as being 'merely exhortative' and 'of no consequence' by pro-nuclear deal Indian commentators.
The 'Sense of Congress' is that the US should extend civil nuclear cooperation only if such cooperation 'induces' India to 'refrain from actions that would further the development of its nuclear weapons program'.
This 'Sense of Congress' is closely tied to US policy objectives in South Asia. As stated in the House Bill's 'Statement of Policy', American policy is to 'seek to halt the increase of nuclear weapon arsenals in South Asia, and to promote their reduction and eventual elimination'. This policy objective, as observers of India-US non-proliferation relations will recognise, is nothing but a continuation of then US president Bill Clinton's objective to 'cap, roll back and eliminate' India's nuclear weapons.
It is pertinent to ask the Manmohan Singh government and its supporters on the nuclear deal, if the nuclear cooperation agreement is only about energy and not about India's nuclear weapons as they have repeatedly claimed, why should a clause seeking to prohibit India from further nuclear tests, and therefore from further development of its nascent weapons programme, be included in the legislation.
Moreover, the Bill preserves the US Congressional prerogative to oversee the implementation of the nuclear deal. It requires the US president to report annually on India's behaviour with regard to several issues -- nuclear testing, support to US policy on Iran, support to not just US non-proliferation policies but also for the more controversial counter-proliferation policy, progress towards a fissile material cut-off plan, and even on India's domestic uranium mining activity.
Any perceived deviation from US policy on any of these issues could trigger an end to nuclear cooperation, leaving high and dry nuclear reactors that would have cost India billions of dollars.
Talk of 'deal-breakers', the story gets even worse. During President Bush's visit to Delhi, Indian nuclear scientists had insisted on nuclear fuel supply guarantees and managed to get such assurances from the US delegation.
At the time, the Manmohan Singh government and pro-deal commentators had claimed that they had secured 'ironclad guarantees' on uninterrupted nuclear fuel supply in return for India agreeing to perpetual and irreversible safeguards on all its civilian facilities.
These 'guarantees' included that if the US felt the need to cut-off fuel supplies itself, which it has a tendency to do at the slightest pretext, it would still help India secure supplies from certain other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Now, however, the US legislation has nullified these 'ironclad guarantees'.
The US Congressional committees have stipulated that not only should the US cease its own cooperation in case of deviant Indian behaviour, it should even seek to stop the transfer of materials and technology to India by other NSG countries as well, quite like the way in which it compelled Russia in 1993 to stop the transfer of cryogenic engine technology.
The much bandied about 'ironclad guarantees' have turned out to be an 'ironcladding' on India to bind it to American non-proliferation objectives, and a 'guarantee' for the US that it can have India so bound and beholden.