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Home > News > Columnists > K Subrahmanyam

N-Deal vote: Do we understand our interests?

June 29, 2006

President Franklin Roosevelt, as soon as he took over as president at the darkest hour of US history -- the Great Depression -- spoke to his countrymen in his inaugural address and told them 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'

Those wise words need to be recalled at this stage in the light of the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee approving and marking up the bill on India-US nuclear cooperation with an impressive 37 to 5 vote majority.

Instead of being gratified at this development, a section of our elite are afraid of various contingencies in which the US will apply pressure on India using this enactment. Particular attention is drawn to the section in the bill on US policy, which expects Indian foreign policy to be congruent with US policy, India to cooperate in containing Iranian nuclear ambitions and if necessary on sanctioning that country. The language used is as though the US Congress is in a position to legislate for the entire world. It is the language of a hegemonic power.

The United States used similar language in respect to China and made worse demands such as cultural autonomy of Tibet, prison labour reforms, fairness of Chinese wages, etc while extending the most favoured nation treatment to that country. The Chinese kept their cool, bent on securing the trade with the US and foreign direct investments. Some 12 years later China has a 200 billion dollar trade surplus in their favour. They have invested more than 250 billion dollars in US bonds and bank deposits. As Henry Kissinger once remarked, the Chinese are extremely pragmatic people.

What is at stake is not just the US exempting India from the NPT. The rest of the world has left the initiative to the US to liberate India from high technology apartheid imposed on this country during the height of the cold war. Barring some four or five nations, all other nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have already indicated their concurrence to the US to accommodate India on the NSG guidelines.

Apart from the NSG, India came under technology denial by being excluded from the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group and Missile Technology Control Regime as this country was considered an ally of the Soviet Union.

Therefore the present invitation to India to join all these groups is the result of the recognition that the Cold War is over and there is no justification in keeping India out of these arrangements. Without breaking out of this apartheid, India would have problems in access to other high technologies, including nanotechnology.

What is happening through US Congressional action is a global opening up to India and not only an enhancement of the India-US relationship.

Unfortunately in some Indian minds, there is still a lingering obsession about the Cold War days when the major powers were adversaries. Today they are often partners, sometimes competitors and rivals, but certainly not adversaries.

Those who are fearful of the US are equally fearful of China and Iran. They do not understand that our joining ranks with the US, Russia and European Union has mostly improved our bargaining capability with China and helped us in improving our relationship with Japan.

The essence of balance of power is to use the improving relationship with one power to leverage better bargains with others. This has already happened. In spite of our relationship with the Soviet Union as to the sole supplier of weapons during the Cold War, we did not dare to have joint exercises with them. Today after our exercises with the US, we shall be having similar exercises with other major powers, including China.

Our political parties are, with an exception or two, not interested in external politics. They treat our domestic political scene as an anarchic one in which they exercise all their talents for realpolitik. Our academia is still by and large stuck on the Cold War and nonalignment and unable to come to terms with globalisation and the new world where knowledge is the currency of power.

That is why our political class could not comprehend the silent but extremely effective role played by our business community, the NRIs in the US and the US India Business Council. While they were wringing their hands and predicting the failure of the passage of the nuclear cooperation bill at the committee stage the latter effectively lobbied the legislators.

There is a disconnect between the world outside changing fast and the leaderships of our political parties, who, with a few exceptions, are mired in the politics of a bygone era.

In the Indian psyche, the fear of the outsider and the new has always played a role, to our disadvantage. One can recall the days when the Green Revolution was opposed on the grounds it would inevitably lead to a red revolution. There was opposition to nuclear energy and computerisation. While economic reforms were introduced, there were assertions that it would lead to greater unemployment, that import liberalisation would result in our industrialists being handicapped by being denied level playing fields and foreign participation would reintroduce the East India Company.

Now those very people and others of that mindset are arguing that India's liberation from technology denial will lead to India becoming a subaltern ally to the US. Such prophecies should not be given any more weight than the earlier ones cited above.

The globalising and fast changing world, relentlessly moving towards a knowledge-based society, is not going to leave India alone just because our dinosaur-like politicians and bureaucracy prefer to bury their heads in the sands of time. If India does not rise to the challenge of incorporating itself in the world of new technologies, our knowledge potential will be exploited to the advantage of others. Our talents will leave this country.

The US, Russia and the European Union are not doing this out of charity but in their own interests. Do we understand our interests?




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Number of User Comments: 9




Sub: Dear Mr. KS.

Dear KS, I understand and completely agree. But all you say is applicable for countries like China who got a similar deals with equaly worse ...


Posted by appease_india





Sub: We need nuclear fuel

With the constant increase in the demand for energy in the country we have to luk for other sources which would increase the supply to ...


Posted by Shanmukha





Sub: nuclear deal

since america has taken the initiative i am sure it won\\\\\\\'t be in india\\\\\\\'s interest.also in view of the criticality of the matter there should ...


Posted by rameshan





Sub: Do we understand our interest

Excellent article. Our politician (left, bjp, congress etc) will never understand that moving quickly on these issues and having a vision for coming 25 yrs ...


Posted by Deep patel





Sub: Mr Subrahmanyam don't be boastful

Subrahmanyam always castigates academicians and politicians for the lack of knowledge. Some one should examine his own credentials. He preached that after the 1998 nuclearisation ...


Posted by Panchdeep




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