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Home > India > News > Columnists > Rajeev Srinivasan

Why should India enter into voluntary servitude?

May 05, 2008

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Part I of the column: The deal that refuses to die

In the second part of his column, Rajeev Sreenivasan continues the debate on why the nuclear deal should be reconsidered from first principles.

Now let us consider the other two legs of the triumvirate of reasons posited to justify the Indo-US nuclear deal.

2. Non-proliferation and weaponisation

In an ideal world, there would be no nuclear weapons, and no nuclear powers. Unfortunately, such a world doesn't exist, so India has to deal with the reality of two bellicose nuclear-armed predators in its vicinity: China and Pakistan.

The entire edifice of American non-proliferation, remarkably enough, has winked at the ongoing and massive proliferation between China and Pakistan, and the related A Q Khan nuclear Wal-Mart that has offered all sorts of nuclear goodies to every dangerous nation in the world.

For some unfathomable reason, the Americans have been hell-bent on denying India nuclear weapons. It may well have something to do with their annoyance with all the past posturing and holier-than-thou NAM sermons, which India did in full measure in the 1950s and 1960s.

In any case, almost all the nuclear weapon-related multilateral treaties have targeted India as a special case: the NPT, the CTBT, the FMCT, etc. This is especially ironic considering that China, which is far more belligerent, has had a free ride.

By grandfathering the NPT to its 1960's cutoff date, India has been deliberately singled out to be a non-nuclear power in perpetuity. The (rather circular) argument goes: you have not signed the NPT, therefore we cannot cooperate with you. But if you want to sign the NPT, sorry, you did not become a weapons power before the cut-off date, so you have to give up your weapons. Fortunately, Indian diplomats have resisted this facile argument for a long time. But the resistance appears to be breaking down.

A major portion of the resistance among a section of India's analysts has been focused on the fact that the nuclear deal in essence gets India to de-nuclearise in perpetuity and be the one major world power that does not have nuclear weapons. All others, such as the US, Russia [Images], and China, and some European nations, have nuclear weapons. This would be an unacceptable situation from India's security perspective.

There is the legitimate fear that an India that is thus defanged is a sitting duck for China or Pakistan. The only thing that will deter China from running rampant in Asia, doing things like diverting the Brahmaputra, is the threat that India will cause it some real damage with its own nuclear weapons and missiles. Given China's cavalier attitude to its own citizens, 'real damage' would be defined as killing 100 million Chinese; that would make China 'lose face'; anything less would be considered a mere pinprick. To do this, India needs to have an arsenal of 1,000 warheads and sound delivery vehicles like ICBMs and IRBMs.

To see the logic behind this, consider: Would the Americans ever have dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima if Japan [Images] had the capability to retaliate in kind? Of course not.

According to strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, who has consistently and with considered arguments opposed the 'deal' from the beginning, there are several constraints that would in effect kill off India's strategic independence. Chellaney says in an article in The Asian Age, March 15, 'The truth Talbott hides', that these are the four constraints:

  1. A permanent test ban (which is CTBT by other means)
  2. Restraint on fissile-material production (FMCT by other means; and India has already, and unilaterally, committed to shut down the Cirus research reactor)
  3. Strategic restraint (limits India's missile capability and encourages dependence on America. In other words, no ICBMs and no teeth against foes like China: sort of where the Americans now have the British, a weak and dependent power)
  4. Export controls (permanent vassaldom to the NSG and the MTCR)

In short, with these, India is forever constrained to be a second-rate military power. In addition to the above, there is the back-door accession to the NPT, not only as a non-nuclear weapon State, but one that is 'blessed' with the Additional Protocol, which means India is more constrained than rogue States like North Korea, Pakistan, Libya, China, and Saudi Arabia. How very thoughtful of the UPA government to enter into voluntary servitude!

In anticipation of the thrilling prospect of this nuclear slavery, the UPA government has already agreed to subject 35 Indian reactors to intrusive inspection (note that all the P-5 powers put together only allow 9, out of several hundred, of theirs to be inspected), and have made massive cuts already in the budgets of the Department of Atomic Energy ('Allocation for N-programme cut sharply', The Times of India, March 24) -- from Rs 2,333 crore last year to Rs 889 crore this year, surely to wild cheers of applause from the Americans. If this is happening during the courtship, then we can expect far more along these lines after the deal is consummated.

Thus, the so-called deal not only does nothing for India as far as its national security is concerned, it actively hurts its ability to defend itself. It certainly achieves the goal of the nuclear non-proliferation ayatollahs of the US, which explains their eagerness to complete the deal.

3. Strategic Partnership

There is a good question whether America, given its perilous economic situation, is worth getting into a partnership with at all. The entire financial system is hanging by a thread, and the country is an inch away from a full-scale panic and a possible Great Depression. Is this the time to enter into any partnership with them? After all, the Indian economy is booming, and therefore the longer India waits, the greater its bargaining power is going to be. So delay, India's usual tactic anyway, may actually be the right answer here.

Well, maybe that is too negative a view. What about the real benefits of an Indo-US strategic partnership?

It would be wonderful if, as the marketing brochures and the photo-opportunities suggest, India and the US, two large democracies, become like estranged brothers re-discovering each other; of course they will walk off hand-in-hand into the sunset. Unfortunately, this is not the case if you read the fine print.

As pointed out by A N Prasad, former BARC director and former member of the Atomic Energy Commission, (Nuclear Dilemma: The Road Ahead), the accession to the 123 Agreement makes India subject to domestic American laws. This is a grossly one-sited situation to be in, because India can be held hostage to the whims and fancies of the party in power in the US. This is not an idle threat: It happened to India in the case of the Tarapur reactor -- Americans weaseled their way out of their international treaty obligations with India by claiming that their domestic legislation overruled it.

Furthermore, the nuclear deal does nothing about the various embargos imposed on Indian scientists and engineers in a whole variety of other fields, including aerospace. Thus the Americans, despite all their rosy assurances, are not really letting India enter into meaningful cooperation with them. Apartheid continues.

Along the same lines, despite all the nice talk, America shows no intention of letting go of their 'international condom', as Tariq Ali once called Pakistan -- a country that is used and then discarded by America. Only this time the use seems to be going on and on and on, and it is not entirely clear who's using whom. Given that the Pakistanis' murky role in 9/11 certainly does not exonerate them, they have been remarkably clever to milk something like $26 billion from the US since the World Trade Center [Images] was attacked.

Similarly, China, despite large-scale and explicit proliferation of missile and nuclear parts to North Korea and Pakistan -- and there is plenty of evidence that this was done with the full knowledge if not blessings of American security agencies -- continues to be treated as a respected ally, whereas India is being bullied into all sorts of tight spots.

These are India's most immediate threats, both predatory and dangerous nations. America's coziness with them does not lead the neutral observer to believe that America is serious about a strategic alliance with India. These are not the acts of someone who is proceeding in good faith.

In addition, there are the strong-arm tactics used by sundry Americans just in one month from Feb 10 to March 10. These are the kinds of shake-down techniques used by Al Capone and friends in Chicago, where they offer you 'protection' for a fee. Consider:

  1. February 10. Ambassador Mulford says 'it is now or never'
  2. February 20. Senators Biden, Kerry and Hagel tells Manmohan Singh [Images] that the deal must conclude by May. Or else
  3. February 26. Defense Secretary Gates warns that 'the clock is ticking'
  4. February 28. Retiring Under Secretary of State Burns says 'the IAEA agreement must be made within a week or so', so that 'India is to be given this great victory' (sic). Victory against what Burns was not clear about
  5. March 1. Former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott says that the BJP government would have been prepared to accept 'half' of what Bush is offering the UPA
  6. March 3. State Department spokesman Casey says the US wanted the agreement 'concluded as quickly as possible.'
  7. Mar 4. Assistant Secretary of State Boucher arrives in India to mount further pressure

This, in just four weeks, and the mating dance has continued well into March, with more worthies crawling out of the woodwork and offering their advice. Where have you seen this sort of high-pressure sales tactics before? Yes, among snake-oil salesmen. Does this sound like the kind of thing you'd do to a friend? Not at all, this is the moral equivalent of 'I'll break your knees if you don't do xyz'.

I wish all these dignitaries who are so touchingly concerned about India getting great 'victories' had shown this level of interest in India when the Pakistanis were invading Kargil. Since they didn't, it is really hard to believe that they have anything other than America's interests in mind.

Indians have an unfortunate tendency to be easily flattered and the Americans are using that to the hilt. All the American nostrums about the deal would suddenly lead to a new Millennium, and India would be 'an important power in the 21st century', and how this deal would be 'India's passport to the world' -- all these sound a little excessive when it is just lip service. But, as they say, 'it's all sizzle and no steak'. As in the movie, Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money!". Yeah, then we can talk.

I wouldn't put it past the Indian government to walk into this honey-trap with its eyes open. India's netas have done worse before. But let us be clear about it: This is no strategic partnership, it's eternal servitude that India is signing up for.

Thus, from the point of a strategic relationship too, the deal doesn't do anything good for India.

Conclusions

Taking three bad things and packaging them together and saying it suddenly and magically becomes a good thing -- well, that is really a little hard to believe. The alternative therefore is likely to be true: this is a disaster for India. As in the case of Tibet [Images], where India signed away its substantial treaty rights in exchange for, well, nothing other than big words about brotherhood, we may be seeing another huge debacle in the making.


Rajeev Srinivasan




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