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Home > News > Columnists > Rajeev Srinivasan

Bushwhacked: Why the nuclear deal is (still) a bad idea

April 06, 2006

It's been a month since the Bush show made its way to India to rave reviews all around. However, despite all the fine sentiments expressed and the strained bonhomie on display, it is foolish to be taken in by this new-found 'Hindi-Yankee Bhai Bhai' that seems to have infected even normally sober strategic analysts.

The very first issue is the time it has taken Bush to visit India. He is a lame duck, at the fag end of his career, embattled and faced with Congressional elections wherein the Republicans will almost certainly lose the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate. He has become so unpopular that he wasn't even able to ram through the Dubai Port World deal.

At this late stage, Bush simply doesn't have the political capital to push through the nuclear deal -- despite the fact that it is overwhelmingly one-sided and accomplishes through the back door a total crippling of India's deterrent capability -- just because his is a sinking star.

India must play new global power game

But consider that it took Bush six years of his presidency -- and a pressing need for some foreign policy success in the face of major disasters -- before he made a trip to India. Clearly Bush's team considers India 'low-hanging fruit' -- easy pickings, a sure thing, something they could wave about to deflect criticism about their Iraq debacle. The Americans have figured out that faint praise and flattery is all that is needed to bamboozle gullible Indians.

The second issue is endemic and persistent India-Pakistan hyphenation. Neither Bush nor Clinton traveled to India without a side trip to Pakistan, though Clinton's Pakistan sojourn was surreal; and both he and Bush wagged their fingers severely at the durable General Musharraf.

Yet, they could had to club India and Pakistan together. Why? They don't feel compelled to 'do' Taiwan whenever they visit China. Similarly every presidential visit to Japan does not precipitate one to China.

The obvious answer is that Americans still entertain the old Cold War mindset of 'India Pakistan equal equal' and Kissingerian hostility towards India. Furthermore, the US does not give a damn about India's problems with terrorism manufactured by Pakistan. Absurdly, in the just-published tri-yearly National Security Strategy Report India does not figure among the twelve nations 'where terrorists have struck'!

While I condemn knee-jerk anti-Americanism, I resent the patronising tone in the report, which says, 'India now is poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power.'

Translation: India is a banana republic being kindly led by the Great White Father, the American President. Let us remember what happened to the Native Americans who were similarly seduced into unequal treaties. American 'Indians' dispossessed then, Asian Indians now.

The nuclear agreement, which proponents wave about as though it were some some crowning glory, is a total disaster. In return for vague Bush promises to try to get the US Congress and the Nuclear Supplier Group cartel to consider providing India with enriched uranium, India is making binding concessions which effectively make it accede to the NPT as a non-weapons state, to the CTBT, to the FMCT, and to a cap on its capability to produce weapons-grade material. India has 'voluntarily' adopted a ban on further testing. All this amounts to the old 'cap, rollback, eliminate' mantra of the State Department.>

'India has something going for it'

Such a one-sided formulation reminds me of the mistake India made in Tibet: giving away major treaty rights in return for the empty siren-song of Third World fraternity. Now India is giving away its credible deterrent for no more than flattery about 'emerging global power'. As Yogi Berra would have it, déjà vu all over again. When nationalism is considered a sin in India, disaster is pre-ordained. Indians have an unenviable record of sacrificing national security for personal profit.>

To give credit where it is due, Bush did make his intentions very clear at his Asia Society speech preceding his trip to India. He explicitly put India in the category of nuclear supplicant nations, while carefully explaining that they were second-class citizens compared to the nuclear 'haves'. The implication was clear, there is nuclear apartheid against India, and Bush intends to make it permanent.

The sad part of all this is that the Indian government has chosen to take these steps without taking the public -- or Parliament -- into confidence. A transparent debate laying out the pros and cons would have gone a long way towards clarifying what was going on. The fact that this is being treated as a cloak-and-dagger operation is in and of itself reason for suspicion. Imperial swagger on the part of nominated personalities is rather unbecoming.

Furthermore, it is clear that those most in the know, the scientists involved, are not at all happy about the way these negotiations have gone; and putting aside their customary diffidence, they have brought their apprehensions out into the open. People like Anil Kakodkar need to be listened to by the public.

What is even more pathetic is that the putative reasons for the cave-in to the 'cap, rollback and eliminate' mantra are not even sensible. It is as though the government suddenly woke up to the fact that there is a looming energy crisis, although people have been shouting about this from the rooftops.

President Bush in India

But the answer is not to go in for nuclear energy, which is a dubious solution at best. Coal, bio-fuels, solar, hydrogen fuel cells -- all have lower long-term cost than dirty nuclear fission. Especially coal, which India has absolute mountains of. Besides, an energy-deficient future merely means a low-growth future; but India has suffered low growth for fifty years due to political folly anyway, and where were these economists then? On the other hand, giving up one's weaponry is like losing one's virginity: it is pretty much non-reversible.

Sacrificing the nuclear deterrent by in effect giving the Americans veto power over India's future fissile material production (whereas Pakistan and China are under no obligation to reduce their nuclear weaponry) is tantamount to collective suicide. Who is going to help India when Pakistanis and Chinese make a pincer movement supported by their long-range nuclear missiles? Answer: not the Americans, that's for sure.

Like lemmings, Indians are heading for the cliff. It is the 'messiah syndrome' I have often noticed. Indians, for unknown reasons, are looking for a messiah or a Mahatma to come and save them. Alas, we are fresh out of messiahs, and in any case, George W Bush hardly fits the role.

Comments welcome at my blog at

Rajeev Srinivasan

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Number of User Comments: 37

Sub: Nuclear deal

Rajeev Srinivasan at last has laid out bare the inherent stupidity and lack of patriotism among the Indians. As a scientist and also with common ...

Posted by Sivaram Krishna

Sub: Kudos to Congress under Manmohan Singh

The author has shown how poorly he is informed in the matter of nuclear statergy. He must know, if he likes it or not USA ...

Posted by Jai

Sub: Should have covered other aspects of the deal

With the wide spectrum of topics that Rajeev possesses, he should have gone beyond this and should have brought out all the other significant implications ...

Posted by ramprasad

Sub: opposite political positions!!

It seems all arguments (if u can call them that) are political side based only. i guess the junta in large who doesn\\\'t tire of ...

Posted by rg


Apart from Rajeev's way of twisting facts, I felt that India, though humble and laughing and pat on the back etc, simply told US in ...

Posted by Hanif Mohammed



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