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'The nuclear deal was India's idea'

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February 17, 2006

As vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, Dr George Perkovich oversees the entire research programme at the presitigious think-tank. But his personal research -- spanning over two decades -- focuses on nuclear issues, with a special focus on South Asia.

Among other things, he is the author of India's Nuclear Bomb, which is considered the definitive study on India's nuclear programme.

In a no-holds barred converation with readers on the proposed India-US nuclear deal on the Rediff Chat on February 16, he made it clear that the ball is firmly in India's court, and New Delhi would have to decide whether it wants 'to gain electricity for 10 cities or to produce 10 more bombs.'

For those of you who missed the chat, here is the transcript:

George Perkovich : Hi all, I'm ready..

ramananda : Good morning Dr you endorse or oppose this nuclear deal? and why?
George Perkovich : I support the idea of changing some of the existing US and global nonproliferation rules in order to help India with immediate problems in its nuclear power program, but I think the July 2005 proposal is too vague and seeks to go too far too fast. To be more specific, for example, I would not support a deal that did not designate India's plutonium breeder program as "civilian."

shankyemperor : Did the Indo-US nuclear deal have any say in how India voted against Iran at the IAEA??
George Perkovich : Great Question. In my view, "no." India was a leading force in creating the IAEA. It has always stood for a sound nonproliferation regime of rules to prevent countries from violating their treaty commitments. The IAEA vote was simply, literally a question of upholding the IAEA statute. The statute says that a country found in noncompliance SHALL be reported to the Security Council. The IAEA found Iran in non-compliance, so the vote was a straightforward matter of upholding the rules. A vote in the Security Council on sanctions or some enforcement measure would be different. But this was straightforward and was badly distorted by the press and by unfortunate comments by US officials.

RajRajat : Hi,Many in India accuse nonproliferationists such as yourself of hypocrisy. On the one hand, you say that the US-India agreement indirectly helps India increase its nuclear bomb fissile material capacity by freeing up Uranium. While this is a fair point, the people who raise this concern now never said anything when the US opened up nuclear trade with China without requiring China to state that it is stopping fissile material production. Do you think non prolfieration means some countries get help to make bombs while others cannot?

George Perkovich : I believe I have been more consistent and have since the early 1990s pushed as hard as I could personally for a moratorium on fissile material production, focusing heavily on China. But the general question is still important: the countries with nuclear weapon capabilities, now including India, must do much more to reduce double standards in the nuclear order. The US must lead the way in this regard, along with Russia [Images] and China, and we have done badly. But the clearest place to start is to get China to publicly commit to a moratorium on fissile material production outside of safeguards, and then for India to say it would follow suit if all other countries did too (meaning Pakistan, especially).

Diwaker : I would like to know where do you draw the line between the civilian and military facilities don't you think there should more deatailed study into before drawing lines
George Perkovich : There probably should be more detailed study. But in that case, the two governments should not create expectations that a deal would be completed by March.And on the issue of including the breeder program as civilian, I would think that even after further study the world should not be willing to change the rules of nuclear commerce if India does not designate the breeder program civilian. India has always insisted this program was civilian.

kanada : And it seems as if India will be left with no option but to succumb to US pressure
George Perkovich : India will always have options. The problem here is that the Indian nuclear establishment has been extremely secretive and did not inform the public (or Parliament) that it was running out of fuel. Also, that the country's need for electricity cannot be met by the nuclear program, especially if there is not international cooperation. So now there is a sort of crisis and the Indian leadership recognizes it and is trying to address it, but the nuclear establishment wants to avoid having to make hard choices and perhaps to make compromises in order to achieve outside help. This is natural. But the issue is not one of succumbing to outside pressure. It is one of paying to get something in return.

Gautam : Hello Dr. Perkovich isn't it true that the current US-Indo nuclear deal will severely hit our military capabilities?
George Perkovich : There would be no reduction in India's military capabilities. The future growth of these capabilities could be limited, but this too is uncertain. You and I don't know how much spent-fuel India has that it could reprocess for weapons plutonium, for example. Ultimately, countries make trade offs. India may have to decide whether it is more important to gain electricity for 10 cities or to produce 10 more bombs. If it's the former, the world may choose to change the rules to help. If the latter, the world may not change the rules. It will be India's choice to make.

shankyemperor : What is the stumbling block behind US Congress' approval to the nuclear deal? Is it that India's stature in the region will grow manifold once the deal is signed thus affecting US interests?
George Perkovich : No. Most people in the US, at least those who pay attention to these issues, want India's stature to grow in the world. But many of us feel that weakening the global nonproliferation regime is not the best way to raise India's stature, or to make the world more secure. I can assure you that if a nuclear deal were well-conceived, and many of the vague points settled, Congress would support improving nuclear cooperation with India.

Manoj : Is this nuclear deal a step made by US to make India sign NPT?
George Perkovich : No. I can assure you, that no one in the US government believes India will sign the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state, and no one asks it to.

RajRajat1 : To my earlier question you want China to publicly commit to a moratorium. So why haven't you and your colleagues articulated this view as strenuously as you oppose the July 18 deal? Free pass to China?
George Perkovich : I have in public meetings. Also, again, speaking only for myself, I have not strenuously opposed a nuclear deal with India, only some of the ill-conceived facets of this proposal. I am working with others to focus more attention on the need to push for a moratorium, beginning with China.

Raghotham : Dr. Perkovich, you have of course argued earlier that India does not have the attributes of a Great Power. But even you must surely agree that it is a rising power. My question is: will the US do any better than the British did in the late 19th and early 20th century with regard to how it treats rising powers and how it accommodates both the rising powers and itself into a new world order?
George Perkovich : I have argued that the common measures of a great power are misleading, in part because they lead people to underestimate the greatness that India has achieved and will achieve by democratically managing the development of one billion people. I also said that the most important thing is that India has the power to keep others from imposing their will on India. Now, will the US do better in accommodating rising powers-- absolutely. That's what the Bush Administration is trying to do, and most experts support it, even if we may disagree with particular elements of this nuclear proposal.

rakesh : You say "no one in the US government believes India will sign the NPT". I agree, but don't you think that the US are trying to impose the exact same conditions on India on this deal as a NPT signatory, without actually signiing one?
George Perkovich : No. If India were to sign the NPT it would not be able to keep its nuclear weapon arsenal. It would not be open to receive international cooperation. This deal is opposed by nonproliferation wallas precisely because it does not do what the NPT would do.

MyPrecious : Sir, Regarding the recently concluded session where Iran was asked to stop its so called "Nuke for peace" mission. Dont you think that even India once stood at the same point where India was defending itself for the Nuke Tests conducted saying that India has the sovereign right to have Nukes when all other "Developed Nations" possessed the same? The same argument can hold good for the Iran too. Now the US is dealing with India on the same terms. Is it possibility that US stance might change as time passes and once the sanctions,etc are done with, US starts renogotiates with Iran?
George Perkovich : No. Iran signed the NPT. India did not. Iran has been found noncompliant with legal obligations, and is being held to account for them. Also, Iran, unlike India, does not recognize the right of some countries to exist. Iran, unlike India, conducts terrorism...The two examples are very different.

shankyemperor : Are thinktanks in the US concerned that if the nuclear deal is pushed through, Pakistan too may may have to be 'placated' in some way to maintain the balance of power???
George Perkovich : Yes! And so there's a desire to be careful here so as not to create momentum for opening nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

pramood : Dear Perkovich, What is the US stand in Fissile Material(Weapon grade) reduction of its own inventory? There has been allegations that US increases its Fissile Material stock from Russian HEU under the camoflague of kilotonnes to Megawatts project.
George Perkovich : The US has way too much fissile material and does not know what to do with it all. It does not want to create more for weapons.

vj1 : Either Mr Perkovich is extreamly slow in answering or someone at Rediff is playing fav. with the questions. Is it so?
George Perkovich : Give me a break. I am typing as fast as I can!

rakesh : Thanks for your answer. Why then the condition of opening up the civilian nuclear facilities to UN inspectors anytime, anywhere.. something not even demanded from the NPT signatories?
George Perkovich : This is not one of the demands -- UN inspectors anytime, anywhere. Not at all. India has nuclear reactors now that are under IAEA safeguards and this has not caused India any difficulty. The idea is to extend the same sort of safeguards to additional facilities that India would designate. Again, this is something that all other countries do.

Arjun : I have been reading thru this complete debate and I have only one feeling here. Why can't US just leave India alone on this issue instead of forcing it's views and decisions?
George Perkovich : The US could leave India alone. It is India that is asking for international rules to be changed, and to receive a great deal of nuclear help. This was India's idea and proposal, not the United States'.

FMCOT : Why do you think N-aparthied era should continue where some get to keep "you-know-what" while others are restricted in the name of proliferation?
George Perkovich : I don't. If you can find a study we did last year, Universal Compliance, you'll see that we agree that this apartheid is a key element of the problem. Absolutely. But one thing is not to make it worse.

AKS [Images] : Given that the US has no clear separation of nuclear and civil military facilities (eg. military Tritium comes from Tennessee Valley Authority plants ), and given that the July 18 agreement calls for India to have the same rights and obligations as the US, how can there be double standards about civil-military reactor separation ? Shouldn't it be best left to India to decide, just as the US does ?
George Perkovich : Again, it will be left for India to decide. And then the US and the rest of the world will decide whether to change the rules to provide India what India is asking for. India will have to make difficult choices. No one is forcing this, but at the same time, things in life are not free, unfortunately.

NareshRawal : Re-posting this question - The NPT nuclear powers hardly have a tiny fraction of their facilities under IAEA safeguards. Yet they partake in global Uranium and nuclear trade. Why should India put its facilities under more safeguards than the NPT-5?
George Perkovich : If you're asking is this completely equal treatment, the answer clearly is no. Again, there are competing interests at stake. India will have to choose how badly it wants or needs nuclear cooperation from others.

kumar : Why shd there be a balance between India and Pakistan at all?? Do you believe in maintaining a balanece between Israel and Palastein? When it is more than obvious that Pakistan is a country which supports terrorism and never had or has a credible democracy, why shd India shd be looked always with reference to pakistan?
George Perkovich : You're right. Many of us favor carefully thought through nuclear cooperation with India. Period. This would not extend to Pakistan. In my experience, it is Indians, as in this chat, who bring up Pakistan. Check the record, I didn't bring Pakistan into the conversation.

abhishek_mody : I sincerely feel that India must not and should not bow down to what the Anglo Saxon brigade in keen on forcing India to do.This is a colonial hangover. Our genuine partnership should be with countries who treat us as equal and not the `` colored`` slaves as they have thought us to be. I am in the US and have no fear in admitting that I hate the US policies and double talk in global affairs, if they had stuck firmly with wiping out terrorism which I think they should, regardless of the nuclear deal their interests should be the military , economic and cultural upliftment of India.
George Perkovich : Fine, except that there are a whole lot of non-Anglo-Saxon countries that have a stake in these issues, too. And the issue is not whether to augment India's rise as a great power, but how to do it while preserving other interests too.

MyPrecious : Sir, Thanks for answering my previous question. Though I might differ in some points raised. Will put them off for now. My second question would be. Was India lured/bullied by US to vote in its favour regarding the Iran's issue? Ofcourse I can expect the diplomatic answer! I dont think anybody can believe that it wasn't the case. As one of the US official has gone on record that India has to go with the US or against the US and if against there will be serious repurcurssions in the Indo-US Nuke Deal (which ofcourse hasn't gone any further!!). Please comment.Thanks!
George Perkovich : I honestly believe that the people in the prime minister's office understand that Iran has been noncompliant with the rules, and that the IAEA reporting on this is profoundly alarming, and that the only right thing to do was to vote as India did. Remember, China, Russia, Egypt and others voted the same way!!!

Nagendra : Following up, what you are saying is that the nuclear order is based on negotiating power, isn't it? Perhaps India should prolferate and use it as a card?
George Perkovich : Ah, but then it would not be India. It would be like one of the countries that Indians correctly denounce. And India's neighborhood would become more dangerous.

FMCT : Whatz in it for you in this chat? Of course you are not a saint to spent time with unknown ppl on the net? Are you tring to guage public resistance for your next policy document? I am DAMN curious.
George Perkovich : You want the true answer? I am terrible at saying "no," and so when I was asked to do this, I said "yes." Also because I think this is an important issue and I am in the awkward position of being somewhere in the middle on the proposed deal...

srdude : Dr. Perkovich: do you feel unable to answer my question about non-proliferation experts' double standards?
George Perkovich : I thought I did when I talked about the disarmament issue. Yes, lots of nonproliferation experts have double standards. Isn't that obvious?

kumar : Thanks for your answer reg India vis a vis Pak. Apart from this nuclear deal, still it is a fact that US has never told pakistan in plain words ''Stop Terrorism against any country including India, otherwise you are going to face consequences'' Instead, US always tries to make things seem as if both are in same plane except for this nuclear deal, and we are very happy abt it. And Pakistan goes ahead with this menace fully knowing that as long as they act as if they are helping you abt Afganistan, you are not going to bother abt what they do against India. Will it ever change? I hope it will!
George Perkovich : US policy toward Pakistan is very problematic. My colleagues and I here are trying to work on some alternatives that we would recommend in the coming year, for what it's worth.

Sushant : If India wants to place its nuclear breeder program under military establishment, US would allow it?
George Perkovich : It's not a question of the US allowing anything. The issue is whether the US will then change its laws and the international rules to allow nuclear cooperation with India. We probably would not if the breeder were not a civilian program. But India can go ahead and do it and no one will stop it. I have to sign off. Thanks, George

George Perkovich : FOLKS, thanks for the chat. I hope it was a bit useful. Best wishes, George

Related links:

The nuclear tango

What ails the India-US N-deal?

Rediff Specials

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