Indian prime minister’s polarizing obession with nuclear deal

Thanks, but no thanks 

Brahma Chellaney

DNA newspaper, September 1, 2008

India’s
leadership deficit has never been more conspicuous. Internal security has come
under serious strain. External security is no better. Yet, the government seems
reluctant to shed its ostrich-like approach. Even the falling GDP growth rate
has not stirred the government into action.

            The prime
minister’s fixation on one issue — the Indo-US nuclear deal — is clearly
proving costly. What has been a legacy-building issue for him threatens to
saddle the country with a political albatross. The US realizes that Manmohan Singh,
having invested immense political capital in the deal, desperately wants a
successful outcome. A failed deal would represent a serious loss of face for
him, given the manner he has staked his reputation and government’s future on
this issue. For the US,
this means an opportunity to load the deal with more conditions.

            By playing
the good cop and acquiescing to some of its Western allies playing the bad cop
in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, the US has succeeded in driving home
the message that the NSG will not approve without conditions a waiver to its
rules. Such has been the message’s effect that India itself has moved the goalpost
— from a “clean and unconditional” NSG exemption to seeking just a “clean”
waiver. Put simply, New Delhi
will accept an NSG waiver if the built-in conditions are so couched that it can
publicly save face. A “clean” waiver would be one whose conditions are not
obtrusive.

            Some
conditions implicit in the earlier US draft — discussed at the August 21-22 NSG
meeting — could, however, become explicit. The earlier draft was cleverly worded, although in essence it conformed to the
Hyde Act. First, it sought to spread
a wide non-proliferation net around India by
demanding its compliance with the entire set of NSG rules. 
Apart from being allowed to
retain some nuclear facilities in the military realm, India was to be treated, for all
intents and purposes, as a non-nuclear-weapons state and thus subject to the non-proliferation
conditions applicable to such states — a provision also built into the Hyde
Act. This stipulation will remain in the waiver.

            Second, the earlier draft’s
implicit test ban on India
may now become more explicit. The rejected draft had first listed India’s
commitments, including to a test moratorium, and then recommended permitting
exports to “safeguarded” Indian nuclear facilities, “provided that the transfer
satisfies all other provisions” of Parts 1 and 2 of the NSG Guidelines. Given
that these guidelines relate to transfers to non-nuclear-weapons states, India was
being asked to abjure activities proscribed for non-nuclear-weapons states. But
now with several NSG members demanding a more-explicit prohibition, the choice
is to replicate the Hyde Act’s unambiguous Section 106 language or emulate the
semantic jugglery of the 123 Agreement.

Third, on the issue of prohibiting India’s
access
to
civil enrichment and reprocessing technologies, the choice before the NSG is no
different than on the test ban. The rejected draft incorporated an implicit
prohibition on such technology exports by stipulating that the transfers
satisfy
the various provisions of NSG Guidelines, which (in Part 2,
Section 4) carry a presumption of denial of reprocessing and enrichment
equipment and technology even under safeguards. While the Hyde Act incorporates
an explicit embargo, and even mandates that the US
“work with members of the NSG, individually and collectively, to further
restrict the transfers” of such technologies to India, the 123 Agreement’s
prohibition is tacit.

            Whatever the waiver’s final
shape, the blunt fact is that the various good-faith declarations made by India in the July 18, 2005, joint statement with
the US
are all being turned into binding, enforceable commitments multilaterally,
after having been explicitly incorporated into the Hyde Act and implicitly into
the 123 Agreement
. Today, India is being asked to unilaterally
adhere to the guidelines of a cartel that won’t admit it as a member
. If the NSG were to change its
guidelines in the future to impose new conditions — a spectre the rejected
draft raised, only to offer empty consultations with New Delhi on subsequent
amendments — India will find itself at the receiving end, after having invested
billions of dollars in imported, foreign fuel-dependent reactors.

            The reason the deal has
become very divisive in India
is because it has been politically mismanaged. By turning it into a partisan
issue domestically, New Delhi
has only weakened its leverage in negotiations. It is thus no surprise that the
deal has attracted newer conditions at every stage of its evolution. The NSG
process will be no exception. But rather than spin the NSG outcome as another
“victory” for India,
the wise course then would be to say thanks, but no thanks.  


© 2005-2008 Diligent Media Corporation Ltd. All rights reserved.

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