Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Demystifying the Nuclear deal

The major political news of the week, or even the fortnight, is the tug-of-war between the UPA government and the Left parties on the issue of the US-India Nuclear Agreement. Now, several issues must be addressed before analysing the attitude of the Left towards the deal.

The most important question would be: What does the deal really mean? The idea of a civilian nuclear agreement was first mooted by US President George W Bush on July 15, 2005. He announced that he would "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India." Before any kind of cooperation of atomic energy issues, it was essential that India sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. This was essentially because India had refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and had virtually no safeguards on nuclear material in the use of raw materials for peaceful purposes. India's testing of the Nuclear Bomb, first in 1974, and then in 1998, convinced the US to further restrict supply of nuclear raw materials to India. It was after the first Pokhran tests in 1974, that the Nuclear Suppliers Group was created, which further restricted supply of Uranium (an essential nuclear raw material) to India. Changing balance of power and a gradual change in India's attitude towards cooperation with the United States, actively aided by the rise of India's economic power, provided the impetus to the nuclear deal. The legal framework of the bilateral nuclear pact between India and the United States is provided by the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, also called the Hyde Act, which is the principal bone of contention between the Left parties and the UPA government. This act provides the legal basis for the signing of the 123 Agreement (PDF link) with India, and requires the approval of the US Congress and the Indian Cabinet and will define the exact terms of the cooperation.

So, for the Deal to bee signed, the Indian Government must take certain steps. First, it must negotiate and conclude a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Deal ran into its first set of hurdles here itself. The Left refused to allow the government to go ahead with the IAEA negotiations, and threatened to withdraw support to the government. Without the Left's support, the government would be reduced to a minority and would be forced to resign. After last-ditch negotiations, the Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee went ahead anyway, and held talks with the IAEA. Now, the Left is "discussing the timing of withdrawal of support." The next step is the G8 Summit to be held in Japan this year. Again, the Left is blackmailing.

But, what wrong with the Deal anyway? I have said it before, and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with the deal. The rationale behind the deal is quite clear. This paper (PDF link) by David G Victor, Director, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, Stanford University clearly states the potential benefits of the agreement. He argues, in his brilliantly written paper, that the fuller commercial exploitation of nuclear energy, if done to the exacting standards of non-proliferation, can help cut carbon dioxide emissions. This is largely because nuclear energy emits virtually no carbon-dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming.  With India's energy requirements on the rise, we need to urgently reduce our dependence on oil and petroleum, simply because these sources are rapidly dwindling. If the US is helping us do that, then why not? The fact remains that for India to successfully and quickly exploit its nuclear reactors, the US offer of transfer of technology would be invaluable. Of course, it is not the only option. But, it is the best possible option given the circumstances.

The second reason the deal must go through is political. Washington and New Delhi share concerns about the rather dramatic, and sometimes threatening growth of China, both militarily and in the economic sphere. Washington is seeking a strategic partnership with India is an apparent attempt to counter China's growing influence in the region. But, let's be clear on one thing. India is not going to act as a US representative in formulating its foreign policy with regards to China. This remains the principal fear of the Left: that India will be forced to review its foreign policy priorities due to pressure from the US. Personally, I do not see that happening. India is the biggest military power in the Indian Ocean littoral after the US, which has several bases in the region, including the one at Diego Garcia. A strategic partnership with the US would only be beneficial to India, because a strategic partnership basically means intelligence sharing, among other things. Intelligence sharing with the US, with its advanced spy satellites can be beneficial to India in the long run. A more comprehensive analysis on the deal can be found here (PDF link). This paper by Sumit Ganguly and Dinshaw Mistry makes a rather convincing case for the deal.

Finally, the Hyde Act, which has been much-maligned by the Left requires, as I said in an earlier post, that US foreign policy be directed to securing India's cooperation to actions against Iran and in securing its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative. However, a detailed examination of the said law reveals that the Hyde Act merely requires that the US Government "encourage" India to take the above steps and cannot, in any way, force India's hand in the matter. India has already made it clear that it does not share the US hurry in action against Iran. There is no way the US can force the Indian government to do something that would harm the political, military or economic interests of the country. The Left parties in India seem to be stuck in the Cold War-era of America-bashing. What they don't seem to understand is the fact that the world is increasingly unipolar, and that India cannot afford to miss the nuclear bus when it still has the chance. The nuclear deal must go through. With or without the Left's approval.

8 comments:

The Minking Than said...

The situation is a good example of when a party's interests grows bigger than the interests of the whole nation. Energy crisis is the biggest of the future crises that we are going to face as a country and there is no way, known as of now, other than nuclear energy to get us out of it. And we don't have the required Uranium capacity in India. I can't see how people could be so blind.

noolo said...

India dont have to lie at America's feet for fuel. If they dont supply fuel, there is that Iran-pakistan-India pipeline project is'nt. Also, what is the wrong with congress and manmohan singh as this deal dont have majority in Indian Parliament. America is not going to sign the deal if their congress dont agree to the 123 agreement. So why should we go along with the deal if our parliament is apprehensive about it. I can understand communist parties rejecting the deal bluntly, but what is the problem with BJP opposing the deal ? SO, it is clear that something in this deal is a cause of itch for India. Another big conundrum is why is America so concerned about future of Indian people ? It is an universal fact that whenever America begins to concern about a country, their future is marked for depletion. we see such examples around the world.

Amrutha said...

Minking than: Yes, exactly. The sooner we realise that, the better. In India, we have virtually no Uranium. To develop indigenous technology using thorium we need some uranium. The only way to obtain that, is by signing the deal. It will open the NSG's gates to India.

Noolo: There are several problems with your arguments.

1) The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project is still in its conceptual stages. There is no forward movement on the issue. Also, the political instability in Iran and Pakistan cannot be overstated. Not to mention that the proposed pipeline passes through areas with a strong Taliban presence. If the Taliban decides to attack India, the first target would be the pipeline, thereby blocking India's energy supply. We will be in trouble then. Very grave trouble.

2) The pipeline project is a gas pipeline. The whole point of pushing the deal through is to cut emissions by using nuclear energy as an alternative. There will be uclear energy as long as there is uranium. And there is a lot of uranium. The current technology is fission-based. It is only a matter of time before it becomes fusion-based. So, as long as there is hydrogen, there will be energy. Even if it takes us 100 years to reach that stage. Gas is not going to last long. Let's face it.

3)The fact that Manmohan Singh is in minority does not make him wrong. If the parliament is against it, let them vote it out when it comes to parliament. Nobody is denying the parliament's function as the supreme law-making authority of India.As regards the BJP, they are in opposition. If they came to power now, they would push the deal through with minor modifications and claim credit for it. This is just politics. Nothing else.

4) Did you even read my post? America is not signing the deal because it loves India. It is doing so because it needs a balance to China's weight in the region. The deal must go through. For India to progress.

Ms Cris said...

Ah things are a lot clearer now! I was trying to figure out why the Left was so opposed to the idea as to pull out its support on going to the IAEA.

Could you do the single-window education system thats been having a lot of talk in Kerala recently? I couldn't get a clear picture on what exactly is a single window system and Google searches didnt help me either.

I wish I met you before I went to write my journalism exams! Even better, I wish I could pack you in my bag when I go to write it!

Nita said...

This nuclear deal topic upsets me a lot. I don't think I will be able to bear it if we lose the deal! That is why I have sort of convinced myself that it is going to happen! As for the Left, I think they are playing to the gallery, their uneducated voters who need false rhetoric.

Amrutha said...

Ms Cris: I am glad to be of some help. As far as the single window system is concerned, I need to do some research before I can write. Maybe in a few days?

Nita: Oh absolutely! I know how you feel.

RK said...

Good post. You can not utter "reason" and "the left parties" in the same sentence because the left parties never listen to reason as they are still stuck in the Cold-war era mentality. They are more interested in protecting China's interests than they are in protecting India's interests. I have never once seen any of them raising their voice against the Chinese Army incursions into Indian territory. I have never once seen them condemn the Chinese for supplying the nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan. Here they are now propagting lies and myths - just what we expect from them.

kaushik said...

The BJP can support it. They are just opposing because they are in the opposition. In greater interests of the nation, it will be great if BJP/NDA supports the deal. I am sure they would have pushed for it had they been in power.

Unfortunately, it is all about being in power.

I am surprised by the new Muslim vote angle that the BSP and the SP are fighting about. Half of UP is uneducated to understand the nuances of the deal, and Behen ji is making a statement that the muslims of UP are opposed to the deal.

Congress, too lacks the guts to forfeit power for the next 5 years in trade off for a better future for the country.

Short term gains being preferred over long term losses. Unfortunately, that's how governments works here :(