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Indo-US Nuclear Deal:IMPACT ON DEFENCE STRATEGIES, by Col. P.K. Vasudeva (Retd.),28 May 2007 Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 28 May 2007 

Indo-US Nuclear Deal


By Col. P.K. Vasudeva (Retd.)

Confusion persists in certain quarters about the significance and implications pertaining to US-India Peaceful Nuclear Energy Act 2006. Some of the critics feel that the US assurance on supply of uranium fuel is deceptive and illusionary; the US certification on India's activities is uncalled for; India's nuclear installations will be perpetually under the US scanner; the US will scuttle India's defence strategies.

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement on July 18, 2005 and issued a joint statement laying the grounds for the resumption of full U.S. and international nuclear aid to India. The PM stated in Parliament said, the deal is offering recognition to India as a nuclear-weapon state, pointing out that the joint statement says India will have "the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States." More practically, they see it as a way to sustain and expand the nuclear energy program while not restricting the building of what they describe as a "minimum" nuclear weapons arsenal.  

International support was stopped after India's 1974 nuclear weapon test and sanctions imposed after the 1998 test. It was therefore important to India for developing its nuclear infrastructure and capabilities. India's subsequent refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has kept it largely outside the system of regulated transfer, trade, and monitoring of nuclear technology developed over the last three decades.

The July agreement requires the US to amend its own laws and policies on nuclear technology transfer and to work for changes in international controls on the supply of nuclear fuel and technology so as to allow "full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India", even though it has not signed NTP. In exchange, India would identify and separate civilian nuclear facilities and programmes from its nuclear weapons complex and volunteer these civilian facilities for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection and safeguarding. 

Policy analysts in the United States have debated the wisdom of the deal. The larger policy context of a long-standing effort to co-opt India as a U.S. client and so sustain and strengthen U.S. power, especially with regard to China, has gone unchallenged. There is also doubt as to how the agreement could allow India to expand its nuclear arsenal being a non NPT state.

The deal has incited a wider and more intense debate in India on questions of national security, sovereignty, development, and democracy. Some desire minimum constraints on increasing the future capacity of India's nuclear weapons complex, and produce maximum nuclear energy that can help meet India's energy needs. The Government has to deliberate to the issue whether India needs nuclear weapons at all. The efforts should also be to reduce the cost of the nuclear energy for civil uses.

 According to estimates, the cost of producing nuclear electricity in India is higher than the non-nuclear alternatives. Construction costs are high, and take long time, making the capital cost of a nuclear reactor very high when compared to coal-based thermal stations.   The generation of power on coal-based thermal stations may be cheaper but the high cost cannot be compromised with the type of pollution it emits.

The Indian atomic establishment appears to have overcome its initial reservations about the July 18 agreement; there is a broad consensus among the scientists. Under no circumstances should the agreement compromise India's technological independence in the nuclear field. According to them, India's own reserves of uranium as well as its indigenous reactor programme will enable it to produce at least 207 gigawatts of electricity by 2052, or around 15 per cent of the projected national requirement of 1350 GW. The country therefore, needs to preserve its independence in heavy water reactors, fast breeders, and accelerator driven systems. Thus, all experimental and research facilities should be kept off the civilian list for safeguards purposes, including the fast breeder reactor. 

Hastily, the US amended its Atomic Energy Act 1954 and incorporated in the Henry J. Hyde Act US-India Peaceful Nuclear Energy Act, 2006. Under this Act the US has entered into civil nuclear cooperation with India even when it is not a member of the NPT which was forbidden in the earlier Act for non NPT countries. 

This legislative amendment was crucial because the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of nations (including China and Russia) are waiting for the US to amend its law of technology denial to India before they would consider relaxing the procedures of the NSG to permit India to interact with other nations to receive nuclear technology, materials and equipment. While the US is bound by legislation, the other countries which joined the NSG have done so only on the basis of executive decisions.

It will then be open to India to obtain its nuclear technology, materials and equipment from any one of the NSG members and not necessarily from the US. China is obtaining its nuclear reactors from Canada, France, Germany and Russia without putting in the kind of conditionality which the US Congress tends to do. Therefore, if India does not purchase reactors, materials and technologies from the US, then, no American conditionality will apply to its purchases from other countries as they will be governed only by the bilateral agreements.

India now has to have a bilateral deal known as 123 Agreement to be negotiated and signed between Delhi and Washington. That is still under discussion.  Therefore, India has to watch carefully that the 123 Agreement does not have any clause that is not considered palatable.

The Government assured the Lok Sabha on May 16 that the 123 agreement in the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal was not in jeopardy and would be within the framework of the agreement reached between the two countries on July 18, 2005 and the separation plan of March 2, 2006.

In a bid to scotch speculation that the bilateral agreement might not conform completely to the parameters that were set by the two countries in July agreement and the separation plan, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the 123 agreement would conform to the commitment made by the Prime Minister in the Parliament. So far there have been four rounds of talks and with the visit of Nicholas Burns in the end of May it will be the last round of finalization of the agreement as the majority of the issues have already been sorted out.

The critics who outrightly reject the deal on various grounds have an exaggerated view of the US power and a very poor opinion of India's status, role and bargaining power in the world. They do not have an adequate appreciation that a developing country like India has to advance to the frontline status in the comity of powers in stages and through advantageous partnerships with other nations. Patience, skilful diplomatic manoeuvres, recognising and exploiting opportunities, not alienating other powers unnecessarily and enhancing continuously one's own bargaining leverage constitute successful real politik. Once the two sides are able to eventually clinch the 123 bilateral agreements as hoped by both Bush and Dr. Singh, it will feed a trust, security and stability. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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