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Who opposes the nuclear deal?

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Last updated on: April 24, 2006 10:29 IST
The draft agreement between India and the United States for co-operation in civil nuclear technology is a path-breaking event which could lead to a major shift in the global balance. Once concluded, it will signify that the Cold War estrangement between the two countries has finally ended.

The US Congress has the historic opportunity to bury the past and look to the future Indo-US partnership. Much has been written about the deal from an economic, environmental and trade point of view. Here is an attempt to see the deal in a historical and global strategic context.

While in India the two main political parties are in favour of this policy, there has been some opposition in the US. The opponents of the Indo-US nuke deal can be classified under three distinct categories.

The first and the foremost are the Non Proliferation 'Ayatollahs' or the 'purists' who worry about the effect of this on Non-Proliferation Treaty and on countries like N Korea and Iran, neo-aspirants to nuclear weapons.

The second group of opponents are the old Cold Warriors in bureaucracy, think tanks and political parties, who do not trust India, are concerned about the effect on Pakistan and are worried about their old anti-India positions and fears becoming irrelevant.

The third group comprises 'pragmatists' who see the agreement as a give-away to India and advocate tough bargaining and conditionality. They feel that the US could get India as a partner without these 'concessions'. The pro-China lobby sees in this a tilt.

Weakening the NPT Argument: The 'purists' among this group misrepresent the NPT. The treaty is not about stopping proliferation or disarmament but is essentially a device to 'freeze' the world nuclear power balance as it existed in 1968. It is very similar to the structure of the UN Security Council, where the world balance of 1945 is sought to be frozen for eternity. Is it a mere co-incidence that the five permanent and veto wielding nations of the Security Council are also the five 'recognised' nuclear weapon powers under the NPT?

'N-deal doesn't help anyone'

The fact that under the NPT regime vertical proliferation has continued unabated gives the game away. Even the post-1992 charade of 'reduction' in nuclear weapons by the US and Russia is an eye-wash. All that has happened is that the 'surplus' nukes after the end of NATO-Warsaw confrontation in Europe have been decommissioned. The feigned morality displayed by the supporters of no-changers in NPT is fake.

But 2006 is not 1945, and the world has changed dramatically since those days. The idea of a static power balance is itself historically untenable. If this was true then half the world ought to have been still under the Roman Empire. The problem about the NPT and even the UN is that unfortunately there is no 'exit policy' for the 'have-been' great powers. What the Indo-US nuclear deal does is merely recognize the new reality.

Do the opponents of this treaty seriously believe that they can 'cap, roll back and eliminate' Indian nuclear weapons?

What the non proliferation Ayatollah's are essentially arguing is that India should continue to be 'punished' for not having signed the NPT. How that is going to stop the Indian nuclear weapons programme is a question that is left unanswered.

The argument that concessions to India will have a domino effect on other nuclear weapons aspirants is as false as was the original domino theory that plunged the US into an unnecessary war in Vietnam.

Even the case of the Indian subcontinent (India and Pakistan) is wrongly interpreted. Z A Bhutto, late Pakistani prime minister, began his nuclear weapons programme in 1971, three years before Indian nuclear test of 1974. ('Pakistanis will eat grass but have nuclear weapons', from If I am Assassinated, Biswin Sadi Publishers, 1979).

But while India tested a nuclear device in May 1974, it was not until 1983-84 that Pakistan is likely to have obtained one. Recent revelations in have shown how it was the Americans who bailed out the notorious A Q Khan -- this on the authority of no less a person than the ex-PM of Holland!

The N-deal is not justified

Pakistani nuclear capability was possibly created by the US by proxy. Chinese designs have been found in Libya, where they reached via Pakistan. Pakistan's nuclear capability is a result of American and Chinese actions during the Afghan and Cold War and not a knee-jerk reaction to Indian actions. To think that Indian actions will have an effect on Iran or North Korea is not logical.

Ultimately, as pointed out repeatedly by India, the NPT only addresses the 'supply' side of the nuclear question. The nuclear weapon nations have failed to take any worthwhile action on the 'demand' of the nuclear question.

India has already taken steps in this direction by pledging 'No First Use'. A universal pledge on the same lines will go a long way in curbing the demand for nuclear weapons among nations like Iran or North Korea which feel threatened.

The Indo-US nuclear agreement whereby India voluntarily joins in the nuclear safeguards and export restrictions of the NPT regime is a net gain for everyone. While it may not adhere precisely to the letter of the NPT, it is certainly in line with the spirit of the treaty.

But purists like the nuclear ayatollahs seem more concerned with the letter.

Some non-proliferationists have also been hurling charges of cheating, theft etc at the Indian nuclear establishment. It should interest them to know that the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research began work in the area of nuclear energy even before independence, in 1945. Nuclear science and photonics owes its existence to Indian scientists like CV Raman and Satyen Bose.

Going back in time, the science of mathematics, algebra, astronomy and even surgery owe a debt to Indians. Western science has progressed standing on the shoulders of ancient Indian thinkers and scientists. The churlish accusation of theft of intellectual property etc betray an uneducated mind.

N-deal should deal with non-proliferation: EU

Legacy of Mistrust and Cold Warriors:  Historical circumstances combined to give India a raw deal at the end of Second World War. At the Tehran Conference in 1943, when the contours of future world organisations were finalised, an American diplomat dismissed India's claim to Security Council seat on the grounds that India had yet to win its York Town (the 1781 battle that sealed the fate of the British and is regarded as the decisive battle in the American war of independence)! The diplomat failed to realise that York Town was not an American victory alone, because the French played a major role in it.

But with Imperialist Churchill at the helm of affairs, India's case went unrepresented. This despite the fact that over two and a half million Indians fought in the Second World War. Indians won more Victoria Crosses and George Crosses than even the British.

Indian claims to the high table were ignored unfairly as the British never forgave Indians for ending their empire. A taste of it came recently when the British media came out strongly against the Indo-US nuclear deal. American Congress would be well advised to ignore the unsolicited advice of our (and their) former colonial masters.

I have been dealing with American diplomats and think tanks for the last 15 years and one feels that the stale smell of Cold War mindset still lingers on in the corridors of Foggy Bottom [as State Department is referred to] or think tanks like yesterday's pizza lunch.

The situation is similar in South Block, home to Indian foreign ministry where the smell lingering is of the Non-Alignment era.

Since the 1970s, the US did everything to thwart Indian progress in the nuclear field. The death of Dr Homi Bhabha in plane crash in January 1966 is still a mystery. Once India embarked on the construction of heavywater-based reactors, the equipment for this suddenly dried up. Exchange towers meant for the Talcher plant suddenly fell off the ship off the Portuguese coast. The plant faced prolonged labour trouble. The Baroda plant was destroyed in an explosion.

The nadir was reached in the 1980s when the US came out strongly in favour of the Punjab separatists. To cover the tracks of those activities, it probably scuttled the trial of the Kanishka bombers till as recently as last year.

Even during President Clinton's first term, every time India seemed to get a grip over the situation in Kashmir, Ms Madeleine Albright ensured that the morale of the separatists was kept up.

The US has its own share of misgivings. Throughout the Cold War India sided with the Soviet Union and kept quiet even when the Soviets brutally squashed the Hungarian revolt of 1956, the Czechoslovakian uprising of 1967 and was chary of condemning the Afghan invasion of 1979. In fact, till as late as 1979, the NATO military exercises routinely counted the Indian armed forces as part of the enemy camp.

'India giving up more, gaining less from N-deal'

Career diplomats and think tank specialists made a living out of India-bashing during the Cold War. A constant theme of the argument was the equating of India and Pakistan.

The nuclear deal decisively puts an end to that charade. But old habits and written words do not die easily. The opposition to the deal is more due to the fear of losing funding and damaged careers rather than any logical reasoning.

Some of the 'specialists' have now taken to conjuring up demons in the rise of Indian nationalism. Even Samuel Huntington in one of his essays post the Clash of Civilisations theory mentions the fact that India's Bollywood continues to out-produce Hollywood in terms of the number of movies per year, and wonders why American soft power has left India untouched.

But Huntington and the think tanks have forgotten another Indian threat: the spread of yoga! Though to American credit, even Time magazine appropriated yoga, and some Western practitioners have even gone to the extent of patenting it. But surely if Bollywood and yoga conquer the US, the effect could only be beneficial to a society that is violent and obese! Both could do with some tearjerkers from Bollywood and the slimming actions of yoga!

Complete coverage: The Bush visit | Chats | The nuclear deal

Col (retd) Anil Athale