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A capitulation of national sovereignty

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Last updated on: June 29, 2006 15:38 IST

The final draft of the civil nuclear cooperation bill introduced in US Congress -- passed overwhelmingly by the House International Relations Committee on Tuesday -- in the nature of enabling legislation for the Indo-US nuclear deal, signifies an unprecedented capitulation of India's national interests and national sovereignty by any government in power in New Delhi at anytime since the country's independence six decades ago.

The faceless, nameless spin doctors of the Indian government have already begun whispering that the US legislation is not 'binding' on the United Progressive Alliance government and that as far as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is concerned, he will only stick to what he signed with US President George W Bush last July. Why can't they say this much openly?Perhaps, Manmohan Singh might like to check with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when he goes to Moscow for the G-8 summit meeting on July 15 as to what has been their experience vis-à-vis Washington in terms of the implications of US Congressional legislation.

Putin will explain patiently that the US Congress is yet to lift the bans on trade with Russia, which were legislated during the Cold War era. Actually, the stumbling block in Russia's membership of the World Trade Organisation happens to be the US Congress's insistence that it shall have a say in the matter. And, the US Congress seems pretty much annoyed that Putin's Russia is increasingly playing an effective role in world politics. From the annals of Cold War history, it is abundantly clear that the US Congress invariably acted as a vital instrument of US foreign policy.

In fact, US Congress's role in the formalisation of the Indo-US nuclear deal draws attention to the weaknesses of the Indian legislative system. The fact remains that India must be one of the very few democracies, where the parliament of elected representatives plays no significant role in the country's foreign relations. For South Block, members of Parliament are like ornamental flowers that do not even require watering -- an occasional dusting up would do.

It was utterly fascinating to read the draft bill in the US Congress over the nuclear deal with India. Not only now, but for all time to come, US Congress would expect the President of the United States to report on an annual basis 'an estimate for the previous year of the amount of uranium mined in India' so that Congress could determine whether India was excessively indulging in the production of nuclear weapons! The bill says this information could be 'in a classified form if necessary.'

Just think of the plight of our parliamentarians. Neither are they entitled to have any access to 'classified information' in South Block nor are they needed to endorse any agreements with foreign countries, such as the nuclear deal with the US. South Block doesn't need their advice or opinion. It knows best how foreign policy must run its course through sequestered corridors.

Consider this for a moment. We see off our respected prime minister embarking on an official visit to the US. He comes back to us after a few days with an agreement he signed with the US president. We are astonished. Then he proceeds to tell us that what he has done is in our country's 'enlightened national interest' -- and that we should move on with the million drudgeries of our daily life rather than racking our brains over such sophisticated issues such as the nuclear deal. He assures us that the nation's interests are utterly safe in his hands.

Yet, there is a great contradiction in what the prime minister told us about the nuclear deal. According to him, the deal was about nuclear energy that would go a long way in safeguarding India's energy security. On the other hand, the draft bill in the US Congress does not even make a peripheral reference to India's energy security.

The draft bill is all about Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- about 'sustaining' and 'strengthening' NPT's implementation, which is a 'keystone' of the United States' non-proliferation policy; about meeting a 'potential challenge' posed by 'countries that have never become a party to the NPT' (India, Pakistan, Israel); and about seeking a 'halt' in the production of nuclear weapons in India, and the 'reduction and eventual elimination' of nuclear weapons from the South Asian region.

Thus, the bill spells out that the US policies should aim at seeking a unilateral moratorium by India on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons within a specific timeframe regardless of the progress of negotiations under way for a multilateral treaty or any multilateral moratorium.

The bill envisages that the US President is expected to report to Congress annually the rate of production of fissile materials in India for nuclear weapons, and provide an analysis whether the imported uranium (that would be allowed under the nuclear deal) would effectively augment India's capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

Again, it demands that India should enter into an agreement requiring the application of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards in perpetuity; India should be 'working with and supporting' the US initiatives on issues of enrichment and reprocessing technology; India should maintain 'unilateral adherence' to the policies and practices of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Supply Group; India should fully participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative, and conform with the policies of the Australia Group and the stipulations of the Wassennaar Arrangement.

In other words, the US legislation anticipates that on the one hand our civilian nuclear facilities are to be brought under strict IAEA safeguards in perpetuity, while on the other hand our ability to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons will be capped within a stipulated timeframe. The processes run almost on parallel tracks -- seemingly separate but interlocking in reality.

What is completely incomprehensible is the draft bill's stipulations regarding India's foreign policy. The bill says the US expects India's 'full and active participation' in the American stance on the Iran nuclear issue, including Washington's efforts to 'dissuade, isolate, and if necessary, sanction and contain Iran.'

The UPA government owes a logical explanation to the country how it views this American diktat. Specifically, the country would like to know what happens if against the will of the international community or without any mandate from the United Nations, the US and a few of its close allies resort to sanctions against Iran, or worse still, if the US resorts to a military attack against Iran?

In such an eventuality (which is highly probable), will India become part of the American 'efforts' against Iran? The point is that the US draft bill treads on areas of India's foreign policy that have nothing to do with our energy security or even our nuclear deterrent.

The mumbo-jumbo of the Indian position on the Iran nuclear issue in recent months is getting exposed here. It is already evident that Indian statements are progressively downplaying Iran's 'rights' under the NPT, while stressing Iran's 'commitments.' The Indian statement at the last IAEA meeting at Vienna on June 15 was even reluctant to use the word 'rights'. Instead it nervously spoke of Iran's 'concerns'. And all this when there is a growing realisation in the international community that Iran's right to a nuclear cycle in some form might have to be conceded.

But, more pertinently for the Indian discourses, is it possible for the Congress party leadership to seek cover any longer pleading that India's foreign policy should not be 'communalised?' This is not about 'communalising,' simply because Iran happens to be a Muslim country -- and the Congress party has a problem with the Muslim electorate. A matter of principle of far-reaching importance is involved here. It involves the surrender of India's sovereign right (and political will) to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Furthermore, it lowers India's standing in world opinion to be seen as a client state of the United States. In the entire Islamic world in particular, India will be perceived as an unprincipled, opportunistic country. Friendly countries like Egypt and Indonesia have already voiced disquiet over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The US legislation is bound to become a serious negative factor in India's relations with Iran for years to come.

Of course, the influential Jewish lobby in the United States will be greatly pleased with the shift in India's traditional policy of maintaining close, friendly ties with Iran. According to reports, Indian diplomats have been assiduously courting the pro-Israel neo-conservative opinion makers in the US and the powerful American Jewish lobby to lend a hand in ensuring that the legislation in US Congress over the nuclear deal passes through without any major hiccups.

M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat

M K Bhadrakumar

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