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Why Condoleezza Rice is right

By K Subrahmanyam
April 13, 2006 17:37 IST
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has put up a very persuasive case on the Indo-US nuclear deal before the Senate Foreign Relations committee as well as the House International Relations Committee of US Congress. She accepts that the Nonproliferation Treaty continues to remain as a cornerstone of US policy but more broader than the treaty is the nonproliferation regime.

By implication, she points out that members of the treaty have violated its provisions while India, a nuclear weapons state outside the treaty has abided by the spirit and letter of the nonproliferation regime. While members of the treaty like North Korea and Iran have circumvented the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, India is offering to put its civilian reactors under safeguards. She has argued strongly in favour of taking into account the present day realities which are irreversible. She points out that India would never accept giving up its weapons or capping its arsenal in the light of the regional situation which involves China and Pakistan.

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Given this situational imperative, what was good for the United States? An India outside the Nonproliferation regime or one within the regime? An India growing at 8 percent annual growth rate burning up more hydro-carbons adding to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or a country using more clean nuclear power?

If Indo-US partnership is to flourish the nuclear deal must go through. These are very powerful arguments and they seem to have persuaded senior Democratic Senators like Joe Biden and John Kerry to consider voting in favour of the deal.

The Secretary of State made it clear that there can be no valid comparison between democratic India with its open society and rule of law and countries like Iran and North Korea which are not democratic, open and law abiding, having broken their international obligations under the NPT.

While the US Administration and a large number of Senators and Congressmen make this clear distinction, nuclear fundamentalists refuse to make this distinction and argue that what applies as an exception to India may apply to others as well irrespective of the nature of the regime, its past record and its security situation.

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Dr Condolezza Rice is already on record: 'Our experience of this new world leads us to conclude that the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power.'

She has also pointed out that 'the nuclear balance in the region is a function of the political and military situation in the region. We are far more likely to be able to influence these regional dynamics from a position of strong relations with India and indeed with Pakistan'. What she left unsaid, but could easily be inferred, are that US has very strong commercial, investment and technological relations with nuclear China, and a special enacted relationship with Pakistan to ensure its development as a moderate Islamic state. Its enhancement of relationship with India will depend on undoing India's isolation from the international nonproliferation regime.

This eminent pragmatism of the US administration faces strong opposition from NPT-Cold War fundamentalists. The NPT was conceived during the height of Cold War. Its basic aim was to prohibit Germany and Japan from getting nuclear weapons. At that stage there were risks of proliferation from the following sources.

  • Countries outside alliance systems which felt threatened -- Sweden,South Korea and Taiwan. These three countries got implicit and explicit security guarantees and therefore did not go ahead with nuclear weapon programmes. The NATO nations became crypto-nuclear weapon powers, with nuclear weapons stationed on their soil and their troops trained on use of n-weapons, all at no cost to themselves.
  • Countries which went nuclear for domestic reasons – South Africa which wanted to perpetuate apartheid at home and deter military pressure from neighbouring black countries. The white minority regime gave up the weapons to prevent the succeeding majority black regime from inheriting the arsenal.
  • Countries which sought nuclear weapons for prestige -- Argentina and Brazil. They gave up the weapons programme when they found that the mystique of nuclear weapons was declining.
  • Countries which had the Soviet Union's weapons on their soil but could not use them as they did not have the codes and technology -- Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus which also did not face any external threat.
  • States which sought nuclear weapons to sustain the fundamentalist character of this system. In this category are Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya. The last has given up the ambition. Pakistan is a full-fledged nuclear state. North Korea is believed to have some weapons. Iran is striving hard to develop that capability. All these programmes had connections with China.

The NPT was successfully breached by China and, with its help, by Pakistan.

The Indian nuclear programme was a response to Maoist Chinese nuclear expansionism as implemented by Mao's successors. India tried in 1967 to secure assurances from the US, USSR and the UK.Only after it failed to get such asssurances did India go in for its own weapons programme. In 1978 Morarji Desai renounced the nuclear option. But the China-Pakistan nuclear proliferation axis compelled India to resume its weapons programme.

The NPT fundamentalists were not prepared to question the two major breaches of the treaty. First by China which proliferated to Pakistan and then to Iran and Libya. Secondly they were silent on proliferation from Western European countries, whose companies supplied equipment and technology to Pakistan, South Africa, Iraq and through A Q Khan to Iran.

They adopt the attitude that there is no point in reopening the past and since Western Europe has tightened its controls, it is no longer an issue. But they are not willing to accept that India's nuclear weapon status is irreversible and is part of its irrevocable past.

What the US administation is now proposing is not to accept India as a nuclear weapons state but only to help its civil nuclear energy programme after isolating and islanding its weapons programme. The NPT fundamentalists rewarded the arch proliferator, China, when Beijing was able to get access to civil nuclear reactors. India has not violated the NPT since it was not a party to it. Therefore there was no question of unfairly rewarding India.

It's for US to take Indo-US nuke deal forward: PM

In a totally new situation in which there are risks of extremist states like Pakistan, North Korea and Iran having access to nuclear weapons, their falling into the hands of non-state actors and no credible evidence of China having stopped its proliferation, the other four nuclear powers (US, Russia, UK and France) and the IAEA are reaching a deal with India for its joining the Nonproliferation regime in exchange for access to civil nuclear energy.

Thereby India will be reinforcing the non-proliferation regime in the world, reduce pressure on demand for oil in the international market, avoid enhancing the emission of greenhouse gases and contribute to further research on civil nuclear energy. The US administration deserves full credit for its pragmatism and moral courage to face up to NPT fundamentalists and their antediluvian arguments.

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

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K Subrahmanyam