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Nuclear Notions: Critics of Indo-US N-deal Miss the Larger Picture
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
The Indo-US nuclear deal won a vote in the US Congress and in the Senate. In India the deal has attracted fierce criticism from major opposition parties. When parliament session starts this month the criticism is likely to mount. That is understandable. Politicians have to do their jobs. Those in opposition and not any longer in government must justify their existence. But the deal is also vehemently criticized by a section of the media and by several security experts. Their criticism rests broadly on two arguments. First, the deal to enhance nuclear energy will in fact curtail India's nuclear defence. Secondly, closer interaction with the US which the deal brings about will compromise national independence and make India a client state of the US.
Indian defence experts claim that the n-deal will cap our nuclear capability. Opposed to this US critics fear the deal will enable India to enhance its nuclear weapons programme. US criticism rests on two assumptions: First, that New Delhi actually wants the largest nuclear weapons system that its capacity and resources permit. Secondly, that India's nuclear defence programme was limited until now by a shortage of natural uranium. Both these assumptions have been challenged by Dr Ashley J. Tellis in a forthcoming book, Atoms for War? ' US-Indian Civilian Nuclear Co-operation and India's Nuclear Arsenal. Dr Tellis is a former US State Department adviser and presently a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
His findings reveal that India at present is separating annually far less weapons grade plutonium, on which it relies for its nuclear programme, than its production capability. He has used this evidence to allay misgivings over the deal among US critics who fear that India would misuse nuclear uranium to maximize its nuclear stockpile on the basis of available material. He has also pointed out that India's capacity to produce a huge nuclear arsenal is not affected by the proposed Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation. According to him India already has sufficient reserves of natural uranium necessary for the largest possible nuclear arsenal it may desire.
Therefore the Indo-US nuclear deal will not significantly help or mar New Delhi's strategic capability either directly or by allowing diversion of its internal resources to enhance nuclear stockpiling. India's current shortage of natural uranium, he points out, is caused by glitches in its mining and milling operations. It is a temporary problem that is already being addressed by the Indian government. The arguments advanced by Dr Tellis are intended for US critics of the deal in order to dispel their concern. But are they not equally relevant for Indian critics who fear that our nuclear defence capability will be capped by a deal related to peaceful nuclear energy?
Only experts can decide whether it is Dr Tellis who is right or the Indian critics. I am not qualified to judge. But what can be said is that Indian critics are missing out on the big picture of India's nuclear policy. It is all very well trotting out facts and figures to argue that India's future nuclear weapons programme can be jeopardized this way or that. The question to ask is: what is India's future nuclear weapons programme? The short answer is that all we need is a nuclear deterrent to dissuade attack by an enemy state. The development of nuclear weapons for the future cannot therefore be a permanent ongoing process. In essence, what is needed is a perspective on global nuclear prospects.
Immediately after the Pokhran-II test I wrote an article in The Times of India. The article made two points. First, it was necessary for India to immediately attempt getting Pakistan and Israel on board as threshold nuclear weapons states, and to formulate with them a common approach on nuclear policy. That would have required the presence equally of all three nations in recognized international forums related to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safeguards. India should and could have lobbied hard for that. It was painfully clear that Pakistan needed to be discouraged from becoming a rival nuclear power on the subcontinent, leading to creation of a dangerous situation open to exploitation by any big power. Instead, the NDA government, through Mr LK Advani's rhetoric, brandished its recently acquired nuclear status in the context of the Kashmir dispute. According to official Pakistan government statements, Mr. Advani's bellicosity was the prime factor in pushing Pakistan to early exploding of its own nuclear bomb.
The second point made in that article was that India's acquisition of the bomb was essential for one reason. It was only after making the bomb that India acquired the power to renounce it. Rajiv Gandhi's laudable efforts for global nuclear disarmament failed not because they emanated from a developing nation. They failed because they lacked credibility and moral force, since India as a have-not made little impact on the nuclear haves. Today, India is much better positioned to achieve Rajiv Gandhi's nuclear disarmament goal. As a recognized nuclear power it can initiate and pursue nuclear disarmament with much greater credibility.
Rajiv Gandhi's approach to nuclear disarmament reflected a national consensus. It was a policy which drew sustenance from India's past, and which reflected India's declared vision of a future world order. One trusts that policy is still backed by a national consensus. If so, should not our experts focus on a nuclear deterrent for the immediate and on a disarmament strategy for the long term? If nuclear-related matters continue as at present, the world could any time be overtaken by a terrorist nuclear strike or by some nuclear accident. That would of course compel nations to address the nuclear disarmament issue. But does not wisdom lie in urgently addressing that issue before tragedy overtakes the world?
Finally, media critics and opposition parties have waxed eloquently on the danger of India degenerating into a client state of the US if the nuclear deal is clinched. One can understand the Left parties suffering from such paranoia. From inception the major Left parties survived and thrived on foreign support and direction. Those habitually looking up to foreigners are understandably infused with a deep inferiority complex. But what of the rest? If India and America get closer, why doesn't the possibility occur to Indians of India influencing America? China is far closer to America than India can hope to be in the foreseeable future. The US and China are bound together by almost unbreakable economic and commercial ties. Has China become a client state of America? India has nothing to fear except its own fear. The older generation never learnt this. The new generation will.
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