US-India Nuclear Deal Reviewed

The United States-India Nuclear Deal formed a critical component of the comprehensive cluster of agreements signed in Washington on July 18, 2006 between President Bush and the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh under the overarching appellation of United States-India Strategic Partnership. By the very nature of the subject, the US-India Nuclear Deal captured more prominence, focus and political attention in both countries.

It would be fair to record that in signing the US-India Nuclear Deal, both nations were following their own national agendas and if the deal was arrived at, it would have had to be at a certain level of give and take by both sides. The United States was pursuing its non-proliferation agenda intent on bringing in some measure of international oversight over India's extensive nuclear programme. India was keen to get United States aboard as a backer for its quest for its extensive civilian nuclear power generation plans which required international inputs of long awaited fuel for its existing reactor, nuclear power plants and technology over which one could say that the United States had a virtual veto power.

The deal was made possible by the United States conceding the right to India of deciding the separation plans of its civilian and military nuclear facilities. India's designated military nuclear facilities were to be outside the purview of international inspections. In return India had to concede international oversight of its designated civilian nuclear facilities. These could be said to be the broad parameters of the deal.

Reviewing the progress on the finalization of the deal which is yet to take place, after a year, the following observations can be made:

  • In India the initial expectations went sky-high as a result of an official and media hype. It was being hoped that the United States would be able to push the deal through the US Congress and a finalized deal would be presented by President Bush during his visit to India in March 2006.

  • Within weeks, when discussions began between both sides differences began to emerge in the interpretation of the details.

  • In India the first salvo was fired by the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and rightly so because it seemed that the Prime Minister's Office bureaucracy was outpacing the strategic advice of India's nuclear scientists establishment.

  • In USA, the non-proliferation lobbies abounding in Washington's think-tanks and known as the 'Non-Proliferation Ayatollahs' launched a sustained move to arouse fears and misgivings on the Capitol Hill where the deal had to be ultimately passed to make a one-time exception for India.

The position after a year is that in the United States the deal has been passed through two major steps including the House with overwhelming majorities. The next step will be the Senate where too it is hoped that it would meet with success and thereafter the Presidential assent. All this is to be in parallel to the Nuclear Suppliers Group also concurring.

Strangely enough the deal seems to be running into rough weather in India presently. The Leftists with their traditional hostility to the United States were in any case expected to strongly oppose the deal. However what is surprising is that India's main Opposition Party along with others are now vociferous in opposing the deal protesting that the Congress Government has sold out India's strategic nuclear autonomy to the United States. For a change the Indian Prime Minister is displaying some steely determination to the Leftists plans to derail the deal on ideological grounds. One wonders whether the Leftists would have displayed the same opposition if a similar deal was being signed by India with China?

What is important to understand on all sides is that the broad parameters of the deal are not in question and as far as the differences in details or the add-ons being by attached by the US Congress these can be negotiated or scrutinized whether those stipulations are binding or non-binding ones. In case of the latter they do not constitute a reason of strategic concern. The Indian Prime Minister is on record that nothing beyond what was agreed on July 18, 2005 would be accepted.

The major processing of the deal had to take place in the United States and if there it has reached the penultimate round all credit goes to the personal commitment to the deal of President Bush and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her team who had to get past some very determined opposition.

One also cannot fail to pay tribute to the tremendous lobbying by the large number of Indian-American community organizations and individuals who out of personal commitment went in a sustained fashion to get the deal passed up to the stage that it presently stands. One is confident that they will get it past the final round too. 


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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