Indo-US deal: an analysis

Some interesting arguments from MG Akbar – different but very good take on the recent Indo-US Nuke Agreement!

Here, in sum, is what the spokesmen of Dr Manmohan Singh will be telling us as they take their message to the country:
— This agreement will permit India to produce fissile materials for its nuclear military needs, despite the fact that the recognised nuclear powers have halted, voluntarily, such production.

— The fast-breeder reactors, which can make super-grade plutonium when fully operational, will not be under international inspection or safeguards.

— India can now hope to make up to 50 nuclear weapons a year, for the availability of imported uranium frees local supplies for use in military reactors.

— India gets the latest technology long denied to its scientists.

Listen to the narrative on the American side, some of which has already begun to be articulated, even by the extremely sophisticated and persuasive American negotiator, Nicholas Burns:

— India enters the inspection regime, a far better situation than the zero-influence that existed so far. (It needs to be pointed out, of course, that India rose from drawing board to major nuclear power, without indulging in theft, only because of this zero-influence, a status that the Manmohan Singh government is in the process of bartering away.)

— The fast-breeder reactors that India possesses will be isolated, and unable to get new technology, thanks to the inspections regime, ensuring, over time, stagnation or decline. Implication: India has been sold a lemon thanks to a gullible government.

— The deal brings India into the American zone of influence, and turns it into a virtual ally with a potential for assistance in American strategic interests (that is code word for American intervention). India’s conventional arms programme now shifts dramatically into the supply chain of the American industrial-military complex. If the Indo-Soviet treaty kept India within the Soviet camp till the Soviet Union collapsed, then this agreement will keep India in the American parlour for the foreseeable future.

— There is a great bonanza to American industry of arms sales (this will be the most persuasive argument in the Senate, because the one thing a legislator does not want to be accused of is preventing jobs). The starting figure, according to Pentagon officials who admittedly have not dealt with Indian bureaucrats so far, is nine billion dollars. That is a lot of dollars. Keep counting, Senator!

— There is no political quid pro quo. The Soviet Union intervened when necessary to protect India’s position on issues like Jammu and Kashmir with a veto in the Security Council. America has given no such commitment. Indeed, Delhi’s leverage with Moscow is reduced with the shift in arms purchases. China will never support India over Pakistan in the Security Council and the West will have the pleasure of balancing Pakistan’s interests with India’s on issues like Kashmir.

With time, the narrative in Washington will doubtless take on other hues, since emerging questions will demand creative answers if the agreement is to be pushed through the Congress. Senator John Kerry publicly worried about fissile material during a visit to Delhi. Others are wondering whether such a reward for a nation that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not a signal for others to risk going nuclear. And then of course there is the weight of Pakistan’s pressure to which there may not be any immediate give, but which will make its play in the coming months. Pakistan remains a frontline state in Bush’s war on terror.

Such voices may not be consistent, or even necessarily logical, but they will demand to be heard. Some will pick up claims made in Delhi and ask the Bush administration for clarifications, as for instance on the delicate matter of how many nuclear weapons India is capable of making. If Pakistan is truly lucky, it will have the extraordinary good fortune of escaping the Bush embrace. The indications are that Bush will not offer the terms of the deal with India to Pakistan. What does this mean?

It means, first, that while India will sign a limiting commitment on its nuclear programme, Pakistan will sign nothing. Pakistan can, therefore, be held down to nothing. Bush is going to be in power for only another two years, and that as a terribly lame duck. His approval ratings are below freezing point, and his own party is distancing itself from him, raising the question as to whether he has the political capital to push anything through Congress.


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