Dealing With the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, October 3, 2008

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Activists shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi against the Indo-US nuclear deal. (Photo: Reuters)

India received a strange and darkly significant gift on a once-sacred day of its annual calendar. In the early morning of October 2, marking the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi of hallowed memory, the nation heard the news about the victory for the US-India nuclear deal in Washington.

We can leave it for historians to answer the deeper and larger question arising from this dramatic irony: how did the India of a nonviolent, anticolonial struggle end up as a nuclear-weapon state proudly entering into a pact of strategic partnership with a neocolonial superpower? We will deal here with a simpler question.

How did the deal come to be done, and with little difficulty? How did this happen despite presumed opposition to it from many quarters and predictions of its defeat at several stages? The answer may help us face and fight the after-effects better than the deal struck originally between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Capitol Hill on July 18, 2005.

When the two leaders uttered the D word, the deal seemed an indefinite distance away. Opponents and independent observers of the move assumed the obstacles were too many to overcome easily. The chief obstacle was deemed to be democracy in both countries. The presumption has proven premature.

Bipartisan backing for the deal was considered extremely unlikely. The hurdle of political opposition in the USA did not even stop the first stage of the process – the Henry J. Hyde US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of December 2006, passed as enabling legislation for a bilateral agreement. Such an accord, the 123 Agreement as it is called, was signed in July 2007, just about two years after the Bush-Singh brainwave, despite the many differences that media depicted as almost unbridgeable.

Bipartisan support, of a hidden kind, helped Singh at home too. The main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party, which in its term of power had set India on the path of strategic partnership with the US, had no basic objection to the Bush-Singh advance upon the idea. The objective took precedence over all else for the main political players in both countries. Little wonder, the Singh government won a trust vote in Parliament on July 22, 2008, on the deal without any difficulty that the numbers seemed to denote initially.

The next stage where the deal was expected to be stalled also proved smooth. On August 1, 2008. the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved the deal. India’s earlier votes against Iran in the IAEA were not the only reason, with more Iran-friendly states also helping to facilitate the deal. It was expected to meet its nemesis at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). On September 8, 2008, however, the Bush administration succeeded in bullying and cajoling the NSG into a consensus in the deal’s favor.

The peace movement in India and the world campaigned against the deal all through, with indisputable persistence and determination. If the campaign still failed, the main cause should not be far to seek. It fought the deal, above all, as a dire threat to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and sought to undo the deal through an appeal to pro-NPT states. Founded on a false hope, perhaps, the campaign was bound to fail.

The illusions entertained about the NPT never really helped the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in India or elsewhere. The discriminatory and hypocritical treaty, which allows five nuclear powers to preserve formidable arsenals and prescribes nuclear abstinence for the rest of the world, does not deserve any credit for any decrease in the global stock of these weapons due to other factors. The much-hyped Article VI of the treaty – a polite plea to the P5 to proceed towards nuclear disarmament “in good faith” – does not detract from the global terror posed by the self-appointed guardians of non-proliferation.

Not only in the US of Bush, but also its allies swearing uncompromising commitment to the non-proliferation cause have lent powerful support to the pact for the sake of larger strategic and corporate interests.

Prominent sections of the peace movement have proceeded on the assumption that the NPT represents the strongest weapon in its hands. Experience, however, makes it eminently clear that the treaty, in fact, places the strongest weapon in the hands of nuclear hawks in nations like India. They have only to turn to their people and tell them of patent discrimination in the NPT’s provisions to peddle their nuclear-weapons programs.

Sections of the peace movement in India and elsewhere have also played into the hands of these hawks by stressing the issue of sovereignty while talking of the NPT and the deal. The absurd argument that national sovereignty can be asserted by producing nuclear weapons cannot defeat either devotees of the treaty or advocates of the deal. It is egregiously erroneous to see the deal as damaging to the NPT or “the current world non-proliferation regime” as it is incorrectly described. The deal, on the contrary, must be viewed as one of the results of the faith placed in a fundamentally flawed and false treaty.

There is increasing recognition in the world peace movement of the need to replace the NPT with a UN convention to ban nuclear weapons. The movement, however, must beware of attempts by nuclear hawks in India and similar other states to extend hypocritical support to the effort. The government of India, for example, has already named former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, intimately associated with the initiation of the “strategic partnership” as its representative in an international commission for nuclear disarmament set up by Australia and Japan!

The deal could have been stalled only through democracy. Only the people of India and the US could have done so by declining a mandate for nuclear militarism. Only democracy of this kind can combat the consequences of the deal, too.

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A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of “Flashpoint” (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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