The last session of the US Senate failed to move the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 (S 3709) to the floor for a debate and vote. It may be taken up in the Senate's "Lame Duck" session in mid-November, after the election.
The Bush administration was keen that the legislation, which has been cleared by the House of Representatives and the Senate International Relations Committee, be passed without any changes, despite India's objections to many provisions. The bill would amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to allow India to buy fuel and nuclear reactors from the US, although India is a non-signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
India objected to the terms and conditions attached in the bill, which go beyond two agreements between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006. India agreed to separate its military and civilian nuclear infrastructures and agreed to place 14 of its 23 existing or soon-to-be operational nuclear reactors under IAEA regulation. But the bills also called for a cap on India's strategic nuclear program.
On three important counts, the India-US nuclear deal is objectionable.
Firstly, is this deal good for India?
The main argument of the pro-deal lobby is that India could bring in substantial additions to its electricity-generating capacity using nuclear means. India requires adequate and affordable energy supplies. For this, the very option of choosing nuclear means is questionable.
There are more affordable ways. Presently 55% of current power generation in India is coal-based and India has enough coal resources for the next 250 years. The hydroelectric projects are 33% cost-effective, compared to nuclear power. It is possible to generate about 50000MW power if river water is suitably utilized.
The cost factor of nuclear-power projects is abnormal and that was the reason for the US not commissioning any new ones. But the deal is a golden opportunity for multinationals and they can reap huge profits by selling nuclear know-how and equipment.
Secondly, the durability and reliability of the US cooperation is doubtful.
While the scope of the deal has always been on civil nuclear programs and cooperation, the present versions of the bills shift the goal posts. The draft Senate bill states that any waiver on nuclear technology transfers to India in areas such as reprocessing and enrichment or on fuel supplies "shall cease to be effective if the president determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device ..." Did it not happen that the president "determined" that Iraq possessed WMD and launched war on Iraq? Agreeing to such terms would make India subservient to the dictates of an empire.
The US is adopting a "carrot-and-stick" policy. Condoleezza Rice said that offering nuclear commerce to India is the price Washington must pay to get the Indians to cut off energy links with Iran. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., terming India's vote on the Iran issue in IAEA as "strategic benefits" for the US, said that New Delhi is "willing to adjust its traditional foreign policies." Vice President Dick Cheney called the Indo-US agreement "one of the most important strategic foreign-policy initiatives of our government." If the US wishes to help India on the nuclear-energy front, why do they link it to their foreign policy?
The third aspect of the deal is related to the question of peace in the Asian region. This nuclear cooperation would further aggravate mistrust among the countries surrounding India, and the main casualty is the cause of universal nuclear disarmament.
Although India declared a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing, any suspicious move could complicate the situation, since the Asian region is surrounded by many nuclear powers with a great number of conflicts between them. Pakistan is capable of producing nuclear weapons and maintains a prolonged rivalry with India. Even now, a wordy duel is going on between India and Pakistan over the train blasts in Mumbai in India, as Indian investigators are charging that Pakistan's intelligence agency plotted the blasts and executed through the terrorists.
True, the corporate and hegemonic interests direct the US to confront Iran and North Korea. It is also obvious that these nations possess the capacity to produce nuclear weapons and it causes nuclear danger in the region.
In this context, any initiative on the nuclear front that would increase the security concerns of the countries would trigger the nuclear arms race and pose a grave nuclear threat in the region.
N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.
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