'Friendliest' President's Dangerous Deal

By N. Gunasekaran

Ever since the agreement for cooperation between India and the US concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy was finalized in August, the mainstream media's columnists were writing about the serious political crisis in India. It is not only a domestic crisis, but has the potential of causing greater danger to Asian region. The nuclear deal is very much related to the Bush administration's Iran policy.

Bush recently accused Iran of putting the Middle East "under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust" and declared that the US and its allies would face Iran "before it is too late." So the next target of the US is Iran, and the US wants to recruit new members in its military alliance. For this, they give top priority to India. This is the reason for Bush, for being "friendliest president towards India," -- as he was described by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Indo-US nuclear agreement is also known as the 123 Agreement, since it was signed, according to the conditions laid down in the section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954,giving an exception to India to buy nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, and technology, although India is a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Obviously, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is now being contravened by the US itself. The Indian Left, after a careful analysis, concluded that the 123 Agreement would bind India to accept the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards in perpetuity for uncertain fuel supplies -- and, as far as the technological know-how is concerned, nuclear isolation of India would continue.

Before this agreement was signed, the "Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act (the Hyde Act) was enacted by the US Congress in December 2006. It enables the US president to waive the restrictive clauses of the Atomic Energy Act in respect of nuclear trade with India.

A number of conditions in the act pertained to the strategic goals of the US. It requires annual certification and reporting to US Congress by the President on India's foreign policy issues, being "congruent" to that of the US. The independent and non-aligned foreign policy of India is an anathema to this act. The act also demands India to participate and declare support for the US's controversial Proliferation Security Initiative. And its conditions for the agreement's termination and its effects are the Indian Left's important concerns since India would lose a lot with its huge investment on nuclear reactors and equipments.

The Act assumes "India's full and active participation in United States' efforts to dissuade, isolate and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction ..." Under the folly of "weapons of mass destruction" the US asks India to join hands with its destabilization efforts on Iran. Ironically, the US domestic law tries to bind India to achieve US's strategic goals. So, safeguarding the sovereignty of India has become the serious question.

Now, to get the agreement operational, India has to negotiate for an India-specific Safeguards Agreement with IAEA and for waiver by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group from the restrictions that its members impose on export of nuclear material to non-members. Lastly India must get the final approval by the US Congress of the 123 Agreement. But the left-leaning United Progressive Alliance, with whose support the Indian National Congress rules, has now pressed the "pause" button and prevented the government from taking further steps. The 15-member panel consisting of representatives from the ruling combine and the Left is examining the issues surrounding this deal and the impact of Hyde Act on India.

Only 3% of energy is now produced from nuclear energy sources in India. Even if the nuclear deal is implemented, the share of power from nuclear energy by 2020 will be just 7%. So achieving energy security through this nuclear deal is a fantasy. The Indian government had not explored the possibilities of solar or hydroelectric power as alternative cleaner forms of energy. The cost of nuclear energy would be very high compared to thermal power. With imported reactors for nuclear power, it will cost about three times as much to set up nuclear plants than coal-based ones.

The majority of members of Indian Parliament are opposed to proceeding with the agreement. The Left is completely distanced from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which considers that the deal would impede India's weapons program. The Left was always opposed to nuclear testing for weaponization. Unlike BJP, Left's contention was that the nuclear agreement should be seen "from the overall context of India-US strategic relations." It also foresees the danger of India becoming a party to the US design to bring about "regime changes" under the pretext of fostering democracy.

The nuclear deal is negotiated when there is already intensified defense cooperation between India and the US, after India signed the New Framework for Defense Partnership with the US in 2005. Recently a massive demonstration was held against the docking in the Chennai harbor of the aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, a symbol of the US death machine, used for illegal war. For the first time Indian Navy participated in the joint naval exercise with the US-led military alliance partners.

The nuclear agreement provides opportunities for American corporations and they could earn between $20 billion and $40 billion. Also, the Indian corporate companies are aiming to make inroads in the lucrative defense and ancillaries sector if the US is a major source of weapons for the Indian military. Hiding these corporate interests, the US promised to help India to "become a major world power in the 21st century." Behind such rhetoric, there lie the hegemonic military and corporate interests of the US and the convergence of the selfish interests of both American and Indian ruling elites.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2007

Home Page 

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2007 The Progressive Populist.