Nuke Deal: Debating the pros and cons
By: Indrajeet Rai
As India readies to receive world’s most high profile guest, there is a backdoor frenzy to put a
slew of agreements in place. Undoubtedly, the Indo-US nuke deal is pitted as the most
contentious and vital.
Seldom have so many deals been made contingent on a single deal in world history. Not only are bilateral
deals between India and America a hostage to it but India’s bilateral nuclear deal with France and other
nuclear supplying countries would also treat it like benchmark.
Much has been written about the nuclear cooperation deal signed between India and USA during Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to America in July 2005. Some analysts, mostly from the non-
proliferation lobby in the US, have seen it as a catalyst for abetting proliferation of nuclear weapons. While
analysts in India have accused the Indian government of succumbing to American pressures, which want to
curb India’s nuclear weapon possessing capabilities, thereby curtailing proliferation and forfeiting its nuclear
independence carefully crafted over the years.
How can it be possible? How can the same agreement work in both ways, to curb India’s nuclear weapon
making capabilities and also trigger nuclear weapon proliferation? How can a deal be a sellout to both the
parties? Well, both the arguments have some basis. The truth, however, lies somewhere in between. Let us
The Deal: Some basics
As per the Joint Statement announced on July 18, 2005, President Bush said he would “work to achieve full
civil nuclear energy cooperation with India” and “would also seek agreement from Congress to adjust US
laws and policies”. On India’s part, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed that India “would take on the
same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading
countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States”. As per the Joint Statement, “These
responsibilities and practices consist of:
r Identifying and separating civil and nuclear facilities and programmes in a phased manner and filing a
declaration regarding its civilian facilities with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). ·
d Working with the United States for the conclusion of a Multilateral Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty
A The deal is likely to abet the nuclear weapon capabilities of India. For, if civil and military facilities are
separated, the supply of international nuclear fuel will free its existing facilities, designated as military
facilities, to produce plutonium and enriched plutonium exclusively for weapons’ purpose.
f The deal might provoke other nuclear weapon states like China to enter into the same kind of agreement
with other implicit nuclear nations like Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan President Musharraf, during his recent visit
to China, has argued for a Pakistan-China nuclear deal along the same lines.
t India has still not signed the NPT treaty. But it will enjoy all the privileges available to declared nuclear
powers under the NPT regime. In the eyes of American non-proliferation lobby the nuclear deal is an
American sellout to India. ·
A Arguments against the deal in India have centred around three main points. First and foremost, the
proposed separation of nuclear facilities into civil and military is costly and difficult or rather impractical due
to the Indian nuclear programme being unified since the very beginning. Secondly, the deal will impact
India’s ability to produce requisite fissile material as all new nuclear facilities will be civilian in nature and
under the supervision of IAEA. Third, nuclear power is costly in nature and an emerging county like India
can ill afford it. It is a luxury that only the developed world can enjoy and India should not count on it in its
energy security calculus. Last but not the least, the deal is asymmetrical in nature since it is all about
American promises and Indian commitments. ·
Finally, the deal does not remove the discriminatory nature of the present nuclear regime which India has
been fighting all along. Why should India place all its “existing and future civilian nuclear facilities under
IAEA supervision” when other nuclear powers are not compelled to do so? In terms of statistics, out of the
915 facilities under IAEA safeguards worldwide, only 11 are in the five NPT nuclear powers. Thus, India will
continue to be a part of the discriminatory non-proliferation regime.
A First, to answer the proliferation charge, the present deal is a win-win situation for the non-
proliferation regime since it brings India into the nuclear mainstream. All the past policies to bring
India into NPT regime had failed. Then why not give the deal a chance? India, despite being a declared
nuclear power, has an impeccable non-proliferation record that needs to be trusted and rewarded rather
than questioned and punished. As India’s Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said, “If India’s past record and
current policies are not recognised, and worse still, if it is to be graded with those whose record in this
respect is more than suspect, then our nonproliferation objectives may enjoy the comfort of noble intentions
but not the efficacy of tactical action.”
b Second, India is a fast growing economy that is looking for all the energy resources that it can get hold of,
howsoever costly they may be. True, the nuclear establishment has failed to meet its commitment of
producing 2,700 megawatts of electricity from nuclear plants by 1980-81. It is roughly producing the same
committed amount about thirty-five years later that constitutes three percent of India’s energy supply. The
denial of nuclear fuel due to provisions of the NPT regime has been precisely the reason behind the Indian
nuclear establishment’s dismal performance. History has given us the chance and we must seize it. If
international nuclear fuel is available, the cost of producing electricity will also come down and will be within
the affordable range.
t Third, there is nothing in the deal that asks India not to pursue its three-phase nuclear power programme.
In fact, it further adds to the process. India can continue to pursue its fast-breeder reactor programme
i Fourth, India will get access to all the facilities and technologies available to declared nuclear powers in
the NPT regime without signing the treaty. ·
Fifth, India has not given any commitment to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which even US
and China have signed, though both are yet to ratify it. The only commitment that India has given is that of
negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty with the US. ·
n Sixth, India is not under any obligation to not produce fissile material and can continue to do so as long
as it needs, to meet its declared policy of developing credible minimum nuclear deterrence. ·
Seventh, there is no provision in the deal that asks India to place its indigenously developed nuclear
reactors under IAEA supervision. The deal is applicable only in the case of existing and future nuclear
reactors that will be using international nuclear fuel. Technically, India can build up as many indigenous
nuclear reactors as it wants for its security purposes. ·
There is a great deal of verbiage about inspection and proliferation, but these are not central to the deal. It is
best to focus on the central theme, which is `yes' to uranium and `no' to thorium.
It is this exchange that has the Indian scientific community up in arms against the deal. They fully realise
that by agreeing to this deal India will be sacrificing its unique capability while relying on American
businesses to supply its future non-fossil energy needs. India has substantial thorium reserves but little
uranium. India also has outstanding technical capability in building reactors based on the thorium cycle, as
good as any in the world. But the Indian political-bureaucratic establishment does not trust its own scientific
talent. Western lobbyists, in the U.S. in particular, seem to have played on this Indian weakness to press a
deal that is disadvantageous to India's long-term energy interests.
d Finally, to quote the Indian Prime Minister, “It will be an autonomous Indian decision as to what is ‘civilian’
and what is ‘military’. Nobody outside will tell us what is ‘civilian’ and what is ‘military’.” We have no reason
to distrust the words of our Prime Minister.
On balance, the India-US nuclear deal as proposed is the much-needed recipe to regenerate our nuclear
establishment that is stifling under present international regulations. If the status quo is allowed to prevail,
our ambitious plan for nuclear power will not only remain a pipedream but even the status quo will become
unsustainable as Indian nuclear fuel sources are limited and of inferior quality that make it more costly.
Of course, there are a few conditions, which may be strict in nature, that have to be adhered to. But isn’t
politics all about interest articulation, aggregation and mediation? The Indian government will be doing the
same if it will be closing the nuclear deal with the USA in the coming week.
Nuclear deal: the untold story
The unstated agenda is to gain monopoly of India's huge non-fossil energy market
I RECENTLY visited Houston, the energy capital of the world where I worked for over a decade, after
nearly 15 years. There, both in the media and through personal acquaintances, I learnt something
that should be making the headlines in India but is not: Saudi Arabia's oil production has peaked
and will soon be on a downward trend, imperceptibly at first but accelerating over time. The same is
true of other oil producers of the region.
This does not mean that oil wells are about to run dry, but that more oil is being pumped out than
new sources discovered. It is important to recognise that this is not a political problem but a
resource problem brought on by the supply-demand equation. Even if the political situation were to
change — say with the ending of the Iraq war, or even Saudi Arabia becoming a liberal democracy
— the supply-demand imbalance will not be reversed. If anything, it will get worse with rising living
standards in India and China making greater demands on a diminishing resource.
What this means is that over the coming decades the world will increasingly have to shift from fossil
energy to non-fossil energy. Despite fond hopes about windmills and solar energy, the only viable
and proven source of non-fossil energy is nuclear power. While no one can give a timetable, the
transition from fossil energy to nuclear power is irreversible and only a matter of time. The
proposed Indo-U.S. nuclear deal must be evaluated against this background.
The economic implications of this transition are incalculable. It will bring problems of course, but
also great business opportunities as new plants and distribution and delivery systems are brought
on line, involving massive expenditures. This is unlikely to be lost on American lawmakers and
industrialists who see a major opportunity in India with its burgeoning demand for energy. The Bush
Administration, which enjoys a particularly close relationship with the energy industry, is sure to
have briefed the lawmakers in the closed-door meeting that preceded the vote in Congress.
One aspect stands out
This means that the just passed nuclear agreement will reflect the interests of the U.S. energy
industry, of the nuclear industry in particular. The details of the proposed deal, when reduced to
basics, seem to bear this out. While the agreement is complex, one feature stands out: it calls on
India to stop its thorium based research and development in exchange for uranium based
technology and fuel (uranium) to be supplied by the United States.
The U.S. lawmakers have passed an agreement that is decidedly favourable to American interests.
That is their prerogative and their duty. The failure so far has been on the Indian side. They have
failed to take the country into confidence and failed also to heed the advice of its scientific
community — a community that has placed India on the world scientific map, and will also have the
responsibility for implementing any nuclear deal. Instead the government has been working with a
close-knit group of advisers and lobbyists that is not accountable to the country at large.
It is the duty of India's lawmakers to highlight the scientific and economic consequences of the
proposed deal, clearly focusing on the extraordinary sacrifice India will have to make in abandoning
research and development in its area of strength. Should India concede the demand, it will mean
sacrificing energy independence for the next generation, allowing U.S. companies to gain a
stranglehold on non-fossil energy.
This is the essence of the proposed nuclear agreement; other details are a diversion — a red
North Korea tests may hit India-US N- Get news updates: What's this?
The Rediff Special | M K Bhadrakumar
October 09, 2006
North Korea stunned the world by conducting its first-ever nuclear
test early Monday, October 9, morning. As the international community
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Japan 's reaction will be furious and it is bound to press for strong
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of its close fraternal relationship with North Korea, which is also an
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feel compelled under strong domestic pressure to respond remains to
be seen. This will have deep implications for the status that China has
enjoyed for the past four decades as the sole nuclear weapon power
State in the region.
On a broader plane, North Korea has virtually torn asunder what
remains of the nuclear non-proliferation regime built around the NPT.
This has profound implications since there are several countries in the
world today that have nuclear weapon capability but hitherto exercised
restraint, and will now keenly watch the international community's
reaction to Pyongyang's strategic defiance.
What is the significance for India?
The impact on India is very acute. India stands to lose on several
fronts. India is averse to the dilution of the exclusivity of the 'nuclear
club'. Its own claim to be 'accommodated' as a Nuclear Weapon State
suffers. India thus becomes an affected party in any redrawing of the
nuclear non-proliferation regime that may follow.
North Korea's close cooperation with Pakistan in the field of nuclear
and missile development technology assumes an altogether new dimension for India.
The delay in closing the Indo-US nuclear deal will come to haunt New Delhi. The likelihood is that the nuclear non-proliferation
lobby in the US which opposes the nuclear deal will get a further fillip.
Correspondingly, the North Korean challenge puts the Bush administration on the back foot, and its political will and capability to
steer the Indo-US nuclear deal through the United States Congress may suffer.
India has been harmonising its stance on the nuclear non-proliferation issues with those of the US, and this provided a much-
needed political underpinning for the nuclear deal. But with the NPT regime coming apart, India needs to rework its stance on the
Is there any significance in the timing?
Certainly. The Bush administration is under pressure on several fronts, and Pyongyang likely visualizes a window of opportunity.
Apart from the Iraq debacle and other controversies, the Bush Administration's foreign policy postulates have come under severe
scrutiny in the US domestic opinion, and the White House is coping with political controversies at home almost on a daily basis in
the highly charged atmosphere of the forthcoming Congressional elections in November.
Equally, Pyongyang would have factored the change of leadership in Tokyo, and would have decided on acting before the
leadership of Shinzo Abe settled in.
Third, it is not improbable that a degree of coordination may be at play in 'nuclear diplomacy' between Iran and North Korea.
Without doubt, North Korea 's moves deflect attention from the Iran nuclear issue, which is otherwise nearing another critical point.
What are the options available for the United States?
Very few. Military options must be ruled out. North Korea has the capability to retaliate. Essentially, therefore, the US would have to
resort to economic pressures in the nature of sanctions. But the problem is that Washington has hardly any leverage over North
Japan will expect the US to take strong measures against North Korea. South Korea, on the contrary, will advise against isolating
North Korea. In evolving any viable course, the US will have to depend on cooperation from China and Russia, which, of course,
has major implications for a multipolar world order. Washington will be increasingly hard-pressed to maintain a hard line toward
The virtual collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation regime is yet another factor working on the US. All in all, the US response will
be almost entirely determined by any consensus involving the other permanent members of the UN Security Council as well. There
is hardly any scope for 'unilateralism', though an entire range of issues concerning the US strategic presence in the Far East is
What options are available for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
First and foremost, New Delhi will try to ensure that the 'collateral damage' on the Indo-US nuclear deal is minimised, if not avoided.
This calls for a high degree of harmonization with the US stance on the North Korea problem.
Second, India would join hands with the international community in condemning Pyongyang's decision.
Third, the Indian predicament is that since 1998, India has virtually become a 'status quo' power. It is simply not in India's interest to
see the emergence of more nuclear weapon states. Therefore, while continuing to stress its unique status as a 'responsible' non-
NPT nuclear weapon State, India will use all opportunity to highlight Pyongyang's past record of covert collaboration with
Fourth, India will strive to have greater say in the negotiations that may ensue in any restructuring of the architecture of nuclear
non-proliferation that may now become unavoidable. This calls for delicate balancing on the diplomatic front, and sustaining the
present climate of trust and confidence in the Indo-US relations at the political level.