On nuclear deal, India’s communists move from “No” to “Maybe”

November 13, 2007

India’s communists, who had threatened to scuttle its coalition government with the Congress party over the nuclear deal with the US, is now softening its stance. The Left, which had earlier said that the government should not operationalize the deal, including negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is now saying that the government can go ahead and negotiate with the IAEA, provided it does not finalize an agreement.

Communist Party of India (CPI) General Secretary A B Bardhan told Indian TV channel NDTV that the government could go to the IAEA, the UN’s atomic body as long as they don’t finalize any agreement, according to this report.

Now why should the Indian government and the IAEA go ahead and negotiate, when according to the Left there can be no deal ?

Clearly what the Left seems to be saying at this point is that in the interest of holding together the coalition government it may eventually go along the whole hog with the Congress on the nuclear deal with the US.

The reasons for the Left’s stance are quite obvious. One, it does not want to bring down the government. Traditionally its fear of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and other rightist parties have made it gloss over the flaws of the Congress party. Secondly, the Left’s opposition to the nuclear deal, and the underlying anti-American sentiment, has also not gone down well in the West. The Left, particularly in West Bengal, has been assiduously cultivating an image of being pro-business and investor friendly. So after the initial knee-jerk anti-American reflex, pragmatism has evidently got the better of the Left.

Even as the Left now finds it politically expedient to go along with the Congress on the nuclear deal, some of the substantial issues it raised against the 123 Agreement remain. These pertain to long-term national interests, and the Left cannot abandon them for its short-term political gains and for US investment in West Bengal.

As pointed out in an earlier blog, the Indo-US nuclear deal was flawed from the start.

I refer to “United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act” of 2006, which in fact forms the legal framework for the proposed 123 agreement, and was was devised to exempt a nuclear cooperation agreement with India from certain requirements of the Atomic Energy of 1954.

The Act does not however entirely protect India’s right to take decisions on its own on its non-civil nuclear program. It states for example that “a determination and any waiver under section 104 shall cease to be effective if the (US) President determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device after the date of the enactment of this title”. So if India detonates a device, the 123 Agreement goes up in smoke, and India will have to return nuclear fuel and other technology it obtained under the agreement.

So the 123 Agreement, in effect places limits on India’s ability to pursue a military nuclear program. When deciding to support the Agreement, the government and the communists should hence weigh the benefits for India’s civilian nuclear program against the risks for its military program. There may be no point in arguing that US supplies to India’s civil program will free nuclear resources for use in the defense program, if the defense program is itself circumscribed by US rules.

That we take the right call on this becomes all the more important in the wake of instability and unpredictability in Pakistan, which has nuclear bombs, and also China’s own nuclear arsenal.

Related article:

The Indo-US nuclear deal was flawed from the start

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The Indo-US nuclear deal was flawed from the start

October 19, 2007

India’s communists are these days being blamed for the failure of the implementation or “operationalizing” of the 123 Agreement that would give India access to nuclear fuel and reactor technology for civilian applications.

First, the positive side of the agreement. Although India is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under the 123 Agreement it would get access to nuclear fuel for civilian reactors, even as it maintain a nuclear arsenal. There is a section of opinion that believes that the NPT itself is iniquitous as it perpetuates the dominance in the nuclear weapons area of countries that tested nuclear weapons before 1967.

India’s communists typically see only through ideological blinkers. They never look for the broad picture.. They stood by former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, as she trampled political rights and imposed an emergency in the country in 1975, raising the bogey of communal forces. The communists now have a knee-jerk reflex to anything proposed by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which draws a considerable part of its support from Hindu fundamentalists.

This time over, the Congress, triggered a knee-jerk reflex, by trying to do a nuclear deal with the Americans. Through the communist blinkers, the Americans can only appear as “imperialists”.

However if we keep ideological issues out of the debate, there are still reasons for concern about the impact on India’s sovereignty from signing the 123 Agreement. Yes I am referring to the “United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act” of 2006, which in fact forms the legal framework for the proposed 123 agreement. The Act by the US was devised to exempt a nuclear cooperation agreement with India from certain requirements of the Atomic Energy of 1954.

The Act does not however entirely protect India’s right to take decisions on its own on its non-civil nuclear program. It states for example that “a determination and any waiver under section 104 shall cease to be effective if the (US) President determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device after the date of the enactment of this title”. Click here for the text of the Act.

What this provision in the Act means is that all the waivers extended to India could disappear at one go if India tests a nuclear device. It does not require the US to prove that fuel or technology meant for India’s civilian program was diverted to the country’s military program.

If there are doubts as to how the situation will unfold if India detonates a nuclear device, then one has to look to the 123 Agreement for the details. Click here for the text of the proposed 123 Agreement

At Article 14 of the proposed 123 Agreement, it says that “Either Party shall have the right to terminate this Agreement prior to its expiration on one year’s written notice to the other Party.” So if India detonates a nuclear device, under the “United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act” of 2006, the US can, among other actions, immediately withdraw its waiver to India, and call for a termination of the 123 Agreement

“Following the cessation of cooperation under this Agreement, either Party shall have the right to require the return by the other Party of any nuclear material, equipment, non-nuclear material or components transferred under this Agreement and any special fissionable material produced through their use”, according to the 123 Agreement.

That would leave India’s civilian nuclear program starved for fuel. There have been hints that the US would in such a situation come to India’s rescue, by arranging for alternate supply from third countries.

But a country’s civilian nuclear program cannot be built on vague promises of good-will. If 123 Agreement is to go forward, the US will have to incorporate into the proposed agreement a clause stating that notwithstanding anything in earlier agreements and Acts of the US government, the supply of fuel from the US to India will not be affected by any developments in India’s military nuclear program.

By insisting that all is alright with the deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be doing a dis-service to India.