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Will US Congress Back Bush on India’s N-plan?

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 20, 2005

    On July 18, India and the United States released a joint statement delineating the multi- dimensional aspects of the bilateral relationship.

    The joint statement underlines the evolving relationship of the two countries. There are a number of ritualistic phrases and statements besides some firsts and interesting provisions.

    The understanding reached by the two countries on nuclear matters is definitely a very important feature of the joint statement. The US administration has agreed to “work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India as it realises its goals of promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security”.

    The American promise intends to go beyond the Tarapur fuel supply issue. As there are a number of American legislations and regulations that may come in the way of the US President George Bush’s move to achieve fruition of the “full civil nuclear energy cooperation” with India, he made it clear in the statement that agreement would be sought “from Congress to adjust US laws and policies”.

    The joint statement also mentions that the US would work with its allies to adjust international regimes, the Generation IV International Forum and projects such as ITER (the International Thermo-nuclear Experimental Reactor). The media and analysts are busy all over the world studying the implications. Questions have been raised: Can India get what it wants? If yes, when, if no, why?

    A section of the US media and some analysts flashed the news that the US Congressmen were shocked when they learnt of the concessions that were made by the administration to India.

    Most of them quoted Democratic Congressmen like Ed Markey to build the argument that the adjustment of the laws and policies in relation to India would be tough.

    There should not be any doubt that the joint statement merely reflects the intentions and wishes of the US administration. The interplay of different interest groups and forces of the US policy-making bodies, especially in the Congress, is quite vital for the final delivery.

    However, the US media and other serious analysts are recognising, in a big way, the fact that geo-political considerations will ultimately determine the outcome.

    Most American analysts are of the opinion that the non-proliferation lobby is not so much against India as it is against North Korea and Iran.

    India has demonstrated, by and large, an impeccable non-proliferation record. This has helped in building a positive constituency for itself inside the US and elsewhere.

    Neo-conservatives, the most vocal section of non-proliferation activism and always ready to recommend a pre-emptive strike against the ‘proliferating’ countries, have responded positively to the statement.

    A scholar at the prominent neo-conservative think-tank, American Enterprise Institute, captures the gist of the dilemma of the American non-proliferation lobby in the statement in an American newspaper. He finds that “there is a lot of hand-wringing from the non-proliferation community. But this is the price of admission to a deeper partnership with India. There is risk associated with this. But it tells you how seriously the Bush administration is taking this as a strategic relationship.”

    In the US Congress, both the chambers have got a majority in the Republican party. Although there is no guarantee that these Congressmen will vote on partisan lines, there is a still greater probability of their doing so.

    Moreover, the opposition to the agreement by some Democrat Congressmen should not mean that the whole party will vote en masse against the concessions to India.

    We must remember that in the wake of the post-Pokhran crisis, the breakthrough in the relationship was brought about by a Democrat President, Bill Clinton. There are people in the party who are well disposed to India.

    At a time when India may be looking at the international market for cost-effective nuclear shopping, the positive assurance by the US can be extremely useful.

    In India we may love, wish and argue for a multi-polar world, but the reality is that the international system is US-centric.

    In multilateral regimes, it’s been found that the US puts up one barrier after another. France and Russia have generally been constructive. There can be a supply of the required goods from these countries too. Besides, the development may lead to India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. India has fulfilled all the criteria except one – membership of the group.

    This criterion has safeguards. The Indian conditional acceptance of voluntary safeguards for segregated civilian nuclear facilities and the additional protocol may help to circumvent this clause.

    For all practical purposes, the joint statement establishes India as a nuclear weapon country even though the phrase advanced nuclear technology state is used by way of a description. India may get all the advantages of a nuclear weapon state that is otherwise denied to it because of the crisis-ridden Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

    Finally, it is difficult to predict the date of delivery of the denied items, but the potential of the delivery in the future is possible.

    Simultaneously, the Indian establishment must not forget to calculate its cost, including what is incurred in last-minute bargaining. If the deal is costly, we should renegotiate it afresh. There is a lot of scope for this in the statement.