Ashok Mehta in Pioneer, 22 June 2007
It's an equal partnership
The India-US 123 Civil Nuclear Agreement (CNA), integral to the evolving strategic partnership between the two, has been the most deeply debated foreign and security policy issue of recent times in both countries. So far, Indian and US negotiators have met four times to discuss the CNA, first in Delhi, then Capetown, London and last week again in Delhi where an agreed text could not be worked out.
The deal is stuck principally over India's explicit right to reprocess spent fuel, which it wants mandated in the CNA rather than in a later agreement as the US would like.
India's goal is to reach the CNA which fully reflects the Joint Statement of July 18, 2005, Separation Plan of March 2, 2006, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement in Parliament of August 17, 2006. The Hyde Act, according to India, contains certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions which are unacceptable. But the US Administration has assured India there is nothing in the Hyde Act that will prevent it from meeting its obligations from earlier agreements.
In India, there are fears it is being hustled into a CNA that will curtail its strategic programme and autonomy. At the same time, many see an India on the rise and the US as willing to make that rise happen in the mutual interest of both. Clearly, there is an energy security dimension as well as an overriding strategic partnership in the offing. This is India's biggest foreign policy initiative in the last 35 years.
There are three major steps that have to be taken before the CNA can become law and implementable. First, the ongoing bilateral Civil Nuclear Agreement being negotiated has to be concluded. Second, an India-specific IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol have to be drawn up. And third, the 45-nation NSG must change rules to allow India to conduct nuclear civil cooperation with its members. In October 2006, India made a presentation to the NSG. Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is the pointsman for negotiations with NSG members. He has already softened the difficult countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and in the Nordic region.
A lookback as to how India has reached the threshold of the pathbreaking CNA will be useful. The July 18, 2005, CNA came in the form of a joint statement and was the culmination of a process begun by the NDA Government through the untidy acronym NSSP (Next Steps in Strategic Partnership) in January 2004. The Joint Statement confers obligations on both countries - US to adjust domestic laws to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade including fuel supplies; India to separate civil and military nuclear reactors and place civil facilities under IAEA safeguards. In other words, US is helping liberate India from nuclear apartheid but, at the same time, meeting its non-proliferation concerns.
India's separation plan emerged on March 2, 2006, and was tabled in Parliament on May 11, 2006. It requires India to place 14 out of 22 thermal power reactors under IAEA safeguards in phases by 2014. Fast breeder reactors are not covered under safeguards. As for future reactors, the Government of India retains the sole right to determine such reactors as civilian or otherwise.
The separation plan will not affect India's strategic programme. Weapon-grade plutonium is extracted from CIRUS and Dhruv reactors. The yearly yield of CIRUS is 9.2 kg and Dhruv 22 kg. The available plutonium stock is 648 kg which is good for about 100 weapons. In addition, there is unsafeguarded reactor-grade plutonium in huge quantities and according to one nuclear scientist, "You could have bombs coming out of your ears."
The CNA is about reconciling the Hyde Act within the parameters of the two bilateral agreements on July 18 and March 2 and the Prime Minister's statement in Parliament on August 17. CNA is stuck essentially over two issues: India's right to reprocess spent fuel and fuel supply guarantees and maintenance of a strategic fuel reserve. On reprocessing, the US President will have to reassure Congress that reprocessed material will not be diverted to military use which could entail dual US and IAEA safeguards. The second sticking point is a potential deal-breaker as a nuclear test by India would result in total suspension of bilateral nuclear activity and sanctions. Period.
The CNA is about India's energy security as well. While nuclear power constitutes between two and three per cent of domestic use, by 2030 nuclear energy component of power will go up to between eight and 10 per cent. The CNA should not be made the centrepiece of the India-US strategic partnership, which has tremendous potential in providing India access to US space, technology and science, besides a robust defence cooperation relationship. There are expectations on both sides. The US wishlist includes India's participation in Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and Container Security Initiative (CSI) and support in its global war against terror and India reaping the benefits of being on the right side of the world's only superpower. Not surprisingly, Pakistan and China have not taken kindly to the nuclear deal. The Chinese especially, said that any CNA must strengthen the NPT regime and added that only NPT countries that forego nuclear weapons qualify for civil nuclear cooperation. It was speculated that China might offer a similar nuclear deal to Pakistan. But nothing has been heard so far.
Public surveys done in India's four largest cities have shown that CNA is the key driver in the high ratings of US image and popularity in India. At least one survey reflects that anti-Americanism has dropped to around four per cent in India when the global trend is otherwise. This is good news for the Bush team and the US and a sign of better things to come. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected in Delhi in July when the nuclear deal is expected to get unstuck. The US is in a hurry to clinch the deal because of a variety of business interests and policy imperatives. The CNA was given a push at the recent meeting between Mr Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush during the meeting of the G-8 in Berlin.
The US is trying to restructure world order and find India a place in the sun. The strategic partnership will present India with new opportunities to break out of south Asia and take its legitimate place as an emerging world power. The CNA will give India, a non-NPT signatory, access to nuclear commerce in the world while retaining its weapons programme. This is quite unprecedented. The US will benefit from India's growing stature in Asia and beyond.
In the context of the CNA, a former Foreign Secretary said: Whether the deal gets done or not, "it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all".
So that is the Army's thinking.