Indo-US Nuclear Deal

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 31

July 31,

Nuclear Deal



Nuclear deal entered into by India and the US as part of the Indo-US Agreement
signed by president Bush and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh during the
latter’s recent visit to the US has been received differently by diverse
quarters in India and abroad.


the deal, India has undertaken to separate its civilian and military nuclear
facilities, place the former under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) safeguards, take various measures to prevent export of nuclear-weapons
technology, contribute to other international non-proliferation regimes, as well
as to continue with its declared moratorium on nuclear tests. In other words,
India would comply with all obligations of Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) which
are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that India has
consistently held to be discriminatory and has thus never joined.


its part, the US Administration has agreed steer appropriate provisions through
the US legislature enabling supply of fuel to Tarapur (built with US assistance
in the ’60s and already under IAEA safeguards, but with fuel supplies and other
technological assistance cut off due to US sanctions imposed in the wake of
India’s first nuclear test Pokhran-I in 1974) and other nuclear power plants and
transfer of other nuclear energy technology by the US to India, as well as to
push for similar measures in the 44-country Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and
related actions by the IAEA. In the Agreement, the US has agreed to recognise
India as a “leading country with advanced nuclear technology”, thus granting
it a de facto NWS status.


sections in both India and the US have hailed it as a major breakthrough in
Indo-US relations, perhaps even the biggest ever shift in bilateral ties with
the US virtually admitting India into the nuclear-weapons club and opening the
doors to the lifting of all restrictions on India acquiring civilian nuclear
technology and fuel apart from other dual-use technologies. In India, several
media commentators, former nuclear-establishment scientists and “strategic
experts”, and leading lights of the BJP, have attacked the deal as a betrayal
of Indian security interests, a surrender of its sovereignty in nuclear matters
and a blow to its independent nuclear capability. Both these extreme assessments
are not merely exaggerations but also fundamentally erroneous.


the other hand, a few divergent voices, including and especially that of the
CPI(M) have, while being been sharply critical of the overall Indo-US Agreement,
the threats to India’s independent foreign policy and the implicit acceptance by
India of US hegemony in world affairs, have viewed the nuclear deal itself in a
different light.  There are indeed many important issues that the general
discourse has not brought out with regard to India’s strategic vision, its
nuclear policy both civilian and military, its energy security as well as the
near-term geo-political scenario and the role of the US in it. 




Vajpayee, Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh, and many strategic experts and
commentators, have sharply criticised the nuclear deal for seriously
compromising Indian security and its sovereign decision-making regarding the
size of its nuclear “deterrent” (read arsenal). They argue that separating
India’s military nuclear facilities from its civilian power plants and placing
the latter under IAEA safeguards will limit the quantity of fissile material
made available to the former, effectively capping India’s nuclear arsenal and
making its more costly since dedicated military-nuclear facilities would have to
be set up.


us first dispose of the issue of costs. If a limited number of nuclear warheads
are envisaged, then the costs should not go up substantially since existing
“research” reactors and some additional facilities can readily be separated
and placed in the military category. And if costs do go up somewhat, so be it:
if you want nukes, pay for them, rather than having the civilian power sector
subsidising them! The Indian people would benefit by at last knowing what the
military nuclear option really costs, no longer being concealed under civilian
cover, and can then participate in more informed decision-making regarding it.
Despite this, total defence outlays may actually come down since a more limited
number of warheads would also obviate the extravagant and hugely expansive
“triad” of air, sea and land-based nuclear delivery systems the BJP-led
government had envisaged.


underlying assumption of this critique is clearly that Indian security lies
foremost in nuclear weaponisation and its unfettered expansion. This militarist
strategic perception has consistently been opposed by the Left and the broader
Peace and Disarmament Movement, a position vindicated by Pakistan’s
tit-for-tat overt nuclear weaponisation and its Kargil adventure despite the
mutual “deterrence”.  Peace-loving
forces in India have long held that Indian security is not dependent on nuclear
weapons, and have demanded first a cap and then a roll-back of the
nuclearisation of India and the South Asian region.


such a perspective, a self-imposed limiting of India’s nuclear arsenal is
welcome and would go at least some way towards meeting the demand of regional
and universal nuclear disarmament. The critique of the Indo-US nuclear deal by
the BJP and like-minded commentators should therefore be rejected outright and
sharply contested for being founded on wrong militarist premises.


fact, the real regret is that the Agreement contains no mention of universal
nuclear disarmament, a goal enshrined in the very NPT by which the NWS club
swears but does everything to prevent. None of the various speeches made by the
prime minister in the US even mentioned the Rajiv Gandhi Plan, the last major
initiative by India towards this goal. In its eagerness to please the US, if the
Congress-led UPA could not even remember its own slain leader, it is scarcely
surprising that it has totally ignored the commitment made in the Common Minimum
Programme to make efforts towards this goal which the Left and the peace
movement in India take very seriously indeed.




practical terms, the deal is expected to assist India in its quest for nuclear
fuel towards its stated goal of 20,000 MWe of nuclear power in the next decade
compared to the present about 4,000 MWe,

a target India has set keeping in mind its projected energy requirements and the
cost and environmental limitations of conventional energy options based on oil,
gas, coal and hydro power. India has limited sources of natural uranium and it
will take considerable time to develop thorium-based technology. Given the
restrictions on supply of nuclear materials by the Nuclear Suppliers Group,
sourcing of heavy water from Russia, the mainstay of most nuclear power plants
in India, has also become highly problematic. Countries such as Russia and
France are also eager to assist in setting up nuclear power plants in India.
Reports have suggested that US-based companies such as Westinghouse are also
keen to export to India.


the Agreement, with India separating its nuclear power facilities from any
military linkage, and placing them under IAEA safeguards, all these could become
possible. If the US keeps its word and is actually able to persuade the NSG to
relax its existing stringent conditionalities vis-à-vis India, the deal would
substantially benefit India and contribute to its energy security.


current military security-obsessed discourse has also ignored other possible
gains from the separation of the civilian energy sector from the clandestine
military side.  The veil of secrecy
provided to the nuclear energy sector by its military dimension and its special
“holy cow” status has had serious consequences for safety. All international
experience shows that the greater the openness, access to information and public
involvement in nuclear energy matters, the better the safety record of nuclear
power plants and other facilities. An opportunity now opens up to leverage the
civilian-military separation to open up Indian nuclear energy to wider public
scrutiny, redefine the role and functions of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board
(AERB) and expand the monitoring of the nuclear energy industry by Parliament.
Besides enhancing public safety and minimizing environmental impact,
optimisation of nuclear energy efficiency and costs would also be enhanced due
to the removal of subsidies from the strategic side.


all this, it must be underlined that in terms of India’s overall energy
security, fossil fuels especially oil and gas will continue to be the major
factor contributing over half of India’s projected energy needs compared to
not more than 10 per cent for nuclear power. Compromising the former in the
interests of the latter makes no sense and
ambivalence about the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline under obvious US pressure
is therefore shocking.


West Asia in some turmoil but with its oil still under dominance of US
companies, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US is now
determinedly and swiftly seeking domination over oil and gas resources in
Central Asia and the Caspian region where the “great game” is now being
played out. US and European companies are rapidly putting in place
infrastructure to pump oil and gas across Europe by land or by sea via the
Mediterranean, thus seeking to monopolise these resources and simultaneously
marginalise a weakened Russia which was hitherto Europe’s major supplier. The
only possible counterpoise to this imperialist strategy is efforts by China and
India which not only have enormous domestic demand but can also further supply
these resources to energy-hungry markets in the Asian region and beyond. For
India, the Iran pipeline project is crucial in this regard since it can also be
cross-linked with Central Asia and China, and with ports in India and Pakistan.
It is therefore vital that maximum popular pressure is put on the UPA government
to stoutly resist US diktats and vigorously pursue the Iran-Pak-India pipeline




have been expressed in India that the nuclear deal will actually not bring any
benefits in terms of nuclear technology. US nuclear plants are based on boiling
water reactors (BWR) whereas almost all India’s plants are based on
pressurised heavy water (PHWR). However, US companies can supply enriched
uranium besides BWR-based power-plants, plant components and special materials
required for them. The real benefits of the deal may also lie not only in
US-India nuclear technology transfers but also in obtaining other dual-use
technologies and in similar ties with other advanced countries. The deal also
opens up the possibility of India joining in the International Thermo-nuclear
Energy Project (ITER) which aims at harnessing fusion energy (like in the sun
and hydrogen bombs as against fission as in current power plants and
Hiroshima-type “atom bombs”) with enormous potential for clean and virtual
limitless energy production.


about the difficulties, even “impossibility” according to some commentators,
of separating civilian from military facilities and about the impact of
safeguards on the indigenous Fast Breeder Reactor Technology are exaggerated
since, after all, the nuclear establishment in India on both sides of the fence
appear to be fully on board and problems would likely to have been factored in. 


question needs to be asked whether India really benefits from keeping herself in
possibly permanent isolation from international technological development for
the sake of illusory benefits from an unbounded military programme inextricable
tangled up with its civilian energy sector. The weight of evidence suggests the
answer is no.




response to fears expressed in India that whereas India has made
“commitments”, the US has only made “promises”, prime minister
Manmohan Singh and other official spokesmen have been at pains to underline that
the Agreement stresses that these measures are to be implemented by India only
in a “reciprocal” manner.  The
real question, is there the necessary political will to do so?  


may scrutinise the text of the Agreement and argue about turns of phrase and
their implications but in actuality its impact will truly be assessed only by
its implementation, by the US and more so by India.


has not been adequately recognised in the debate so far as to how much of a
U-turn has actually been taken by the US. The Administration will have to really
exert itself in the US Congress, with NSG allies and with the IAEA to fulfill
its side of the bargain. None of this is going to be easy. The powerful lobby of
non-proliferation fundamentalists in the US has already attacked the Agreement,
as have several commentators in Europe who have accused the Bush Administration
of virtually dismantling the international non-proliferation architecture at one
stroke by granting de facto NWS status to India and thus opening up a can of


is important to ask why the US has done so. The answer must lie in the US
assessment of its long-term geo-political interests in which it wants India to
play an increasing but junior partner role. This is evidenced by the web of
strategic agreements the US has been sucking India into: defence partnership,
democracy initiative, disaster management tie-ups and so on. The nuclear deal is
but part of an overall pattern of entrapment of India within US imperialist
designs. Make no mistake, the US will strive to keep India on a short leash and
deliver minimum while extracting the maximum.   


is therefore imperative that in the months to come, India should strictly
implement the reciprocity stressed in the nuclear deal and carefully calibrate
its own actions only in response to measures actually taken by the US, the NSG
and the IAEA. The CPI(M), the Left as a whole and the peace movement should
demand strict adherence to this principle of reciprocity and ensure that the
government does not undertake unilateral measures which may compromise national
interests and sovereignty.


is also important to sharply demarcate this position from that of the BJP and
other militarist, right-wing forces who are raising the bogey of “Indian
security under threat”.
security is not limited to its nuclear capability nor should it be left hostage
to forces who claim to be its sole guardians.