The Two Drafts Of The Nuclear Deal: Shackling India Hand and Foot

AFTER silence for more than a month on the two Bills drafted by the Senate and the House of Representatives Committees on the India US nuclear agreement, Manmohan Singh has finally been forced to respond to rising criticism and has voiced his “concern”. The CPI(M) had pointed out both in July last year and again this year that the deal was designed to force India to abandon its independent foreign policy. It is increasingly clear that it is also heavily loaded against India’s independent and a self-reliant nuclear capability.

The CPI(M) had made clear in March this year that an attempt to bind India to the US on foreign policy would not be acceptable to the country and had also cautioned the government on a further shifting of the goal posts while the agreement gets converted into actual laws and measures. Both these have now occurred. The two versions of the Bill as drafted by the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Congress Committee on International Relations that would now be reconciled before being placed for legislation, contain provisions which are not only a clear departure from the understanding contained in the Manmohan Singh-Bush agreement, but also seeks to permanently lock India’s foreign policy to US requirements.

While the deal was sold to the public as a great strategic breakthrough, those promoting the deal in the media are now talking about the benefits of nuclear energy. The deal, if they are to be believed, was always and only about civilian energy program and never about anything else. In other words, we should give up the much cheaper option of gas from Iran through Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline for a more expensive and problematic alternative. When and how has the country come to the conclusion that nuclear energy program is vital to our future? Have we worked out the costs of various options for our future energy basket? Or is it that used to the oracular mode of discourse popular in strategic literature, the strategic experts now turned energy experts, forgot that making choices is also about comparative costs. Neither has the Planning Commission nor any other body (except of course Montek Singh Ahluwalia in his private capacity and that too privately) has presented any study on the need to ramp up India’s civilian nuclear program. The Planning Commission’s figures indicate that we would reach a maximum of 10,000 MW of installed capacity by 2015 – a meagre 5 per cent of our electricity capacity – and even this would require a considerably stepped up effort, well beyond what we have managed till date. So from where has this over riding need for nuclear energy arisen?


It is clear that India’s vote on the Iran issue in IAEA has been conditioned by the terms of the deal. Senator Luger in his opening remarks in the Foreign Relations Committee has approvingly noted “We have already seen strategic benefits from our improving relationship with India. India’s votes at the IAEA on the Iran issue last September and this past February demonstrate that New Delhi is able and willing to adjust its traditional foreign policies and play a constructive role on international issues.”

For quite some time, the US has been quite unhappy with the current Non-Proliferation Treaty structure. The non-proliferation compact was simple; all countries that had yet not produced the bomb would give it up in lieu of unfettered access to scientific knowledge, technology and materials for the nuclear energy program. The only agreement that they had to make was that they would not make the bomb. This is the compact that the US and other nuclear weapons states now would like to change.

What the US and its allies are now asking is despite their not fulfilling their part of the nuclear bargain that they would negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament, the non nuclear weapon countries should give up their right also to the nuclear fuel cycle. Only a few countries defined as advanced countries should have this right. To quote George Perkovitch, one of the leading US non-proliferation ideologues, “The Non-proliferation Treaty’s vague Article IV right “to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” should not be interpreted to endorse additional states’ acquiring uranium enrichment or plutonium separation facilities” (Yale Global, March 21, 2005). Bush had stated before his New Delhi visit that India would be recipient of nuclear fuel but not be a part of countries participating in the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel.


In this view, India is no different than Iran, however much Manmohan Singh and the strategic fraternity here would like to place it differently. In the view of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives International Committee, India would not secure access to full civilian nuclear technology, but only to nuclear fuel and reactors. The fuel cycle and all equipment and technologies for the fuel cycle including various dual use technologies would continue to remain under sanctions. This is certainly a major departure from what the PM had assured the Indian parliament that this deal recognises India as an advanced nuclear power and will allow access to full civilian technologies. So all the high tech embargoes that exist on India would continue to exist. Only difference would be that India would now happily become a market for expensive reactors from the US, despite the US itself not having ordered any new reactor for the last 25 years.

Facing a situation where the Indian nuclear establishment has beaten the existing sanctions and built an indigenous nuclear energy program, the US would now like to subvert this and supply – of course at a high price and with stringent other conditions – its own nuclear reactors for which there is still no US domestic market. We get to do a double favour to the US, rescue its moribund nuclear reactor production industry, as well as voluntarily tie ourselves to the US’s apron strings. When they want us to jump, we will, as we have shown so well on the Iran issue. And if we do not, then they can stop all supplies, putting at risk whatever capital we would have invested in US reactors.

It is also clear from the provisions of the two Bills that it is not one of a kind concession that India would be needed to make before the US laws are modified after which it would be free to act as it would please. While a number of such provisions are in the nature of non-binding “sense of the house” clauses, nevertheless annual certification and congressional oversight contained in the Draft Bills means that India would have to play ball with the US administration or risk losing its continued cooperation with the US on civilian nuclear matters.


The deal, after the two House Committees have done with it, makes it amply clear that the US has two objectives through this deal. One is bind India permanently to its strategic interests; the other is to turn the screws on India’s strategic capabilities, while claiming for itself the continued right to use nuclear weapons unilaterally and on any country.

The other thrust of the two Bills – and also the US policies outside – is to fast track a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty in Conference on Disarmament. The issue here is not whether we should have a fissile material cut off or not: we should, as nuclear weapons are a permanent danger to the world. The issue is simply that this is the last strategic chip left with the non-nuclear weapon states for forcing the US and other nuclear weapon states to start good faith negotiations on disarmament. Without this, a fissile material cut off would only cement the US desire to disarm the rest of the world. The US would not only retain nuclear weapons but also improving them for “tactical purposes”, such as nuclear bunker-buster bombs strikes to destroy Iran’s Natanz underground facilities. The question here is why should the non nuclear weapon states take on a new obligation when the US and other nuclear weapon states have failed to fulfil theirs? And why should India play the US game on this?


Apart from the above, there are two other major issues. One is the question of safeguards. Originally, the Indian government had understood the IAEA protocols to be India specific protocols. This is the statement that the PM made to the parliament. Now, the Draft US Bills have made clear that it means the far more intrusive Model Additional Protocols of IAEA and India’s civilian program would come in as a non nuclear weapon state for this purpose. What this will impose is unbridled examination of each and every aspect of India’s nuclear program, compromising its exclusive technical know-how. Separating the military program would not be that simple under this model protocol as IAEA would have the right to go back to the past when the programs were not separate. Additionally, the US has reserved the right under the two Drafts to post its own inspectors and will also require an inventory for each year of all fissile material from the ore stage. In other words, we need to tell Big Brother all about our nuclear program, even if this is a part of the military one.

The requirement of certification to the Congress each year by the president would ensure that the ratchet would continue to turn. In any case, the Senate and the Congress would get a second chance to shift the goalpost again, as the current Bills are in the nature of an enabling provisions. The actual Act would be a separate Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (under the US Atomic Energy Act, Section 123 therefore the 123 Agreement), which would give the two Houses another go to change the conditions. Since India would have agreed to the IAEA agreement, there would be very little wiggle room at that time.

If we take stock of what is happening, it is obvious India stands to lose far more than it will gain from the deal. The technology embargoes stay, India becomes a junior partner in the US strategic scheme, it becomes a party to the even more discriminatory fuel cycle program of the US, renounces cheap gas from Iran, all for the dubious benefit of choosing an expensive and dependent route for development of nuclear energy, that too of marginal importance in the energy scenario. Self respect demands that India renounces this subservient path of “strategic partnership” with the US and reasserts its independent foreign policy.