A new coalition government assuming power after the general election will be shocked to find that its foreign and military policy manoeuvring space has been severely shrunk by the outgoing Congress party-led regime. Recovering Indian independence and initiative will require, in the main, wriggling out of the tight corner the country has been pushed into by the civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The nuclear deal which, according to ministry of external affairs insiders, took up fully 90% of Manmohan Singh’s time, proved beyond doubt the Prime Minister’s abysmal understanding of international power politics, which consists of sucking up to Washington at every turn. It explains why his government, for instance, refused to order a military response to 26/11. Singh apparently feared that doing so would lead Pakistan to redeploy its forces eastward, undermine the US strategy on Afghanistan-Pakistan and upset the US. But given that the US perceives its interests to be global, not upsetting Washington is a recipe for immobilizing Indian foreign and military policy.
Disregarding a hallowed foreign policy principle from Indira Gandhi’s time of abjuring treaties with the potential to hurt the country’s nuclear programme and limit its weapon options, Singh signed the nuclear deal. The 18 July 2005 joint statement and the subsequent enabling US law, the Henry J Hyde United States-India Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, make amply clear the American intention to use the bilateral agreements as legal device to shoehorn the heretofore untrammelled Indian nuclear programme into the non-proliferation treaty net (refer deputy secretary of state James Steinberg’s 24 March talk at the Brookings Institution).
Singh’s raison d’etre for the deal was his claim that it will help the country achieve “energy security”. A handful of us critics, including stalwart nuclear scientists P.K. Iyengar and A.N. Prasad, argued at length in our public writings why such and other claims were as fraudulent as Singh’s assertions in Parliament—which were belied by the safeguards agreement, that the deal secured for India recognition as a nuclear weapon state. Moreover, by agreeing in effect to forswear testing, he has ensured that the Indian deterrent will lack credibility because its most potent thermonuclear weapons are untested, unproven, and unreliable.
Again, as forewarned, the deal that Singh hatched will be used by the radical non-proliferationists in the top posts in the Obama administration to squeeze this country. Instead of a free flow of civilian nuclear technology that the Prime Minister promised, India will be under the gun to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) and, heedless of the Chinese strategic build-up, to square up on nuclear armaments with a strategically irrelevant Pakistan, a country with a gross domestic product that is less than one quarter of the market cap of the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Consider President Barack Obama’s appointees who will be shaping his India policy. At the steering wheel is the special adviser on non-proliferation at the White House, Robert J. Einhorn, a long-time opponent of India’s nuclear military programme, whose views are faithfully echoed by under secretary of state for non-proliferation and international security-designate Ellen O. Tauscher. Until she was picked for the job, Tauscher, a Democrat Congresswoman from California, was distinguished mainly by her toxic rants against nuclear India. Her priority, in line with Einhorn’s, is to compel India to sign the CTBT. “Trying to stop Tauscher from getting” her way, writes her friend Joseph Cirincione, who heads the non-proliferation-minded Ploughshares Fund, would be “like trying to stop Sherman from marching to Atlanta”. For those not familiar with the US Civil War lore, this reference is to the Union Army Gen. William T. Sherman’s “march to the sea” through the rebellious southern states that destroyed the economic heartland of the Confederacy, including its biggest city, Atlanta, which was torched.
Tauscher, the “smash and burn” specialist who makes her predecessor John R. Bolton from the George W. Bush era look positively tame, will be at the diplomatic cutting edge, assisted by arms control expert Rose Gottmoeller, as assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance. Sharing a punitive mindset, these three will insist that India sign the CTBT, quickly agree to an FMCT and comply with every last provision in the Hyde Act, such as the “Obama Amendment”. This clause expressly prevents India from reasonably stockpiling uranium fuel for the lifetime of any imported reactors, rendering the reactors a dead investment and India hostage to behaviour that the US deems good. This Act also requires India to be in “congruence” with the US on Iran. If the current US attempts at a rapprochement with Tehran fail, this clause too will kick in. In short, the implementation of this Act in toto will entail a neutering of India.
Do you reckon any new coalition government will have the gall to stand up to the US and its enforcers, Messrs Einhorn, Tauscher and Gotmoeller? Because Singh, should he return as prime minister, has shown he doesn’t.
Bharat Karnad is a professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org