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Proliferation Press

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

India Deal Update: The Formation of the "Nuclear Club" and the Pivotal Role of the Indian President

Rashtrapati Bhavan witnessed an 'on the fly' meeting between President APJ Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to the Press Trust of India. This highlights the rather tough times PM Singh has faced within India on the issue of national security.

Yesterday brought Singh two undesired developments. First a group of respected Indian scientists sent Parliament an open letter calling on it to reject changes in the India-US nuclear deal made by United States House of Representatives. And now political opponents have now criticized Singh's Independence Day speech for 'Fail[ing] to inspire confidence that India shall relentlessly pursue an independent foreign policy."

In short, political opponents are saying, 'Not only has the Prime Minister made a bad deal, he's not even asserting India's sovereignty on its own independence day: how can Indians support this?'

Does this concern over the N-deal protray PM Singh and his Congress Party (the leading portion of the UPA ruling coalition) as lame-duck rulers?

No. But it does reflect the limitations of the ruling coalition and its opponents strategy back to power. Also it suggests that the White House's gamble on the nuclear deal may not bring back the diplomatic diviends they have promised the American people and political supporters.

The Congress Party and its UPA coalition has strong support within India. In fact, a recent poll showed had elections been held last month the Congress Party would be only a few seats away from a one-party majority. While Singh is not the most popular of the Congress Pack, his 12% approval rating blows away his national rival BJP's L.K. Advani 1.9%.

But these ratings show the tumultuous nature of Indian politics: even popular leaders have clear weaknesses that may endanger their legislative agenda and power at any moment.

And one of the chief weaknesses of the Congress Party is the charge that it is ceding India's independence in foreign affairs to US power. Central to this national security debate is the India-US nuclear deal.

The "Nuclear Club" Against the N-Deal grows

The Indian Express documents the growth of India's "Nuclear Club". This group of political figures, spanning left to right and including Congress Party members, is plotting the political repudiation of the nuclear deal. While these figures may not agree on domestic policies, they are united in fighting any "American tilt" within Indian foreign policy.

The particular concerns with the nuclear deal are expressed concisely within a recent letter by Indian scientists that stands against recent revisions in the deal. These changes were made by the US House of Representatives, and will most likely proliferate when the US Senate takes up the deal in September.

The letter has four chief points: 1) criticizing international monitoring of Indian nuclear facilities, 2) questioning the implementation of international safeguard within indigenous nuclear facilities, 3) a demand for autonomous indigenous R&D, and 4) a call for Parliament to ensure such developments, viewed as a threat to Indian national security, do not occur.

These particular issues point to the one sentiment that binds these scientists with the "Nuclear Club": India must have a completely independent foreign policy for maximum security. As such the India-US nuclear deal is considered deleterious to Indian interests by binding India to the United States. The Bush administration has made no secret of its hope that the India-US nuclear deal is a strong step into transforming India and America from friends to strategic partners.

India at a Diplomatic Crossroads: Will the President Decide?

The Indian President may play a pivotal role within the Indian security debate. Known as 'India's Missile Man', Abdul Kalam played a critical role in India's 1998 nuclear tests and, as such, holds strong security credentials to many Indians. His own Indepedence Speech, while not speaking of the India Deal directly, stressed the nation's need to prusue an indepedent nuclear energy policy.

The President's say on the India deal could determine its success or failure. He has already been called upon by opposition political parties to come out against the deal. No doubt, Singh today sought both the President's illusive position on the deal and how it could affect its chances for success.

And to complicate things even more, Kalam's term is coming to an end. And within the current political climate and past practice, these are the twilight days of the Kalam presidency.

Which way the President will go is uncertain. Could he be biding his time to come out publicly against the nuclear deal, in order to maxmize his influence? Or is it that his his silence is the best approach against the deal. Such silence suggested his opposition, empowering opponents who are now just coming into a political force against the deal while preserving his office's ceremonial status. In any case, charting the President's action in the next months-- which will witness the US Senate Debate and discussions within the Nuclear Supplier Group and IAEA.

Conclusion: 'Hawk vs. Hawk' Debate

This articles all point to a trend Proliferation Press has repeatedly asserted: the key pitfall of the treaty lies not within the United States but within India. Furthermore, the deal has brought out a clear 'hawk vs. hawk' national security debate within the country that must be of extreme worry to analysts concerns with regional proliferation. Indian opponents are coming out against a deal that essentially gives India all of the nuclear genie without any firm commitments. While the deal would give the US a close ear to India's defense capabilities, this is no way suggests India will curtail its military nuclear program. While the scientists' letter suggests that all Indian nuclear facilities would be faced with international monitoring, the deal ony calls for monitoring of domestic facilities (meaning sites desiginated as non-military by the Indian government). Thus this security debate is not really about India's independent nuclear development (of critical importance in US debates over the deal) but rather one over diplomatic trajectories: should it continue to chart an independent course or push closer to the United States? The net-result: Indian will be modernizing its nuclear forces without any real constraints.

The Bush administration has found the NPT framework as unable to control the region in regards to proliferation. In its wake it has adopted one of hegemony: offering India a nuclear deal that gives it supplies and technical know-how in return for American influence. Unfortunately its still an open question as to whether this approach can work. And most troublesome, is the precedent the nuclear deal has set for all nations who have elected not to develop a nuclear capability.

In many ways the nuclear deal was a needless attempt to push two countries together by using the most controversial issue between them. Commerical ties and a common regime type have bound the nations. Now US prestige is tied to the deal. And more importantly, the US must ensure this deal does not usher in a new race to proliferation. This last issue goes far beyond the scope of this current article, but shows the importance of the India-US deal's outcome within the international system.


Scientists voice concerns over Nuke deal
Srinivas Laxman
15 Aug, 2006 0247hrs; Isttimes News Network

Indian scientists oppose new clauses in nuclear deal
Monday, August 14, 2006; 12:06 PM; Reuters

Scientists speak out against nuclear deal with U.S.
Monday, August 14, 2006 : 1825 Hrs; The Hindu

PM has unscheduled meet with President
Tuesday, August 15, 2006 (New Delhi); Press Trust of India

Text of Indian PM's Address to Nation

PM fails to inspire confidence on India's foreign policy: Left
Tuesday, August 15, 2006 : 1325 Hrs; The Hindu

India's ruling coalition can win parliament majority: survey
New Delhi, Aug 13; Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)

As they sharpened axe, he dined with Amar, Yashwant to take on the n-deal
Vrinda Gopinath, Indian Express
Posted online: Wednesday, August 09, 2006 at 0000 hrs

N-advice from Prez, scientists
Vinod Sharma and Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, August 14