In the spirit of providing updates, I wanted to write about another controversy I am closely following – the 123 nuclear deal. Dweep Chanana of The Discomfort Zone provided me a link of his latest update on the deal. I find his writing cogent, thankfully bereft of emotions and logically articulated.

Enough has been said about the deal – what the deal “really” is about. What does it mean for Indian foreign policy, whether this constitutes abdicating our rights to deciding our foreign policy and so on.

As I wrote on my previous post, the nuclear deal, without going into the minutiae, is a vindication of India’s fundamental policies since Independence. Whether we agree with how much good it did to our long term strategic interests, our foreign policy has fundamentally, since 1947, with a few exceptions, has been based on peaceful dictates of non-interference in other nations’ affairs, non-export of armaments and maintaining theoretical non-alignment with either the NATO or the Warsaw Pact nations. Yes, we were closer to the Soviet establishment – but then a lot of that can be traced to the inherent distrust of capitalistic principles that we perceived we fought to win our freedom.

So a combination of factors came together to enable the nuclear deal to happen:

From America’s standpoint:

  • A geo-political imperative of the United States to have a strategic partner in Asia – a partner that aligned with the fundamental tenets of the United States
  • An appreciation of India’s impeccable nuclear non-proliferation record.
  • A growing Indian economy which leads to huge increase of energy needs – and consequently a huge market for Nuclear Supplier companies, primarily those of the United States
  • India’s refusal to sign the NPT led to its nuclear facilities be closed to foreign inspectors. To the United States’, this was a beginning of increased transparency in Indian civilian nuclear installations like the Tarapore reactor. ( India’s military nuclear installations still remain strictly off-limits)
  • Lastly, as per the detractors of the Nuclear Deal, this is a way for the United States to control Indian foreign policy by linking, among other things, the validity of the deal with India’s dealings with Iran and other nations that America classifies as rogue.

From India’s standpoint:

  • We have a huge (and growing) energy gap. India currently produces 78,500 MW of power. India needs to add 20,000 MW of generation capacity each year to meet its energy goals by 2012. It is unrealistic to expect India to achieve that kind of generation capacity using traditional coal or gas powered generation plants. And then there is the small something called environment. We absolutely have to think Nuclear. There is, unfortunately, no alternative.
  • We dont have enough nuclear fuel to produce the kind of nuclear power we need.( the details can be gotten into – I leave it bereft of specificity for purposes of clarity). Lets just say we need the NSG or the Nuclear Suppliers Group to provide us Uranium to create enough fission to produce all the power we need.Our current process is too complicated, inefficient, cost restrictive and non scalable.
  • India can leapfrog the technological barrier without going through the process of re-inventing the wheel by importing nuclear reactors from nations with more sophisticated technology like the United States and France. A layman’s analogy would be how we leapfrogged the landline phone deployment to directly go to cell phones. We didnt go through some of the growing pains that the more developed nations went through – consequently we have a very evolved telecom landscape and service portfolio. Ditto for Nuclear Reactors.
  • We negotiated deftly enough ensure our military nuclear installations are not impacted by this deal. Yes, per the Hyde Act, conducting a nuclear tests enables the United States to have the option of negating the 123 deal – but like I have been shouting myself hoarse, noone conducts, or needs to conduct a nuclear tests other than for belligerent flexing of muscles. And for all of our sake, I hope we dont suffer from such existential insecurities to justify that
  • And lastly, I think there is a small minority of political thinkers in India – on both the Right and the UPA – that realizes that a long term strategic partnership with the United States might not be such a bad thing – there is a vast middle class of young Indians – for who the United States represents an aspiration – and whether we like it or not – the United States drives the world economy – and China’s and India’s along with it. However, unlike China, we aren’t a communist police state.

Now, since both the United States and India had a very well defined aspirations – it is obvious that the Nuclear Deal is a mixed bag. And depending on the way one decides to look at it, there are both positives and negatives – both for India and the United States.

However, the tilt of a political argument in India often gets so filled with rhetoric – that the real, tangible issues are left unaddressed.

Last time I was in India, my friend took me to see his new apartment in a new highrise in newly developed Gurgaon. And as with all “upmarket” apartments now, the complex had its own water harvesting system and more tellingly its own generator. And that was telling. Our basic government provided civil amenities are breaking down.

Its not just about the economy or maintaining the growth (for which, power is a basic commodity). Its basic services to the common man – which are breaking down. We absolutely need more investment in infrastructure, in ports, in water management, in environment and also, in power.

The nuclear deal offers us a small part of one of these – we can leverage shared expertise of the NSG in onramping our nuclear power generation capabilities like we need to. Would this mean that we will be able to test a nuclear bomb without fear of repercussions? No, we wont. But the point is, even now we cannot. Atleast not without sanctions.

Would our foreign policies be impacted? Didn’t India vote for the resolution in the UN against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons recently? And that was before the 123. Point is, every mature nation defines its foreign policy, not based on some ideological basis ( like the United States did, with respect to Iraq, and is now suffering the consequences) but purely based on its short term and long term strategic interests. And if our strategic interests dictate that we go against the grain of the United States in some of our policy decisions, so be it.

It needs to be understood that American companies would be making very significant monetary deals as a result of this nuclear pact. And to renege the deal, even for the American government, wont be as easy as flipping the switch. They would also have to deal with domestic fallouts like the loss of jobs that will be created as a direct result of the deal.

My point is, while the deal attracts easy criticism – depending on the side of the political spectrum the observer is in – there are myriad complexities involved. And the deal itself is symbolic of many factors and realities.

And while I would love a debate, I would hate a debate based on purely ideological imperatives – like the Left front – or a purely political imperative – like the political right.

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