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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Indo-US Nuclear Deal: A Time in History where things could have gone the other way...

Maybe my last post on this issue. Just to summarize and also share some of the things I have been reading. I had thought that the conclusion on this deal was foregone (My posting in late August which has since then come true). But, there are disturbing trends that need to be understood by all of us in India.

1. The 'we don't care' attitude of the Congress Party on this issue needs to be noted. There is little that has changed since August when the Left first came up with objections to the deal, which means, the new found arrogance in the congress leadership must stem from something else. Could it be that they have found out that in the case of an election, they stand a chance to win without much ado? I am sure intelligence agencies and back room technical boys in the Congress are capable of doing a month long job to come up with such conclusion, the time gap for the change in the Congress posture seems to be just right.

But, perhaps there are other reasons too. The recent issue of Tehelka carries an interesting news item, 'Young Brigade Goes Nuclear' which talks about the new bunch of young Congress leaders owning up the Nuclear Deal . Though the article carries interview with only one of the leaders named, if this is to be taken at face value, it is bad news. The Nuclear Deal somehow seems to have become associated with the 'paradigm shift' in the Congress. Nothing is more stupid than a young bunch of new comers talking of paradigm shift owning up to a deal that provides many opportunities for jingoism and showmanship. More importantly in this article, the Chairperson of Congress Future Challenge Committee is talking about 'creating a new USP' for the party! Nuclear Deal is the new USP for the old Congress! (USP for the uninitiated is a marketing term that means Unique Selling Proposition, used to promote the one feature in any product that needs to be communicated to the customer as being unique and ahead of the competitor, it is often a publicity gimmick as the fundamental product can only change itself in so many ways). Corporations provide for such flexibilities, a national government that is already fractured in its inheritance cannot. Certainly not a party that is responsible for much of the fracturing.

2. I am still to come across anyone of our nuclear deal promoters who thinks of this as a complete, cost-effective or clean solution. The entire debate has been dominated by scientists-technocrats who have an undying fascination for trying out latest technical possibilities and bureaucrats who are chest thumping about how this is a great deal that they have brokered, leave alone the fact that USofA does not get pushed by a piddly platoon of IAS officer from India. Obviously, the safety of the technology and the nitty-gritties of the deal have covered more print space than the priority and ethics of the deal.

I have been trying to understand the larger issues related to nuclear energy, if indeed energy is our problem for which we think this is the only solution as some of our eminent scientists want us to believe. (My earlier post on the on-line references) It was good to note that the Communist leaders too seem to be doing their homework on this issue to some extent (my posting on Sitaram Yechuri's article). Personally for me, an eye opener was reading the book, 'The Nuclear Barons' by Peter Pringle & James Spigelman. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand as the authors put in the sub-title, 'how (the nuclear barons) created our nuclear nightmare'. How the entire nuclear research, bomb and technology has been developed through scientific ambition, often mis-placed political ideas by technologists, political jingoism and commercial greed. Though this publication is two and half decades old, its gripping narration style and factual presentation makes it invaluable in understanding the evolution of the nuclear technology. I would like to quote a small portion from the Epilogue of the book that is worth reading:

' the core of the proliferation problem is the expansion of nuclear-generated electricity: more nuclear power plants mean more fissile material available for diversion into bomb projects. There is no way of preventing this at present: the nuclear materials market is too large and too diverse to be controlled through export sanctions and the current early-warning system of a diversion of nuclear material, known as safeguards, is inherently ineffective.

Even withouth the link to nuclear profileration, nuclear power carries dangers of a magnitude that we ought not to accept. There is something profoundly stupid about continuing to multiply a series of engineering marvels that fifteen billion curies of radiation. We do not know enough about radiation and cannot be sure enough of our technical prowess to allow this system to dominate our energy supply. Morever, the instinctive human fear of radioactivity is not irrational, as the nuclear advocates assert; it is also so universal and so enduring that it is a political fact of life.

...The problem as the entire nuclear history illustrates only too forcefully, is that we have never been able to devise human institutions dedicated to minimizing their own activities. We must continue, therefore, to treat the claims of those in charge of the nuclear complex with suspicion; by their past actions they have not earned our trust or our confidence. Their almost compulsive sense of self-importance has been given a serious blow by the strength of the citizen reaction...but it has not been defeated. Those who want to expand nuclear power continue to repeat the old refrain that we have no choice, yet, that has always been wrong and it is wrong today.

The nuclear story so far has been about a scientific and technological revolution that transformed a yarning to understand and control the powers of nature from fiction to fact. It was a stunning achievement of many clever men. What is in question now is not their cleverness but their wisdom.'
3. US of A must be the biggest arms supplier to the world. It has been investing in arms in different parts of the world where it reaps a rich harvest of war in subsequent decades. I see the entire facilitation of the nuclear technological growth in the Sub-Continent as a way of investing in this region, so that in a couple of decades a successor of G.W.Bush may launch another armed search for WMD in India and a war would be justified. Indian government will buy the technology now, buy delivery mechanisms through back door deals later and will be held accountable for the same much later, perhaps politically isolated (not unlike Iraq after Desert Storm), and later invaded and destroyed. This would ensure that the commercial interest of the arms manufacturers in the US is taken care of for the next few decades, not to talk of the Haliburtons to re-build the country after its destruction. This may sound far fetched right now for us in India, but, history with other regional powers since the WWII cannot be denied. If further proof is necessary, then it is provided by Prof. Chomsky in his article on Indo-US Nuclear Deal:
The Indo-US deal mixes military and commercial motives. Nuclear weapons specialist Gary Milhollin noted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's testimony to Congress that the agreement was "crafted with the private sector firmly in mind," particularly aircraft and reactors and, Milhollin stresses, military aircraft.
(Source: US/Indo Nuclear Agreement: Derailing A Deal, By Noam Chomsky, 08 August, 2007, The Khaleej Times)
4. The mix of young leadership wanting to make a 'paradigm shift' in the ruling party utilizing terms and models of the market, the eagerness of our technocrats and bureaucrats to move the country into another 'club' where there doesn't seem to be a non-destructive precedence and where the partner / promoter nation has clearly stated that they are looking at their own strategic and commercial gains from the entire deal, sounds like being in the middle of a political environment where an expression of the concerns is a statement of helplessness.

We as a nation have placed capacity to produce WMD at such a high level, that a government doesn't mind being pulled down in the process, this has never been done by any government before for any other cause including production of food grains. This moment in the political history can be seen as a point of departure towards accepting the role of a nuclear bully, capable of producing WMD at a speed if it so desires. The role and the script is not ours, nor the raw materials and technologies, but, our political eagerness to perform this role of a nuclear bully will bring in a major shift in our dealing with the world from now on. Time to recall what an old man said 6 decades back:
(Non-Violence) is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, ‘Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’ - M. K. Gandhi, talk with a British Journalist, Sept 1946

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