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A nuclear deal can’t get better

India is more vulnerable to foreign pressures without this agreement than we would be by increasing our strength through an intelligent use of it to put through various development programmes.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2007 21:21 IST

Parliament is about to debate what is known as the Indo-US Nuclear ‘deal’. We the undersigned, who venture to claim some experience in serving our country’s national security interests, venture also to suggest that, in considering the issues involved, you view them in the one perspective which we believe transcends all others: that of India’s evolution as one of the principal powers in the community of nations.

It has been generally expected ever since our independence that India’s size, strategic situation, civilisation, not least the talents of its people, were bound to make us one of the most significant influences in the shaping of the modern world. A major obstacle to our full achievement of that position has been the denial of the high technologies, particularly those related to security needs, which have enabled some self-selected powers to forge well ahead of us. We will continue to be denied access to such technologies unless the international community agrees to remove the existing sanctions. In opening the way to such an outcome, what is formally a bilateral agreement between us and the US is actually the basis for agreement with the international community.

That community, including friends who have previously helped us, combines to impose crippling constraints not only on our nuclear programme but, by withholding so-called dual-use technologies, also on a wide range of possibilities for improving the lives of our people. We cannot, for instance, get Russian reactors without proceeding with the agreement. We are also left facing the question of how else to develop the nuclear energy which, howsoever small a percentage of our enormous needs, can meet them significantly. Existing constraints can only be removed through an agreement with those who impose them, which this accord makes possible.

Nobody can claim the deal is perfect, or gives us everything we would have liked. But all international agreements require movement away from one’s first preferences. All too often in our history we have suffered by insisting on the ideally desirable and rejecting what is attainable. The key questions are: can we do better without the agreement, or, can we get a better one? The answer to the second question is surely no. The agreement has given us as much as it has because of a most particular combination of circumstances which can hardly come again. To the contrary, there are forces at work internationally that will only complicate our position, e.g. the growing pressure for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or the growing potential of American opponents of the agreement.

As for holding out for something better, we must examine dispassionately the two main charges against the present deal: that it binds us not to test, and that it ‘caps’ our nuclear arsenal. It is perhaps not sufficiently realised that even under the Non-Proliferation Treaty — from which we are being exempted — a State can opt out and conduct a test if it feels that is vital to its security, provided it is prepared to face the consequences. Nothing in the Indo-US agreement prevents us from doing likewise. Rights are not bestowed by others; they are what one is capable of exercising. The fear that the agreement negates our sovereign right to test is to overlook our sovereign right to abrogate. The real issue is facing the consequences, which is entirely a matter, not of laws and agreements, but of our self-confidence. What is called the international community has long sought to stop our testing by threatening penalties. We faced those when we thought necessary; we can do so again. The point of relevance is that if we ever decide to end our unilateral moratorium on testing, international reactions can be no worse if we complete this deal than if we forego it.

Similarly, our right to produce as many weapons as we want is not abstract. We have adopted a self-limiting doctrine — to confine our arsenal to provide a credible minimum deterrence. If circumstances arise obliging us to change that doctrine and produce more weapons, we are as free under the agreement as we are without it. The PM has clearly stated that we cannot agree to fissile material cut-off unless they allow for our security concerns. We realise there are many Indians, no less concerned about our security interests than ourselves, who disagree with us. Democracy demands and thrives on differences of opinion. We only urge that opinion be shaped by facts and reality.

One other objection to the agreement has lately been raised: beyond its specific provisions is the charge that the agreement makes us subservient to a particular foreign power. Without entering into the rights and wrongs of this view, we would draw attention to an objective fact: international relationships are shaped by strength, the stronger you are the greater your freedom of action. We believe India is more vulnerable to foreign pressures without this agreement than we would be by increasing our strength through an intelligent use of it to put through various development programmes which currently falter. To revert to our initial point, this agreement should be viewed as an instrument for making us that stronger power, confident of itself and of the respect of others, that counts more and more in the world, and can do more for its people.

The Signatories

Arjun Singh, Former Chief of Air Force l O.P. Mehra, Former Chief of Air Force l V.N. Sharma, Ex-Chief of Army Staff l V.P. Malik, Former Chief of Army Staff l Ram Tehliani, Former Chief of Naval Staff l Madhvendra Singh, Former Chief of Naval Staff l M.R. Srinivasan, Former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission l K. Kasturirangan, Former Chairman, Space Commission l Roddam Narsimha, Former Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies, & Director Natioanl Aeronautical Laboratory l R. Rajaraman, Former Professor, School of Nuclear Sciences, JNU l K. Santhanam, Former Senior Scientific Advisor to MoD l B.G. Deshmukh, Former Principal Secy to PM and Cabinet Secretary l K. Subrahmanyam, Founder and Former Director of IDSA, Secy Defence Production, Convener, NSAB l Abid Hussain, Former Member Planning Commission, Commerce Secy and Ambassador to USA l N.N. Vohra, Former Principal Secy to PM, Home Secy and Defence Secy l Naresh Chandra, Former Cabinet Secy, Home Secy, Defence Secy l Narendra Sisodia, Former Secy, Defence Production and Ministry of Finance l M.K. Rasgotra, Former High Commissioner to UK, Ambassador to France and Foreign Secy l K.S. Bajpai Former Ambassador to Pakistan, China and USA, Secretary External Affairs l K. Raghunath, Former Ambassador to USSR, Foreign Secy l Lalit Mansingh, Former Ambassador to USA, Foreign Secy l S.K. Lambah, Former Ambassador to Pakistan, Germany, Russia l Arundhati Ghose, Former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament.