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Trick and treat

Ever since signing the deal, the US has repeatedly moved the goalpost. In the ongoing legislative exercise, the goalpost has actually been shifted outside the stadium, writes Brahma Chellaney.

india Updated: Jul 18, 2006 00:54 IST

On its first anniversary, the Indo-US nuclear deal appears more of a curse than a boon, threatening to undermine India’s strategic autonomy and exacting mounting costs. The US, while continuing to peddle superstardom dreams to India, is unrelentingly building up Pakistan’s offensive capabilities against this country. Goodies to terrorist-haven Pakistan and ego massaging the long-suffering India have become the quintessence of the present US policy.

To be sure, a US-India partnership can help shape a new, more stable global order. But such a partnership cannot be built if the US continues to ride roughshod over India’s legitimate security concerns. It ill behoves a supposed strategic partner to push actions adverse to Indian interests by taking advantage of India’s troubled political situation, epitomised by a weak Prime Minister unable to have his say or stand up for the country.

All pretensions about a mutually beneficial nuclear deal have faded away, with US lawmakers, working in tandem with the administration, rewriting the terms of the July 18, 2005, accord. With the US legislative process far from complete and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) yet to consider the deal, the conditions on India are going to become even more onerous and degrading. The deal now stands exposed for what it always was -- the use of the energy bait to gain a handle on India’s main strategic asset, its nuclear weapons programme.

Gone also is the pretence that the deal will herald India’s accommodation in the US-led non-proliferation regime. Washington is interested in binding India to the regime, not in accommodating within that order a country that in 1974 defiantly upset US non-proliferation policy and strategy. The Bills passed by the Senate and House committees make clear that India is not to be brought inside the regime but tethered to it and kept out, with its conduct and actions to be reviewed annually by the US Congress, as if it were on parole.

That explains why India is not being made a member, yet being bound by the rules of various US-led cartels, such as the NSG and Missile Technology Control Regime. The proposed US legislation indeed mandates India’s one-sided adherence to additional cartels not identified in the original deal, including the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. It also demands India’s formal commitment to the Proliferation Security Initiative, whose activities, like the high-seas interdiction of ships, conflict with international law. The Indian navy is being asked to play a subaltern role in the Indian Ocean region, with the US having no intent to include India in the PSI’s core intelligence-sharing and decision-making mechanisms.

The non-proliferation regime has been central to US strategic interests. Washington is in no mood to forgive and forget Indian actions that broke a US-established order centred on a five-nation nuclear monopoly. It may have presented the deal as an effort to bury the hatchet, yet it was quick to rake up the past by compelling India to agree to shut down Cirus, the research reactor that provided the plutonium for the 1974 test and now produces a third of India’s weapons-grade plutonium.

The whole effort at this point is to discipline India so that it can never repeat a 1974 or 1998, or emerge as a full-fledged nuclear-weapons State. That is why the Senate and House committee Bills are all about non-proliferation and Indian compliance. Ironically, by playing to India’s craving for status and utilising a political vacuum in New Delhi, the US is now close to enforcing the very constraints it failed to impose in the past. Is it thus any surprise that except for a Gang of Four in the government spearheading the sell-out and a handful of lobbyists writing in the press, the deal has spurred misgivings across the political and intellectual gamut in India?

The deal’s rising costs are best exemplified by the announcement of the largest US arms sale to Pakistan -- up to $ 5 billion worth of aircraft, weapons and electronics that can only be used against India. No sooner had the Senate and House committees voted on their parallel but equally stringent Bills than the arms package was unveiled behind the cover of a falsely contrived elation in India. Far from actually approving the July 18, 2005, accord, the two committees passed the buck back to India by attaching major preconditions for New Delhi to meet before the US legislative process can be complete and the deal takes effect.

Ever since signing the deal, the US has repeatedly moved the goalpost. In the ongoing legislative exercise, the goalpost has actually been shifted outside the stadium. Before the US will deign to permit partial (not ‘full’, as the deal called for) civil nuclear commerce with India, the latter has to bind itself hand and foot in the following way: accept perpetual, legally irrevocable international inspections on 35 identified, mostly-indigenous facilities; make 44 other countries in the NSG agree “by consensus” to carry out what the US will not do first; and enter into a separate but binding civil nuclear cooperation with Washington that has to pass muster with the American but not Indian legislature.

If India still manages to crawl out of the sports ground to the goalpost outside, the White House may submit a legislative determination to let the amended deal take effect, with the proviso that every January the Indian government will return before the US Congress for extension of its parole on the basis of ‘good behaviour’.

To balance this major ‘concession’ permitting India to place itself under eternal yoke, the US has decided to sell several major weapon systems, including as many as 36 new F-16C/D warplanes, to “vital ally” Pakistan -- as if propping up a Janus-faced dictatorship in Islamabad was not enough. Unmindful that its blind support to the previous Pakistani military ruler helped rear what later became al-Qaeda, the US keeps Pervez Musharraf in power with generous support, but has done little to stop its pet dictator from continuing to export terror to India.

The latest arms package for Pakistan also includes advanced targeting systems, satellite-guided bombs and the upgrading of 26 F-16s already in the Pakistani arsenal. Since the deal with India, the US has also announced the sale to Pakistan of 130 Harpoon anti-ship missiles with command launch systems and 10 P3C Orion dual-purpose aircraft to monitor India’s entire western flank and hunt down Indian submarines.

Clearly, the US is committed as ever to building and maintaining Pakistan as a military counterweight to India, sponsoring the sponsor of terror results in acts such as the Mumbai train bombings. Also, while playing the China card in India, the US has designed the deal to block India from developing a credible minimal deterrent against Beijing. Compare its actions with the exalted dreams it markets, such as wishing to “help India become a major power in the 21st century”. As recent scandals bring out, it actually is engaged in acts unbecoming of a claimed strategic partner and damaging to the building of mutual trust -- the stealing of inner secrets through moles in the Indian National Security Council secretariat, intelligence agencies and military.

A historic opportunity to build a durable Indo-US strategic partnership is slipping away because Washington refuses to be swayed by larger, long-term geopolitical considerations. In line with its traditional penchant for politically expedient policies with near-term goals, it is content with meretriciously repackaging old policies emphasising constraints on India’s deterrent and Indo-Pakistan ‘balance’.

In the guise of a deal, it is seeking to rope New Delhi into ‘NPT plus’ obligations (with no right of exit) and make it answerable to the US legislature on all matters nuclear. Little surprise that the father figure of the nuclear establishment, Homi Sethna, in a cry of desperation, said it would be better for India to renounce its nuclear weapons by signing the NPT than to subject itself to the deal’s humiliating conditions. Such are the depths to which the US is taking India.