Test match

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2007, 12:00am

Two years in the making, India and the United States have unveiled a 22-page nuclear agreement that makes history. What Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf overlooks is that the deal between the only superpower, which is also the world's leading nuclear weapons state, and the only declared nuclear power yet to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is not about bombs.

It is about powering India into the future. It is about reducing global warming. It is about cutting back greenhouse gases. In fact, the agreement is a disincentive for nuclear testing.

Its crafting should end the western myth that the guiding mantra for Indian diplomacy is 'just say no'. That disingenuous fallacy does a disservice to the technocrats managing India's engagement with the world. Indeed, the next step on converting the agreement into a treaty could be held up by the US Congress' traditional reservation about non-western nuclear powers.

In Washington, the document is a 'frozen text' - it cannot be amended and can be voted only for or against. It stems from US Vice-President Dick Cheney's view of the president's prerogative over foreign policy and allows the president to waive the Hyde Act when US interests are deemed to be at stake. The act obliges the US to cease nuclear energy assistance to India if it conducts a nuclear test.

The Democratic-controlled Congress will have doubts about this, but presidential candidates may see its usefulness. The US Supreme Court, with two Bush-appointed justices, is likely to sympathise with Mr Cheney's view of presidential prerogative.

If it does, the agreement will become a treaty with global consequences, satisfying India's need for a relatively clean and reliable source of power for modernisation. Between 2002 and this year, India was able to meet only half its projected capacity addition to electricity.

Despite this handicap, the economy grew at about 7 per cent. The new agreement can make 10 per cent annual growth realisable by creating the power source essential to any modern society.

The Indo-US agreement is designed to wean India off coal and oil. If nuclear energy increases to 10 per cent, then 20 per cent, of the country's energy requirements - as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would like - it would transform its energy supply equation.

Dr Singh was able to secure support for the agreement within the coalition he leads only by obtaining another India-specific concession.

India alone will be permitted to segregate its nuclear programme into civilian and military components. It will also be allowed to build new military reactors as, and when, deemed necessary. As for inspections, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials will have access to civilian reactors.

The right to reprocess spent fuel under India-specific IAEA safeguards addresses another key Indian concern. It ensures that India benefits from the additional energy potential in spent fuel and addresses international concerns about material being siphoned off for military applications.

Crucially, the agreement reduces to a minimum the repercussions India will face if it carries out another nuclear test. Initially, the US demanded an explicit Indian commitment to maintain its self-imposed nuclear moratorium.

For India, this was tantamount to surrendering a sovereign right.

Responding creatively to this hurdle, negotiators - working in tandem with US representatives - formulated the key Article 14 of the agreement which states: 'The parties agree to carefully consider the circumstances that may lead to termination or cessation of co-operation. They further agree to take into account whether the circumstances that may lead to termination or cessation resulted from a party's serious concern about a changed security environment or as a response to similar actions by other states which could impact national security.'

In short, an Indian test will not automatically lead to the agreement being terminated.

It will however initiate a round of negotiations to ascertain whether the broader political and security situation justified the test. If India can convince the US that this is the case, then the US will not terminate the agreement and ask for the return of nuclear equipment and fuel. As India's modernisation hinges on this equipment, it also has a vested interest not to test.

It is now up to the US Congress to move beyond old prejudices and ratify a treaty guided by the universal aims of poverty eradication without creating greenhouse gases.

The beneficiary will not just be India; it will be the world.

Deep Kisor Datta-Ray is a London-based historian and commentator on Asian affairs. dattaray@gmail.com