A simple reading of the Indo-US joint statement of July 18, 2005, especially in the context of the June 28 agreement following a series of policy pronouncements from both sides, clearly indicates a firm commitment by the two to bring about a paradigm shift in the nature of the relationship between the US and India. However, its implementation is not simple since it requires changes in national laws, policies, and international re-adjustments to prevailing procedures, like those of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). The scope of the July 18 joint statement is vast, and most issues would take time to reach maturity, though for understandable reasons the nuclear energy segment has garnered the most attention in both countries.
For three decades, the nuclear factor meshed into Cold War mind-sets, has been the roadblock in the way of moving towards any meaningful cooperation between the world’s most powerful democracy and its largest one. The July agreement aims to bypass this through nuances which accept the reality of India’s nuclear military programme without recognising it in terms of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The last few years have witnessed a sea change in nuclear energy rising to the forefront of national needs across the world and in the US. This is due to environmental concerns, the looming decline of oil availability in the coming decades, nuclear energy’s enhanced economic advantage, etc. At the same time, the world has witnessed phenomenal nuclear proliferation emanating from the Pakistan-China nexus. Hence, the need to get India on board global non-proliferation efforts has only increased.
That is why the nuclear energy deal assumes significance for the future. Any foul up in this area could jeopardise overall progress. But at this stage it can be stated with a degree of confidence that the Indo-US strategic partnership is well set to progress along the lines of the joint statement of last July. The reason for this is that the United States is seeking comprehensive cooperation for its own long and short term interests. And New Delhi would no doubt move forward based on calculations of its own interests. The key here is the recognition of shared national interests as the basis of future relationship.
There is no doubt that changes in the US legislation would be negotiated hard within that country. People who have spent a lifetime opposing Indian nuclear policies and still harbour dreams to rope it into the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state, should be expected to bring forth every tool in their inventory of arguments. A presidency battered by the Iraq imbroglio and falling popularity may find itself handicapped to effectively press for changes in laws to enable implementation of the agreement. But here comes the critical recognition that broader American corporate interests would be affected by the future of the agreement.
It is, therefore, not surprising that US corporate heavyweights doing business in India, under the aegis of the US-India Business Council, have hired one of the leading lobbying firms to help push through the US-India civilian nuclear agreement in the US Congress. The Council, which has nearly 100 Fortune 500 companies among its members that do business in India, recently stated, it “strongly feels that the fate of the Strategic Partnership between the United States and India, as embodied in the Joint Statement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh on July 18, 2005, is key to the overall US-India relationship and thereby our respective business interests.”
The US Chamber of Commerce, comprising three million American companies, “has agreed to host the Coalition for Partnership with India—serving as the convenor and umbrella organisation to help coordinate the efforts of like-minded parties who strongly support a positive outcome of this legislation.” The world’s leading defence and aerospace manufacturers are looking to expand their businesses in India and naturally support the deal since the changes in US laws and policies would be needed for them to remain active players.
One can argue that many reservations on the Indian side could become a barrier to the actual implementation of the deal. Concerns about the risk of the nuclear military programme being capped are justifiable and we must do everything to ensure that this does not take place. But it would also be naïve to believe that a policy of safeguarding our strategic autonomy over decades and the price paid by the nation for it are likely to be now given away by our negotiators. There is a tendency in both countries to load the agreement with favourite conditionalities. This would have to be kept in check if the agreement is to move forward sufficiently to make it a recognisable event for President Bush’s February visit.
The wirter is director, Centre for Air Power Studies