Wednesday, August 3

India sets a bad model

Praful Bidwai

There is something unwholesome, indeed distasteful, about the triumphalism in India over the nuclear cooperation agreement signed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush. This ends India's characterisation as a nuclear 'pariah' after the first Pokharan test of 1974. Following this, Washington walked out of its agreement to supply enriched uranium fuel for the US-built Tarapur reactors.
There has always been a special feeling of wounded pride among Indian policy-makers over the 'pariah' characterisation. Yet, the US wasn't the only country to stage a strong protest against Pokharan-I. Canada too protested. Their embarrassment and anger weren't contrived. Both had contributed substantially to designing, building, and providing critical materials to, the CIRUS 'research' reactor commissioned in 1960. Its spent fuel was the source of the plutonium used in the 1974 test.
Earlier, India had solemnly assured the US and Canada through bilateral agreements that CIRUS and its products would only be used for 'peaceful' purposes. The only way India could still claim not to have violated this commitment was to declare the explosion 'peaceful'. India, one could argue, hadn't done anything that many states with atomic ambitions wouldn?t do: use all kinds of devious means to fulfil those ambitions. But Indian policy-makers were distinguished by their uniquely self-righteous hurt over Washington?s reprimand.
They have ever since craved US approbation and India's acceptance as a 'responsible' nuclear power even as they have, to their disgrace, given up on the global disarmament agenda. The US now terms India 'a state with advanced nuclear technology' (a bad euphemism considering how primitive the Bomb technology is once you have access to some special materials/equipment).
The US has now stepped out of the box and agreed to accommodate India's nuclear ambitions by treating it as an 'exception' to the requirements of the global non-proliferation order. Under Monday's agreement, Bush has promised to sell nuclear materials and equipment to India and involve it in an experimental nuclear fission project, etc. He has also pledged to 'adjust US laws and policies' and 'work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes' to enable full civil nuclear transactions with India.
The flip side is that India would 'assume the same responsibilities' and 'acquire the same benefits? as the recognised nuclear weapons-states. This involves numerous steps: ?identifying and separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programmes'; declaring 'civilians facilities' to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)' and 'voluntarily' placing them under its safeguards; continuing the 'unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing'; and 'working with the US' for a multilateral 'Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty'.
India would also 'secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation' and through 'adherence to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) guidelines?, although it's a member of neither.
The fact that Bush has treated India as an 'exception' may impress many in the Pakistani elite. There will certainly be a clamour that identical treatment be accorded to Pakistan. But Islamabad would be ill-advised to demand such parity.
There are several problems with the India-US agreement. One is asymmetry. The overall agenda was laid down by Washington. India signed on the dotted line?except for bargaining over some words. The deal imposes no new obligations on the US. (Indeed, Washington is planning to conduct further nuclear tests.) But India agreed to extend its testing moratorium.
The US has only placed just four of its 250 civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards. India will probably have to subject many more installations to these. If the guidelines of the NSG, comprised of 44 states, are applied, the bulk of India?s civilian facilities, including its 15 operating reactors, will come under safeguards. True, safeguards are a matter of negotiation. But there, India and the US wield unequal power.
No time-frame is specified for the fulfilment of obligations/commitments by either side. This doesn't exclude pressure to rush through, say, separation of military nuclear facilities/activities from civilian ones. This is practically difficult and expensive. Often, the two activities occur in the same location.
Besides, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) scientists loathe 'external' safeguards and inspections. They were not consulted in advance about the deal, and are largely sullen about its execution.
The bitterest opposition to the agreement is likely to arise from within the US and the NSG. Influential politicians like Congressman Ed Markey threaten to block it because it will open the door to other 'exceptions'.
The US establishment is divided on the issue. While some security analysts (e.g. Ashley Tellis, formerly of the Right-wing RAND Corp.) favour the agreement, others like George Perkovich argue that the US 'should not adjust the nuclear non-proliferation regime to accommodate India's desire - to nuclear technology - The costs of breaking faith with non-nuclear weapons states such as Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Sweden and others who forswore nuclear weapons [are] too high.'
Without broad consensus, Bush might not be able to sell the deal domestically. It will be even more difficult to get it approved by the NSG. Many NSG members will stoutly oppose any dilution of the group's tough guidelines.
It would be a near-miracle if the agreement is implemented within a reasonable period of time. Even if it is, the benefits to India would at best be marginal. Nuclear power accounts for under 3 percent of India?s electricity generation. It cannot be the key to anyone's energy security. It poses grave hazards both through serious accidents like Chernobyl, and through high-level wastes which remain active for thousands of years. Nobody has found a solution to the waste storage-and-disposal problem.
Nuclear power is 30 to 50 percent more expensive than electricity from other sources- even without accounting for the (high) cost of decommissioning old plants.
Contrary to myths, pursuit of nuclear power won't lower aggregate carbon emissions. Nuclear plants are extremely capital- and materials-intensive. Each step in the ?nuclear fuel cycle?, from uranium mining to reprocessing, emits greenhouse gases. As energy expert M.V. Ramana argues, "there is no empirical evidence that increased use of nuclear power has contributed to reducing a country?s carbon dioxide emissions".
Take Japan. From 1965 to 1995, its nuclear capacity went from zero to over 40,000 MW. But carbon dioxide emissions tripled to 1200 million tonnes!
It would be foolhardy for Pakistan to demand parity with India in this regard. In fact, some extremely cynical US leaders would only too glad to offer an identical deal to Pakistan so that its nuclear facilities are subjected to Iraq-style intrusive inspections. These could be justified in Pakistan's case, unlike India's, thanks to the history of Dr A.Q Khan's shady enterprise.
At its present level of nuclear technology development, which is probably lower than India's, Pakistan will find it even more difficult to separate civilian and military facilities and prevent interference in the former.
This is not an argument for nuclear proliferation or clandestine activities, but a warning against the US arrogating to itself a nuclear gendarme's role. India and Pakistan committed a huge blunder by crossing the nuclear threshold. They would be wiser to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle than to use it to drive dubious bargains involving bankrupt super-hazardous technologies like nuclear power, or even worse, to recover national 'honour' and 'prestige'

(Former senior editor of The Times of India, Praful Bidwai is a freelance journalist and regular columnist for several leading newspapers in India)

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