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    South Asia
     Jul 20, 2005
US accepts India as a nuclear buddy
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - It is one more step towards achieving the next level of India-US relations, as well as the US promise to help cement India as a future global power.

In a radical shift in nuclear relations between the two countries, the US has decided to treat India on a par with recognized nuclear-weapon states, extending all "benefits and advantages", including nuclear fuel for civilian nuclear reactors.

These significant decisions are contained in a joint statement issued after a summit meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush in the White House on Monday.

India, in turn, has promised to be a responsible nuclear state, including placing its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, continuing its unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests and adherence, among other things, to the Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers' Group guidelines.

These moves come despite India not being a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But Bush said nuclear cooperation could include "expeditious consideration of fuel supplies" to the US-built Tarapur nuclear power plant near Mumbai, which is reportedly low on fuel because of US restrictions on India.

Successive US administrations have refused to approve sales of nuclear material to India since it has not signed the NPT, which came into existence in 1968. India feels that the NPT favors nations that already possess weapons, and is biased against non-nuclear-weapon states.

However, moving against the conventional wisdom of Western countries, in January last year Bush pledged that the US would be willing to help India with its nuclear energy and space technology in return for Delhi's promise to use the assistance for peaceful purposes and to help block the spread of dangerous weapons. It is a reflection of the way that the Bush regime looks to construct a new nuclear global order. The existing US-led global nuclear regime is struggling to deal with the fact that North Korea has declared that it possesses nuclear weapons, while Iran, according to the US, is intent on moving in the same direction. The new paradigm pursued by Bush defines clusters of nations on the basis of a "trust factor". This would take into consideration the record of a country in peddling nuclear technology, as well as indigenous paradigms which make the existence of such technology safe/dangerous in a particular country. India feels there is no reason why it cannot be trusted, despite staying out of the NPT.

Of course, more factors are at play in the singling out of India as the first country to be acknowledged as a nuclear-weapon state by the US despite it staying out of the NPT.

More than the content of what has been achieved, it is the symbolism attached to the Manmohan visit to the US that is of note. Prime ministers of India, such as Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao, have visited the US in the past - but as leaders of the world's largest democracy, comprising a big proportion of the world's poor and diseased. As Manmohan meets with the top echelons of the US administration, he represents a country considered an emerging power of the world, a huge market, a future military power that will counter China in the region if the need arises, an information technology powerhouse, the business-processing back-office of the world, an outsourcing hub and a research and development center. And also a country that is as much a victim of terrorism and party to the "war on terror" as the US.

The changed relationship is already reflected in the kind of issues that India and the US have been talking about in the recent past - military supplies, transfer of nuclear technology for civilian purposes (which has resulted in the nuclear deal), cooperation in energy, enhancement of trade, cooperation in services, agriculture, AIDS, UN reforms. And the mention of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan has been considerably toned down.

It will take time for each of these matters to reach complete fruition, given the maze of laws, both national and international, vested interests, committees, sub-committees and groups that will look into them. Differences also exist on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, as well as on UN reform.

But mandarins sitting in foreign offices and manning top business positions have recognized that a change is needed. What is more important is that a continuum is being established that deals with issues that have not even been in the realm of discussions for decades.

C Raja Mohan, a foreign-policy analyst, has compared the Manmohan visit to that of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to the US in January 1979. He says: "China was by no means a strong nation then, having just begun its economic reforms. It was a pygmy in comparison to America and Russia. But it was China's potential to alter the global power calculus that encouraged Washington to shower attention on Deng.

"Similarly, while India's weight in the world system is growing, it is much weaker than either the US or China. But it is the prospect that India is emerging as the "swing state" in the global balance of power that is shaping Singh's visit to Washington."

While arguing for a place in the comity of powerful nations that look for economic, social and military integration, there is also the immediate threat of terrorism that makes the US look for allies as well as like-minded nations. India and the US cannot but be together, with Pakistan, the traditional Cold War ally of the US, being increasingly seen as unreliable.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.

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India must sit at the nuclear table (May 11, '05)

 
 



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