Thursday, March 02, 2006

Indo-US Nuclear Deal

The governments of India and the United States signed a "landmark" agreement today allowing India to import nuclear technology to boost its civilian nuclear power program. In return, India agreed to open 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors to inspection by the IAEA as civilian reactors. Experts, citizens and even those who signed the document are unsure how this deal will impact bilateral relations in the time to come. The signatories may lay claim to a certain vision but only congressional and parliamentary passage will allow this agreement to see the light of reality.

The need for the people of India and those of the United States to come together in a collective pursuit for improving democracy cannot be overstated. Thoreau's influence on Gandhi and then Gandhi's influence on Martin Luther King Jr. already tie the two nations in a deep historic, intellectual and revolutionary relationship. The challenge is to rediscover that relationship in the modern context. Some believe this nuclear deal is a step in that direction. I believe the jury is still out on that.

It is no secret that the government of India has pursued this strategy of seeking nuclear technology as a means of alleviating its energy concerns in isolation and carefully avoiding a larger national dialogue on the issue. Transparency and communication are the cornerstones of successful democracy. Both these elements have been lacking in the Indian government's approach. But I am sure this debate will now take place. Unfortunately, in a very politically charged environment that will cloud the technical arguments needed to make the best scientific determination whether nuclear energy is indeed the best route to energy independence.

My deep desire to see the United States and India to lead the disarmament movement too seems to have suffered a setback because of this deal. It may well be that the two nations will abide by the spirit of the agreement and this will result only in civilian use of technology (given that technology is safe and cost effective) but as a student of interational politics it is hard to ignore the negative precedents this deal will set.

There are, however, some hearty developments to be noted. A new emphasis on gearing bilateral trade towards small and medium sized businesses is a very welcome step. I hope it is not just a statement to assuage those bruised by the nuclear deal but something that the two governments are genuinely committed to. For if that transpires then that would go a long way in enhancing people to people relations. Today, progressives in India tilt against the United States because the actions of American companies have affected and alienated the masses. Also, ideological hangover from the Cold War era persists. There is an obvious opposition to some US foreign policy. But then the American people are having the same disagreement with the President. No need to state the President's current approval ratings.

My call to my dear American friends is to join me in exploring new ways to cooperate. We must find ways that benefit both peoples and not just satisfy the appetite of our political elites that sometimes are afflicted with an obsession for ideas whose time has come and gone. Remember the eyebrows VP candidate Dick Cheney raised in the 2000 campaign when he suggested new nuclear reactors be built. The people of India share the same apprehension of this potent technology. I hope the ensuing discussion will help us find better ways to become the best of friends.