//Nuclear Deal, ‘National Interest’ and the Indian Left

Nuclear Deal, ‘National Interest’ and the Indian Left

It is the Indian left’s concurrence, rather than its disagreement, with the idea of a nuclear future (including nuclear weapons) that has made its case weak and inaudible to the larger masses. Writes P.K. Sundaram

Contextualizing the deal

In a charged atmosphere produced by the backers and opponents of the deal both pitching their positions in terms of ‘national interests’, it would be necessary not to lose sight of its broader meanings and implications.

In its essence, the deal is about opening up of the restrictions over nuclear commerce put on India after its 1974 ‘peaceful nuclear tests’. Though initiated and facilitated by the United States, this move will provide India access to international markets in nuclear fuel, material and technology, in accordance to the safeguards and guidelines of the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While it would imply huge imports from the US, the deal also removes international fetters on nuclear trade with other countries including Russia, China, France and Australia whose corporations would get major business orders from India once the deal comes into effect.

This deal comes at a time when our global nuclear future has reached a crossroad – in terms of nuclear energy issues, nuclear trade and nuclear disarmament. The nuclear power industry, after decades of withdrawal and recession in the wake of accidents of like Chernobyl and Three Miles Islands, has been trying in the recent past to come out of the closet again. Nuclear power has also lost its charm due to consistent civil activism on issues related to radioactive risks, associated with all its stages of operation, from uranium mining to power plant safety & security to the problem of nuclear waste. The peace movements worldwide have also stressed on the inextricable linkage of nuclear energy technology to nuclear proliferation – a fact glossed over by the profiteering companies and states aspiring for the bomb. Corporate interests in the nuclear industry have been pushing internationally to create a ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the recent past, including its huge donations to both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the forthcoming election. India’s shifting of its energy policy focus towards nuclear power would encourage further the other small Asian and African countries to go for nuclear power which are under increasing influence of the nuclear lobbies and already have plans laid out on their tables.

On the strategic front, the already truncated disarmament and nonproliferation regime is at an equally crucial juncture. Weakened by the continuing denial of the original nuclear weapon states to disarm themselves as promised under Article VI of the NPT, and having the paradoxical duty of keeping proliferation under check while at the same time spreading nuclear technology, the NPT based nonproliferation regime requires substantial changes in its 40th year. It is necessary for the world to bring the task of disarming the existing weapon-states back on its agenda while ensuring nonproliferation through more strict verifications. This would also imply discouraging nuclear energy as an option, whose experience in the last half century has already proved its un-sustainability and economic non-viability, besides being an established proliferation route for new states.

However, doing this would entail putting curbs on the US military industrial complex and its hegemonic ambitions; this would also mean closing shop for the nuclear retailers in the energy sectors. To avoid this, the US has chosen some dangerous quick fixes – to increase its military preponderance through missile defense; to devise extra-regime punitive actions or unilateral pre-emption towards hostile countries with advanced ‘civil’ nuclear capabilities like Iran. On the top of all this, it has decided to award country-specific concessions for access to nuclear infrastructure to a state which only recently conducted nuclear tests in total defiance of the concerns of its own citizens and international opinion, but is poised to become its ally in shaping the new nuclear and political order of the world. This circumvention of nonproliferation principles is seen by the anti-war, anti-nuclear and peace movements worldwide as a total departure from disarmament goals – earlier America used to preach disarmament while amassing its own nuclear stockpile; now it has no problems with even others acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities provided they remain “good guys”. By this new calculation, Indian becomes a ‘responsible’ nuclear power while Iran faces war even as its weapon capabilities remain unproved.

At a time when the Indo-US deal is becoming a vehicle for unscrupulously pushing the entire world towards an inherently unsafe, uneconomic, and unsustainable energy future and a more complex arms race, evaluating and contesting this deal only in terms of “national interest” seems patently short-sighted and opportunist.