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The Nuclear Truth Triumphs

Narayanan Komerath

No honest student of current affairs or history can deny India’s need for a nuclear deterrent – or the world’s fears of loose nukes. This week, Washington and New Delhi showed that they had “got it” after seven years of “constructive engagement”. 

Thirty-one years after India “went nuclear”, the executive branch of the U.S. government has asked other members of the P-5 and the 44-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to finally recognize India as a nuclear weapon state. Howls of protest from various quarters showed that accepting this reality and showing good sense are still novel concepts. But we must still ask why has the US decided to change its stance now and what does this imply for India? Is this a death blow for the brave world of nuclear non-proliferation or a return to reality from the “A.Q. Khan Wonderland?” How can America still block India’s accession to her rightful place on the UN Security Council? Has India sacrificed the independence of her hard-earned nuclear science by agreeing to safeguard her reactors? I submit that it is simply a case of two friendly nations finally “getting it” as they listened and understood each other. 

Nukes For Pakistan Treaty

The real criterion for veto power on the present UN Security Council is not demographics, geography, race or wealth. It is no coincidence that the Vetowallahs are also the P-5, the self-approved Nuclear Weapon States or the “aniruddhas” (non-forbidden) of the nuclear age. The veto is simply a recognition that no international decision will stick if any of these powers feels strongly against it. With China’s entry into this “club”, the P-5 decided to close the doors with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Other signatories agreed to open their facilities to inspection and thus prove their lack of intention to build weapons, in exchange for open access to the best of nuclear technology for “peaceful” purposes. They also got a vague promise that the P-5 would reduce inventories towards nuclear disarmament. Those who refused to sign risked obstruction and boycott all the way, and those who tried to build weapons would face stringent sanctions, embargoes, or, if they had no nuclear power to protect them, outright invasion. India on principle, Pakistan as imitator, and Israel on pragmatics did not sign. The NPT was rightly viewed as being racist and designed to perpetuate dominance of the P-5, while denying legitimate security imperatives of countries like India and Israel. 

Some time ago I watched a classroom full of American graduate students learn about the NPT from sincere, knowledgeable American supporters of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament – people who had seen Hiroshima and Nagasaki and take pride in slowing the spread of nuclear weapons. In the only display of anger in two semesters of considering many international controversies, the students demanded to know who foisted such a blatantly crooked deal in the name of their nation. This is the NPT’s real problem – even used-car dealerships that practice such “treaties” would be out of business. 

The Non-Proliferation Ayatollahs' Record

Today, the Washington Beltway “Non-Proliferation Ayatollahs” wax sanctimonious, ignoring their own record as China coolly sent nuclear weapons to Pakistan in the 1970s all the way through ‘90s. Each year, US non-proliferation experts testified under oath before the U.S. Congress, “certifying” that Pakistan had no nuclear weapons program or intentions. To put it mildly, they misled the American public-repeatedly-either deliberately or out of incredible incompetence and negligence. Their posturing today must be viewed in the light of their records; their “concern” for the safety, freedom and security of Indians is eloquent, but not credible. 

The P-5’s honesty in keeping their end of the bargain is personified in Dr. Abdul Quadeer (“Xerox”) Khan, earning the NPT the moniker “Nukes to Pakistan Treaty”. The promised open access to advanced technology to the signatories has not materialized very much either, outside narrow alliances such as NATO. With North Korea revoking its signature, Iran practicing brinkmanship, Saudi Arabia daring the P-5 to open a Pandora’s Box of issues, and China with Pakistan making a mockery of the whole scam, the NPT is dead. It serves mainly to bully and obstruct India. 

As for disarmament, fifteen years after the Berlin wall fell, the US and Russia – now Allies - show no signs of reducing their arsenals below 10,000 warheads each – enough to kill Earth more dead than Mars. In the maddest example of circular logic, the Russians cite concerns about Chinese intentions in Siberia and the US cites the Russians. Senior officials readily admit that not even a hint for disarmament plan is an existence. Meanwhile, Japan sits on the largest stockpile of enriched fissile material, one step away from weaponization and South Korea had an enrichment program for several years. It is only a matter of time before another dozen nations declare possession of nuclear weapons. 

Reality Comes Home in Washington

Recognition of reality has been overdue for three decades – decades where only the heroism and determination of the Indian jawan kept democracy and freedom alive in a neighborhood dominated by bigotocracies, Politburos and military dictatorships. Faced with invasion every time a Pakistani dictator feels insecure and ever under the shadow of nuclear blackmail, always from China and most shockingly from the US itself in 1971, India finally weaponized in 1998. Barely in time, as General Musharraf tried to save his Kargil Folly by threatening nuclear attack. Surrendering Kashmir would have caused more death and disintegration inside India than any Pakistani nuclear attack. Again, India lived by its soldiers’ sacrifices – but it was the nuclear deterrent that bought time for the soldiers to scale the 18,000 foot cliffs and kill Musharraf’s terrorist “army”. China ignored Musharraf and publicized his incriminating phone chat with sidekick with General Mohammed Aziz Khan, boss of the Pakistan Army of Islam, who reassured Musharraf of their direct command and control over the terrorist “jehadis” of Pakistan. 

Amidst the clamoring to punish India following Pokhran, neo-conservative pioneer Newt Gingrich stood alone in stating the blunt truth that given its neighbors, India needs nuclear weapons, and must have them. Those who understand this reality have not given up hope of controlling proliferation or achieving total nuclear disarmament. They understand the need for a new treaty based on something better than, “because we who can nuke you, tell you so.” This week the White House took the first real step towards that solution by bringing India on board. 

Washington’s concern is not about any Indian threat. If anything, Indian missiles controlled by democratically elected leaders are the best reassurance that America’s enemies will not overrun the sea-lanes and fuel sources of the Eastern Hemisphere, nor will a “caliphate” or the Communists sweep the Indian subcontinent. The larger U.S. concern is to help ensure that Indian nuclear fuel does not fall into the hands of the terrorists and that the US nuclear industry gets a much-needed boost from the energy business in India. 

This is where India showed last week that the government had “got it”. 

India “Gets” the U.S. Perspective

The deal is becoming clearer: the US has offered India entrance to the Nuclear P-5+ in exchange for Indian "patience" on UNSC membership. Veto power has already been dropped by India and the G-4, but recognition of India as a nuclear weapons state is de facto UNSC veto power for India. Simultaneously, it is victory for Pakistan and China in that the US is not backing India's UNSC bid. 

Meanwhile, India need no longer whine about military aid to Pakistan as being a big deal. Not that India shouldn’t attack such aid or won’t, but there is no pressing need for it. “Recognized nuclear power” means a nuclear power which is basically authorized and assumed to use that power if attacked. According to a famous World Court decision, a threat to use weapons of mass destruction is perfectly adequate justification to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. 

Where does that leave the UNSC aspirations of Japan, Germany and Brazil? One has to wonder if the U.S. neatly blew up the G-4 move. There is a good reason why the US says this is “not the right time or priority" about UNSC expansion. As the nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador shows, President Bush, facing severe domestic anti-UN sentiment, is determined to “reconstruct” the UN. It would hardly serve US interests to have a global celebration of a newly-expanded UNSC at this time. It is genuinely nothing against India. Let’s take as objective a view as an Indian can from the U.S.

India has one-sixth of the world's population, the largest democracy, and is fast becoming an economic powerhouse. Japan is a US ally and is an economic heavy weight. But otherwise, Japan lacks the geographic, demographic or historic credentials of India in standing up for others in world debates (whether or not that is a positive from the U.S. perspective.) Is South Korea that far behind Japan? Unlike Japan, RoK has no record of going around invading the neighborhood either. Or Singapore? Doesn't Saudi Arabia have a bigger claim than Japan, as acknowledged Leader of the Islamic World and site of the holiest of the holy plus being awash in oil? How about South Africa as continental representative of democracy? 

It is only if one accepts Japan's claim then Germany’s claim starts looking viable. However, given that Europe is a happily-married entity and is competing head-on strategically with the US, why is it smart for the US to support three European votes (UK, France, and Germany) in the UNSC? Is Italy that far behind then? What about Holland-a respected ally? 

As for Brazil, it is difficult to see Monroe Doctrine students in the US being too keen to have another acknowledged global power and UNSC power develop in South America. Canada too has large land area and perhaps better international credibility.

Leaving aside the very natural Indian rage about being denied a rightful place in the UNSC, one can see the rationality behind the US position. In short, President Bush may be saying that membership in the UNSC is a first-class round-trip ticket on the Titanic, whereas addition to the P-5 is the more meaningful issue. Besides, a P-6 India resenting the exclusionism of the UN would be a powerful ally in “UN Reform”. 

Indian Sell-Out? Or Win-win?

What has India promised in return and why? With oil prices doubling in the past year, the vaunted economic miracle is on the verge of crashing yet again. Nuclear energy is the only current option to generate enough power without falling into the coming carbon trap of the Kyoto Protocol and attendant economic sanctions from the Europeans, whatever the rate of growth of “green” energy sources. Thus it has become imperative to end the standoff on nuclear fuel supplies and technology.

The real issue in nuclear nonproliferation is controlling and accounting for every gram of highly-enriched fissile material (roughly more than 90% U-235). Power reactor technologies are driving to minimize the need for enrichment and no effort is spared to ensure that none falls into the wrong hands. India’s cooperation is vital to bring everyone on board – and these efforts are very much in India’s interests too. While U.S. experts’ stated concerns about the security of India’s fissile material may sound insulting, they reflect a genuine and valid fear – as well as a sales pitch for American counter-terrorist detection technology, a high-tech growth industry. If India needed to import sensors from Israel to catch Musharraf’s Lashkar-e-Toiba sneaking across the LoC, India could probably use American technology to stop fissile material from sneaking out of Indian facilities. The terrorists are getting smarter, so must those who must stop them. 

This is where "strategic engagement" started by Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott in the Vajpayee-Clinton era, has really paid off for India - Indians appear to have "got it" at the highest level on what is really needed for the US to sign off on nuclear cooperation. 
The process started with the Civilian Space agreement signed last year, increasing confidence on both sides. Last week, New Delhi agreed that what Washington wants is relatively easy to do, and need not strangle Indian research or independence. It’s all about “separation” of the military and civilian establishments, so that the letter of the law regarding non-proliferation is followed, without hindering legitimate defense needs. It is about transparency and uncompromising accounting excellence of the civilian operation, allowing others to collaborate in the confidence that they are not contributing to mass death. 

Take the US space establishment, for instance. The vaunted openness of NASA deflects attention from the very large, advanced, and behind-the-scenes military program, with launches from Vandenburg Air Force Base and perhaps other locations including on-demand launches from aircraft. There is clear separation in the programs and budgeting, but there is no reason to believe that this separation seriously hinders knowledge exchange or entirely duplicates capabilities. Under a law passed in 1958, the military can commandeer NASA resources in times of national need and the Air Force has priority access to the Space Shuttle and perhaps other NASA launchers when needed. 

Similar separation exists in the nuclear programs. There is no reason for fuel (other than that from de-activated warheads under the agreement with the Russians) to go from one to the other or to do military research in civilian reactors. At the same time, the separation of military facilities allows the civilian reactors to switch to new technologies which minimize fissile fuel enrichment and to account for every gram of it, thus reducing the terrorist threat. Similar arrangements are present in France where the civilian and military aerospace and nuclear programs proceed separately, albeit with plenty of interactions between the people. 

Is knowledge exchanged between the programs? Is there any way to stop people of the same nation from teaching each other? The defense research labs are often run by universities and the universities have a clear, urgent mandate to educate the next generation who will advance both the military and civilian programs. 

It will cost India in the short term to set up separate facilities; however this is a small fraction of the economic multipliers from a massive nuclear power program, and from nuclear medicine and materials research programs. The main issue in nuclear "transparency" is that all conversion of nuclear fuel at civilian facilities must be fully accounted for. This is why the fast breeder reactors pose a difficulty. In the short term, these may have to be hidden away behind military fences. Once India is a P-6 member, there is no need to claim that all research at all facilities is “peaceful.” It is likely, however, that pushing fast breeders as a way toward energy independence may become difficult in the new terrorist-threatened environment. Technical solutions will have to be found for that problem. 

Money is no doubt an issue but fully civilian projects should not depend on government investment – and should bring in foreign investment. In a nation where entrepreneurs are buying 120 airliners for a startup airline, is money really short for so desperate a need as energy plants? 

Even the Marxists, meanwhile, can take comfort that military nuclear facilities will soak up a good deal of that cash which they fear would go towards military purchases from America. In fact, the tone and wording of the Official Statement of the Communist Party (Marxist) of India this week, was surprisingly mellow, once stripped of the usual garbage coating. The Pakistani reaction was suspiciously muted as well, but that may be because Musharraf today faces the reality of American commanders chaffing to be allowed to cross the border and go after his terrorist camps, from the land, sea and air. With the UK feeling Pakistani terrorism, this is really not a good time to throw “Frontline Ally” tantrums. 

The blunt-spoken Texan in the Oval Office is in no mood to indulge the obsolete fantasies of the Nonprollotullahs or the UN. Last week he agreed with India that “Satyam Eva Jayate” – a far cry from the, “I wanna **** on those Indian *******s, ” of the Nixon-Kissinger Republicans and the “cold blunt memo” arrogance of the Carter Democracts of the 1970s.

Ambassador Robert Blackwill said it best on a radio talk show, when the usual phony-American accent gave away the ‘South Asian’ origins of the “Romanian” caller whining that India was “so unstable.” “Sixty years of democracy with a billion people: what could be more stable than that?” slam-dunked the Ambassador. 

“And a Prime Minister and a President completing what their respective political opponents started,” he might have added. 

One wonders if they ever “got it”, meaning a taste for grits or chappatis. But last week, patriots Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott had plenty of reason to smile at a job well done.

The author is a Senior Nunn Security Fellow at the School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

© 2005 Bharat-Rakshak