Wednesday, March 05, 2008

US too pushy with nuclear deal

US too pushy with N-deal
Americans want Indians to believe they know what's good for this country and are pushing for an early closure of the nuclear deal. This is gunboat diplomacy in disguise: Coercive tactics couched as constant, mounting pressure. Should India get hustled?
Back in 1850, a Gibraltar-born British subject, David Pacifico, was 'harmed' in Athens. The British Foreign Office imperiously demanded that Pacifico be 'compensated', but King Otto chose not to oblige. Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, was incandescent with rage and ordered the Royal Navy to blockade the Greek port of Piraeus. Many consider this to be the origin of latter day 'gunboat diplomacy', though others insist it began with the British sending a gunboat up the Yangtse river to quell the Chinese rebellion during the Opium War.
Over the centuries, powerful countries, taking a cue from Lord Palmerston (and/or whoever decided to despatch a gunboat up the Yangtse) have devised various coercive methods to force foreign Governments to toe their line, taking recourse to gunboat diplomacy. As a contemporary commentator has said, "Government's use of coercion is now a well-oiled machine" -- gears are shifted depending upon who is being coerced. After 9/11, the Bush Administration despatched Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Islamabad with a simple message for Gen Pervez Musharraf: If Pakistan did not join the US war on terror, "we will bomb you back to the Stone Age".
But such crude coercive tactics cannot be used by the US against India in its effort to push through the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which the Americans seem to want more than Indians do. If the absence of support for the deal in Parliament is any indication, only a section, and not all of, the Congress-led UPA Government wants the deal to come through; many among the votaries of the deal do not have the foggiest idea about what the Hyde Act is all about or the technical details of the 123 Agreement.
That, however, has not prevented the US Administration from 'stepping on the gas' and, at times gently and on other occasions bluntly, telling India to hurry along and close the deal because Washington believes it is good for this country. Gunboats have not been sent to the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea, but an endless stream of deal-pushers have been jetting their way to New Delhi where awe-struck mediapersons are told -- and they dutifully report -- that great benefits lie in India signing on the dotted line. This is gunboat diplomacy by another name, a more sophisticated version of what Mr Armitage told Gen Musharraf.
This "we-know-what's-best-for-you" attitude has been on display right from the beginning when the US first offered the deal in July 2005 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Washington, DC, without any knowledge of the contents of the crucial portion of the final draft of the joint statement; he got to see it only on arrival.
Recall Mr Singh's statement in the Lok Sabha: "I hope I am not revealing a secret. I think when the final draft came to me from the US side, I made it quite clear to them that I will not sign on any document which did not have the support of the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. It held up our negotiations for about 12-15 hours." Mr Anil Kakodkar, the AEC chairperson, was not a member of Mr Singh's delegation; he was in Beijing when the Americans sprang the surprise. He was asked to take the first flight to Washington, DC, arriving on the eve of the signature ceremony.
Between then and 2007, there was little movement as the US discovered India was no pushover, that Parliament could not be ignored, and that not all Indians are convinced that it is a 'win-win' arrangement. With time running out for the Bush Administration, which is keen to showcase the nuclear deal as its 'foreign policy achievement' in the absence of any other visible successes abroad, the US began to mount pressure in the last quarter of 2007, insisting that India must begin negotiations with the IAEA.
Such was the urgency to get the deal moving, Mr Bush called up Mr Singh while the latter was in Africa. Even Mr Henry Kissinger, who ordered the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal in 1971, was trotted out to sell the deal. The American pressure worked and India began negotiations with the IAEA, which are now believed to have reached near-conclusion.
That done, the US has now begun to put pressure for an early closure of the IAEA negotiations, so that it can seek India-specific exemptions from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group, which is scheduled to meet in Berlin in May. After that, the deal is only an up-or-down vote in the US Congress away, and Mr Bush could yet claim a foreign policy success heavily weighed in America's favour. Senator Joseph Biden has summed up the US's policy gains with his trenchant comment, "(The deal) will limit the size and sophistication of India's nuclear weapons programme." This is apart from commercial gains that will accrue to American firms.
Mr Biden has been economical with his words. The US has a two-fold strategic stake in the nuclear deal. First, it will make India more than just a strategic partner. Given the geopolitical realities of the 21st century, nations mindful of their national interest are pursuing multiple partnerships with different players in diverse settings. The deal seeks to prevent India from doing that; the US wants India to become a new Japan or Britain, a 'faithful ally' who will not look elsewhere but only up to America. Second, the deal is the means to prevent India from emerging as a full-fledged nuclear-weapons state and bringing it into the US-led non-proliferation regime -- America's central goal since Pokhran-II -- even if this strategically disadvantages New Delhi vis-à-vis Beijing.
Meanwhile, the UPA Government's not-so-strange inability to read the writing on the wall has prompted Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee to tell Parliament on March 3: "The Hyde Act is an enabling provision that is between the executive and the legislative organs of the US Government... India's rights and obligations regarding civil nuclear cooperation with the US arise only from the bilateral 123 Agreement that we have agreed upon with the US." Mr Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and the latest deal-seller to visit New Delhi, had a different, and more correct, take on this issue. He told newspersons on March 5: "The Hyde Act is a domestic legislation and the 123 Agreement is an international agreement. I think we can move forward with both in a consistent manner."
For a better understanding of Mr Boucher's comment, take a look at what US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on February 14: "We will support nothing with India in the NSG that is in contradiction to the Hyde Act. It will have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act".

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