Friday, July 04, 2008

Contrarian views on the nuclear deal

The debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal has been reduced to a test of patriotism. Those who who favour the deal want India to be a great economic power with the help of the US and are patriots. Those opposed to it have hang-ups about the US and are not averse to India falling behind China; their patriotism is questionable.

I have found this characterisation utterly puerile given the many nuances to this issue. Remember three top nuclear scientists in the country have come out with a statement expressing their reservations even now.

How refereshing, then, to come across two contrarian views on the deal on the same day. In an interview to Rediff, former diplomat M K Bhadrakumar makes a number of points:
  • The UPA government is guilty of breach of trust in pursuing the matter of IAEA safeguards without the concurrence of the Left. When the Left gave the go-ahead to the UPA government to negotiate safeguards with the IAEA last November, it was on the understanding that the agreement itself would later be discussed and approved by the joint UPA-Left committee on the subject. The Congress has gone back on this assurance.
  • There is lack of transparency on the safeguards agreed with IAEA- the government has not disclosed what these are.
  • The IAEA agreement, once signed, will be 'in perpetuity'; once this agreement is signed, the further course of the nuclear deal is out of India's hands. Even if the form of the NSG waiver is unpalatable to India, it is out of our hands.

In another article, Brahma Chellaney questions the current line that the deal is about reducing dependence on oil and opening up prospects for nuclear power. He points out that India's dependence on oil for electricity purposes is negligible- just 4% of all our needs. Oil is primarily required for transportation purposes whereas nuclear power plants are all about generating electricity! He goes on to blast the case for nuclear energy as a substitute for oil:

If global oil demand is threatening to outstrip supply, so is the case with uranium. Current concerns associated with oil’s price volatility, supply security and geopolitical risks are no different than uranium’s. And if global oil reserves are finite, so are uranium resources, with proven uranium reserves likely to last barely 85 years, according to the Red Book published jointly by the OECD and IAEA.

In fact, in the past five years, the international spot price of uranium has risen faster than that of crude oil, with uranium today trading six times above its $10 a pound historical average. Oil and uranium prices are likely to stay volatile, but the long-term trend for both is surely up. Just as cheap oil now seems fanciful, cheap nuclear power for long has been a mirage.

Chellaney is right. This deal is about a strategic alliance with the US to counter the rise of China, it is merely being presented as an energy proposition for political and diplomatic reasons. The real worth of the strategic alliance lies in the transfer of a whole range of advanced dual-use technologies- these technologies cannot be transferred unless India's status as a nuclear power changes.

The key question is: do we want the strategic alliance at the cost of surrendering some of our freedom of action in foreign policy and in the nuclear field? I do think there is a case for an open national debate and that there is no compulsion to be bound by some artificial time-table.


Anonymous said...

I find that some of the arguments you have mentioned against the N-deal, are not really pertinent to the decision-making process:

1. If the UPA is really guilty of breach of trust, then that should be independently dealt with, and not by stalling something that could be beneficial to the nation. (I am not saying that the N-deal is beneficial, though.) If the Left has grievances over that issue, that is what it should bring to the fore. The major plank of protest from the Left is though that India is ceding control over the N-deal, once it signs the IAEA agreement.

2. As a mild libertarian, I wholly support transparency on all issues that government discuss. But I can understand, that there are some issues that the government may not like to discuss in public: whatever the reason might be. Instead of demanding a national debate on this issue, might it not be better to demand that some vocal dissenters, who are not from the Left, be also included in the discussions, so that they can identify any issues with N-deal?

At the same time, lack of transparency should not imply that the decision is bad for the nation. Such a statement or implication is simplistic. (Though I agree that our record for such occurences in the past, like the Dabhol-Enron debacle, is not commendable.)

What you have mentioned about Mr. Challaney is true. Our dependence on oil has been extraordinarily large in the field of transport, and not so for generating electricity. But that is not a reason for not going in for N-power.

That is akin to somebody (I do not remember who it was, I think it was the head of IBM then) that the entire world needs only 4 computers, on the basis of the pattern of usage in the past.

Getting more nuclear power could, I am not saying it will, but it could vastly change possibilities for transport. We have the electric car industry languishing because they never will have enough recharge stations as ubiquitous as the petrol pump across the country for their products to have a wide appeal. Getting cheaper electricity would also mean we could remove some of our dependence of our trains from diesel, and lot more other things. Just because we haven't done it in the past, doesn't mean it is not possible in the future.

At the same time, the prices of oil is a large factor in the inflation index, and it doesn't seem it will return to sub-100$ levels anytime soon. I think every little bit will help.

To conclude, I agree with you, that we should not be restricted by timetables and put in more effort to bring in diverse views from across the spectrum.

Unknown said...

I agree to your point, that UPA should he discussed the matter with the Left partners.
Parliament is supreme in democracy. One should have mandate of parliament before going ahead with such a deal.
The role of parliament in public discourse has been conveniently forgotten by the media.

Raghunandan prasad said...

The entire media and the supporters of the UPA government and America tried their best to paint one sided picture before the country just to favour the UPA government and USA.Those who are opposing the deal were not provided space in print and visual media to express their point of view.The majority of the population of the country who are singing the song in favour of the deal do not know what the left is saying regarding the deal.They just know that the government is right and the left is wrong.It is because they have been feeded with the logics and views of the supporters only.Who are these supporters? They are corporate world and the so-called progressive lots of the society who have nothing to do with the soverinity of the country.They just understand the language of profits they can earn if the economy is opened after the nuclear deal is materialised.They have nothing to do with the ill-effects of the deal.They do not want to understand all these things because if patriotism comes to their mind it will not be possible for them to think the way the capitalist system wants.And we the middle class people,the follower,the immitator,the dreamer who do not have the time to think criticaly and just want to follow the fashion of the day become the prey of these crookes of the society who donot believe in humanity,equality and patriotism.I think that left`s viewpoints should also be given an opportunity to come before the masses.The government`s stand that since the documents are classified it can not be made public is not digestable.If the USA can do it to get its approval from the congress and the public then why not UPA government.This stand of the government gives scope for doubting the intention of the government.If the scientists having expertise in nuclear fields have some doubts then a team of nuclear scientists should be formed to analyse its impacts on our country.

Rohit Mishra said...

In the previous comment,the reader says that not enough space has been provided for anti-nuke deal. Sir, the million news viewers and readers will want to disagree. You are correct about the fact that the deal plays a big part in establishing an Indo-US partnership to counter China. Now, I won't waste my as well as your time on describing the similarities between India and USA. I think its time that we stop seeing ourselves always as victims and rise above our narrow concerns to see the bigger advantage for India. I had written a blog post in support of the deal in September 2007 and I am just a 1st year engineering student. You may like to read it.

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