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Home > India > News > Columnists > Manvendra Singh

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The nuclear deal's essence is politics

July 08, 2008

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Nuclear weapons are not military but political weapons. Their use is determined not by the military, but by the political authorities. The military, therefore, cannot factor in the use of nuclear weapons when it plans and launches operations. The military likes things in place, well in advance, down to shoelaces, and hence cannot depend on using nuclear weapons as part of their war plans. But then the military does not like politicians. And since politicians are the ones who control the decision to use nuclear weapons, soldiers know they cannot depend on either, politicians or nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are political weapons to be used against the rulers, and popular will, of the opposing country. They are to be launched by politicians, so as to influence political and not military decisions. Their use, or even threat to use, is currently the most powerful psychological tool known to mankind. Since the mind is the ultimate weapon, these are used to influence it, the ability, and the national will to fight.

This brief preface is essential so as to put the Indo-US nuclear agreement in its correct perspective. Three years after it was unveiled to a surprised country the agreement continues to send tremors across the political landscape. And the tremors are of the magnitude of several megatons. Now that the Left Front has withdrawn support to the United Progressive Alliance government there are likely to be many more tremors, and aftershocks to match. Because this is what the Indo-US nuclear agreement is all about.

The Indo-US nuclear agreement is a political deal masquerading as a technology treaty. The essence of the deal is politics, with technology and the energy it is supposed to bring simply a smokescreen. Power, to light up India, is not the driving force behind the deal. It is politics, and to be charitable to its prime proponents, of a global scale. The aim is to redraw the global politico-strategic framework under the guise of providing technology, energy, and power. But like all power that is not earned, produced, there is a cost. And it is this cost that gets the goat of most Indians.

The price that India has to pay for this deal cannot be measured in terms of dollars, or billions of them. It has to be weighed in terms of some intangibles like sovereignty, subservience, and strategic space. None of these are easily identifiable within definite shapes and structures. But they exist, and affect the mind deeply. And since that is what politics is all about, affecting the mind, such ethereal bodies must to be analysed deeper so as to get to root of this great debate.

For starters, no country can make India into a great power. And no country ever will, for the simple reason that such an emergence will eat into that nation's space, its global footprint. Much as many would like to believe, and they repeat it ad nauseum, Washington is not in the business of making India into a great power. That is something only India can do for itself since there is no charity in this game. Riding piggyback will not get India that seat on the high table, much as the votaries of the deal might like the country to believe.

The implementation of this agreement requires India to earmark reactors as civilian and some as military. That disclosure has to be shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and then members of a global cartel called Nuclear Suppliers Group. And that disclosure will then make it plain as to how much fissile material can be produced by India. Coupled with the fact further tests are not permitted by any member of the cartel, they will then deduce from the 1998 data as to how many warheads India has, and can produce. All that it requires is a cell phone calculator to arrive at a precise figure. And when that is the case, the entire basis of India's nuclear weapons policy is turned over on its head, and turned around.

The logic of a credible minimum deterrent is that at any given time India has the number of warheads required to handle the targets that it has identified. Such targets are not fixed in perpetuity, but as changing as is society. What was a target yesterday may not be one today. Similarly, tomorrow may throw up new, additional targets. Even a layman like this writer could say that one has come up in the last year, across the Himalayas. The credible minimum deterrent is, thus, based on a flexibility of options. That is at the core of its opaqueness.

The delineation, and disclosure, of military vis-a-vis civilian reactors takes away this flexibility. Thereby undermining once and for all the root of the Indian nuclear weaponisation programme, and plans. This is where the question of the elusive strategic space, and sovereignty, come into play. Once forfeited both are virtually irretrievable. And that is the biggest price India has to pay so as to walk into this deal. And as a result of which into major distrust as well. Disquiet and distrust are what have happened in India over the last three years.

A political agreement, as this is, has been handled in the most ham-handed manner possible. It is the epitome of how not to do politics. To use an Americanism, it is being hustled. And this brazenness has caused the most serious political division in Indian society in more than a decade. In the assumption of the voluble that the pedestrian Indian does not understand foreign policy, and therefore the deal, a grave error is being made.

As Parliament is taken to represent the vibgyor of opinions that is India, it is safe to say that most members are not in favour of the Indo-US nuclear deal. A quiet straw poll of parliamentarians would reveal non-Left opposition to this deal is greater than merely Bolsheviks being bolshy. There may well be a vote in the house, and a whip called by the parties to vote either way. But then that whip is the truest metaphor of what is happening in the country.

The impatience with which this deal is sought to be pushed through begs a question -- why this hurry? Calendars may be discussed, and lame-ducks analysed, but suffice to say all politicians crave a big-ticket item. With which to then enjoy the sunset. The country may continue to pay a price, but by then such politicians have earned themselves a view to savour. Which does nothing for the country and its relationship with the US, or other members eager to get into the business end of things.

During the past three years the entire debate over India's relationship with the world, and the US in particular, has been reduced to the nuclear deal. Freud would no doubt have analysed this brilliantly -- the folly of reducing attraction and relationship to a single issue. But politically too this is a dangerous path to take. For society is dynamic, which then makes politics as vigorous, but if attraction is of a single point then some time soon it is certain to come apart.

A marriage can't be based on a single point of attraction, so what makes the Indo-US deal immune to this most basic human conditioning? Which then reflects terrible politics, internally, and externally.

Being a political deal, the Indo-US nuclear deal will be undone by the politics that propelled it in the first instance. For that is the most basic political axiom, globally.

Manvendra Singh, MP, represents Barmer in the Lok Sabha.


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