A Deal of Two Countries

After India and the US signed the nuclear deal recently, I feel that I need Civics lesson in how the Indian and the US governments function! I am quite surprised by the contrast in the deal process in the India government and the US government.

Rediff.com had two reports about the reaction to the nuclear deal in India and the US. The contrast in the functioning of the two governments is made quite obvious by the very titles of the articles:

Title of the India article: Let’s wait for the details before celebrating

Title of the US article: ‘Bush’s difficulties with N-deal lie at home’

What does this mean? That India, the whole country, is obligated and bound to a nuclear deal which was signed by its Prime Minister, without the rest of the government, the opposition party, the Indian nuclear establishment, the defense forces and the entire nation knowing about its details? That in contrast, the US is not obligated nor bound to the deal which was signed by its President, and that the deal could be vetoed and totally rejected by an organ of the US government?

Here are excerpts from the India article about the nuclear deal:

This is big news for India’s nuclear science community too.

They have not opposed the separation itself, they have only been worried about the way the deal was negotiated with the US, and they are worried about hidden terms and conditions.

Indian nuclear scientists’ culture of research, their life and times will change forever now.

It’s big news for India’s nuclear strategists and security experts, too. There will be a sea-change in their thinking about India’s minimum deterrent doctrine. How many weapons India needs and how many reactors and which technology is needed to maintain its nuclear edge will need absolutely new rethinking.

But as of now, not much can be said if the deal takes care of contentious issues or not because the Joint Statement does not say much about the significant details of the nuclear deal’s terms and agreement.

Till those details are not known, it will be too early to celebrate the agreement over nuclear separation.

So, let’s see if we can summarize this: The most important concern of India’s nuclear science community is the way the deal was negotiated and the hidden terms and conditions of the deal. And it is precisely these details which are not known, which were not made public before the deal was signed? Are India’s nuclear strategists and security experts bound by a deal whose most worrying details they were not aware of before the deal was signed? Isn’t something seriously wrong with this picture? Was a proper and transparent consensus building execise conducted on the Indian side, among all the holders of India’s nuclear and defense responsibilities?

Let’s contrast this with an excerpt from the US article on the nuclear deal:

In interviews with rediff.com and in statements issued by their offices, the US lawmakers said they would eagerly await the Administration to come up on Capitol Hill with its proposal to rewrite current US laws that requires Congressional approval.

The chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, who is key to the deal either being accepted or rejected, according to his senior aide Mark Helmke was said to be ‘looking forward to learning more about the details of the progress made on the nuclear power agreement with India and getting a draft legislation from the Bush Administration.’

The top Democrat on the Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, said, ‘The project to bring India into a new relationship with the international nuclear nonproliferation regime is laudable.’

He acknowledged that ‘India is a rising power and a great democracy, and it is unrealistic to expect it to renounce its nuclear weapons program at this time.’

But Biden expressed concern over the statement by the chief Bush Administration negotiator, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, that the agreement ‘will not have an impact on India’s nuclear weapons program.’

He said, ‘Congress must examine the agreement in detail to evaluate its implications for nuclear nonproliferation. The bottom line question is: does this deal make us more secure, or less secure?’

Biden said it is imperative that the Administration ‘show Congress it will make us more secure by bringing India into closer compliance with international nonproliferation norms, that it will not assist India’s nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that it will not cause other countries to question their own commitment to nonproliferation because of a perceived double standard on our part.’

Congressman Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, while welcoming what he described as ‘the further strengthening of US-India cooperation,’ said, ‘Implementing this agreement will require legislative approval.’

Look closely at the phrases I have bolded in the above quote. Several things become obvious from those phrases:

  • The United States Senate and Congress are going to close examine the nuclear agreement between India and the US.
  • The Bush administration is obligated to explain the terms of the deal to the Senate and the Congress, in order to convince them that this deal is of advantage to the US and “safe for the world” (I am paraphrasing here).
  • Then, the Bush administration has to propose the laws which would enable the US to abide by the agreement.
  • If the Senate and Congress are not convinced about the Indo-US nuclear deal, they have the power to reject the Bush administration’s proposed laws, and ensure that the US does not honor the deal signed by President Bush.

Wow! And all these days, I thought the Indian government was a more democratic setup because the Indian Prime Minister has to work hard to build consensus among the Parliamentarians before imposing anything on the country. In contrast, I thought, the American President has far greater powers as an individual to almost dictate what his country will or will not do. I really do need lessons in Civics.

But the most important concern now is not my ignorance of the functioning of the Indian and the American governments. The most important concern is if the Indian Prime Minister and his administration have done right by India. The concern is if the Indian Prime Minister has followed a weak nuclear policy and thereby weakened India in the long term. So far, I have not seen or read anything to allay my fears and concerns. And I am not at all happy that we have to wait until after the deal has been signed, and after the US President has flown out of India, before the Indian Prime Minister will address our concerns and tell us if our country has been sold out or not!

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