Sanctifying Atomic Apartheid
Sanctifying Atomic Apartheid
By signing the nuclear cooperation deal with Washington, India has set its face firmly against nuclear disarmament and become America's junior partner - for dubious gains. This betrays the UPA's solemn promise to work for global nuclear weapons abolition.
The idea that you could snuff life out of millions of innocent civilians at the touch of a button is so terrifying and awe-inspiring that it typically creates moral doubt, fear and deep anguish even among the more cynical inventors, minders and potential users of nuclear weapons.
Thus, as he witnessed a blinding flash from the world's first nuclear explosion, of the Trinity device, exactly 60 years ago, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Father of the Bomb, famously recited from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds ... " In the preceding weeks, Oppenheimer had taken to reading mystical-spiritual literature, from which came the Trinity image. The choice of the Trinity site, prophetically named "Journey of Death", was equally telling.
Years later, Oppenheimer recalled his fellow-scientists' reactions to the test's success, at which they were at once relieved and horrified: "A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent". Fellow-physicist Kenneth Bainbridge said, bluntly but reflectively: "Now, we are all sons of bitches." Many soldiers and political leaders who have had their finger on the nuclear trigger in the past have similar responses, barring individuals like Paul Tibbetts, who to this day expresses no regrets over dropping the Bomb on Hiroshima. Psychologists like Robert Jay Lifton have analysed the onerous guilt such people carry and the suicidal-level anxiety they create in their potential victims.
One distressing characteristic of the Indian bomb lobby is that it has never had any moral dilemmas about nuclear weapons. None of its numerous members has even said the Bomb is evil, although a necessary evil. Pride in being "hard-nosed" and uncompassionate has driven many of them to be contemptuous of all ethics. They "normalised" the Bomb in their souls long before it came into being.
Manmohan Singh, then a Congress Member of Parliament, stood in sharp contrast to that lobby in the Rajya Sabha on May 28, 1998. Along with S.R. Bommai and S. Ramachandran Pillai, Manmohan Singh unrelentingly pilloried the Vajpayee government for the Pokhran-II tests, and passionately pleaded for disarmament. He accused the government of violating India's three-pillared nuclear policy "consensus". The first pillar is that "nuclear weapons [are] weapons of mass destruction and their use [is] a crime against humanity". So "India should be in the forefront of international efforts to work for a non-discriminatory, multilateral arrangement to have these weapons outlawed ... After ... the declaration that India is now a nuclear weapons-state, ... this consensus has been sought to be disrupted."
Manmohan Singh charged the government with violating the transparency criterion, and with failure "to explain to our people as to what were the compelling circumstances" which necessitated the tests. He cited the National Democratic Alliance's betrayal of its promise to "undertake India's first-ever strategic defence review .... " He said there are "valid reasons" to believe "this is an attempt for political consolidation through the bomb ... on the part of a government which was tottering, which was far from cohesive and which did not know how to work cohesively."
Manmohan Singh warned: "The Prime Minister has said that we are not going to enter into an arms race. But history is a witness to a large number of regimes, with good intentions, but being sucked in by circumstances beyond their control and ... piling up military budgets, which, ultimately, proved their undoing... National security has several other dimensions. There are military dimensions; ... economic dimensions; and ... social dimensions. And a single-minded pursuit of military objectives at the cost of all other national objectives is not necessarily conducive to the development of a balanced, sober, doctrine of national security. Therefore ... I have fears that this country will be sucked into an arms race and all these promises of health for all, education for all, employment for all ... would remain ... empty rhetoric... "
On no-first-use, Manmohan Singh said: "[T]he archives of the Soviet Union and other countries ... show that even when [they said] they would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, their opponents never took that seriously. Therefore... people were sucked into large uncontrollable increase in expenditure on these armaments and I do not want this thing to happen to our country ... where 36 per cent of our people are still living below the poverty line ... .
"So I urge the government to spell out their [security] doctrine ... which takes care of military threat but at the same time... of the threats to ... social cohesion, and the economic equilibrium arising out of ill health, illiteracy, ignorance and disease. If we do not attend to these threats, you will have weapons of mass destruction like the Soviet Union had but the Soviet Union still withered away. Therefore, think before you act, think before you weaponise ... India must use its diplomatic skills to minimise the damage that has been created world-wide."
Manmohan Singh concluded: "I think the impression will go round that the government has used these tests as a political lever to strengthen its hold on the people ... I, therefore, conclude by appealing to the government not to play politics with our ... Nuclear Policy. [T]he nuclear issue is ... not a partisan issue and any attempt to derive partisan benefits out of these tests would ... be an act of ... great disservice to our nation."
Yet, Manmohan Singh has departed from the logic he himself advanced in opposition to Vajpayee's boast that by weaponising its nuclear option, "India will take its rightful place in the international community." By signing the nuclear cooperation deal with President George W. Bush, he has signalled India's descent into utter and complete cynicism. His government threw transparency to the winds. There was reportedly no discussion of the agreement's rationale and content in the Cabinet, its Committee on Security, or the National Security Advisory Board. Even the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which will execute the agreement, was apparently not consulted about its feasibility and likely costs.
The government did not establish the necessity of nuclear trade with the United States, or the wisdom of relying on nuclear power for "energy security". All it can cite is the judgment (discussed below) in the Mid-Term Appraisal of the Tenth Plan that nuclear power can be "an important tool for de-carbonising the Indian energy sector" - an issue that has never been properly debated. Above all, the government has legitimised and sanctified the present discriminatory global nuclear order.
For decades, India campaigned against "atomic apartheid" - the world's division between a handful of (literally, eight) states with nuclear weapons, and the majority (180-plus) that do not or, have chosen not to, have them. Now, India has joined apartheid's rulers. That is the fundamental significance of India's admission into the nuclear club by its most powerful, arrogant and nuclear-addicted nation. That is why there is not even a token reference to nuclear disarmament in the Manmohan Singh-George Bush joint declaration.
This was expected given the U.S.' post-September 11 nuclear posture, which relies heavily on nuclear weapons and recommends the development of new uses for them such as "bunker-buster" munitions, in addition to "Star Wars"-style ballistic missile defence.
As the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said: For decades, India "was ... committed to nuclear disarmament... . The Rajiv Gandhi plan for disarmament was the last major initiative taken in this regard. The BJP-led government had begun the journey of accepting junior partnership of the U.S. in return for a de facto recognition as a nuclear weapon-state.... The current agreement marks an end to India's nuclear disarmament policy." This is a serious retrogression.
The Washington agreement is a consummate expression of Bush's unilateralism - in restructuring ("adjusting") the global nuclear regime to accommodate India's nuclear ambitions for U.S.-specific reasons. These centre on containment of China - a point repeatedly stressed in closed-door briefings by U.S. officials, and in documents such as `The Indo-U.S. Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions, an October 2002 Pentagon-commissioned study, and a recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report by Ashley J. Tellis.
This inspired the new policy disclosed on March 25 by senior Bush administration officials, who said the U.S. has decided "to help India become a major world power in the 21st century". This was reflected in the "New Framework" for defence, which aims to recruit India into a subordinate partnership to help the U.S. "embed" itself in Asia. India will probably be drafted into "low-end" operations and into the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to intercept "suspect" shipments.
For the U.S., the deal's importance is essentially geopolitical. So it has offered to accommodate India's ambitions: recognition as a de facto nuclear weapons-state (NWS) and access to civilian nuclear materials. This is a trade-off. But the bargain is asymmetrical. Its structure and text was written by Washington, into which India was fitted with minor alterations.
India has undertaken several obligations, including "identifying and separating civilian and military nuclear facilities"; declaring "civilians facilities" to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)" and "voluntarily" placing them under safeguards; continuing its nuclear-testing moratorium; and "working with the U.S." for a "Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty". It will abide by Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers' Group Guidelines, although it belongs to neither. The U.S. accepts no similar obligations, like safeguarding more facilities, or continuing its nuclear-testing moratorium. It plans to conduct tests.
The agreement, admittedly, does not require safeguards on all Indian civilian nuclear facilities. India will presumably be elevated to NWS status in the IAEA regime, which imposes stringent safeguards only on non-NWSs, not NWSs. For instance, only four of the U.S.' 200-plus civilian facilities are safeguarded. The function of these, as well as Washington's signature of the IAEA's Additional Protocol is political, not physical. In practice, India will have to bargain over which facilities to declare. That is a function of distribution of power, itself unequal.
The BJP's criticism that the agreement will cap India's fissile-material production and interfere with the working of civilian reactors is misplaced. IAEA safeguards need not affect spent-fuel reprocessing from power reactors. IAEA inspectors cannot visit unsafeguarded facilities. All the same, India will become a party to lopsided and discriminatory nuclear control arrangements.
India's second objective was to get access to civilian nuclear technology and material, especially from the U.S. However, A. Gopalakrishnan, former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Chairman, argues (Economic & Political Weekly, July 2-8) that the U.S. is not an attractive or appropriate nuclear source: it "has no worthwhile current expertise in the design, construction, operation, maintenance or safety of any of the type of reactors ... in the Indian nuclear power programme".
India's main line of reactors uses natural uranium, whereas all U.S. commercial reactors burn enriched uranium. India produces very little of this and most will go into the submarine reactor under development. The Tarapur reactors do need enriched fuel and spares. But no spares are available for these anywhere. Besides, they are nearly 40 years old and unlikely to run safely for long.
If India wants to expand nuclear power substantially, it will certainly need natural uranium, which is becoming scarce as old mines get depleted and new mining projects face popular opposition. However, there is no broad national consensus on substantially boosting nuclear power generation. Besides missed targets, under-performance and high costs, nuclear power is fraught with occupational health and safety problems.
There is no solution anywhere to the serious problem of high-level wastes, which remain active for thousands of years. Fast-breeder reactors have not proved successful anywhere. France, which made the world's highest investments in these, has abandoned the 1200 MW Superphenix after numerous accidents. The thorium cycle is still experimental. Environmentalists are as fiercely opposed to nuclear power as its proponents support it.
Leaving these issues aside for the moment, can nuclear power genuinely contribute to "de-carbonising" the energy sector, as claimed? There is little evidence for this. Electricity generation accounts for only nine per cent of global carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions. And nuclear energy accounts for just 16 per cent of global electricity - in India, for a paltry 3 per cent. So the scope for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the nuclear route is meagre. India must concentrate on other sectors, especially transportation.
Each step in the nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to reprocessing, emits GHGs. There are far superior renewable alternatives (including co-generation and mini-hydel). In India, wind generation (3595 MW) has overtaken nuclear power capacity (3310 MW). Emissions from wind are estimated at one-half to one-third of those from nuclear electricity, per kilowatt-hour. While nuclear plants do not directly produce CO2, they produce a lot of heat.
Nuclear expert Jinzaburo Takagi shows that between 1965 and 1995, Japan's nuclear capacity rose by 40,000 MW. But carbon-dioxide emissions tripled. France has long derived 70 per cent-plus of its electricity from nuclear plants. But in 2000, its GHG emissions were still rising. Real GHG reductions can only happen through a change in Western patterns of energy consumption, which India is emulating.
Physicist-energy expert M.V. Ramana argues: "Nuclear power tends to require and promote a supply-oriented energy policy and an energy-intensive development pattern. Its high cost also means that any potential decreases in carbon emissions due to its adoption are expensive, certainly higher than energy-efficiency improvements and other means to lower thermal power-plant emissions."
The Washington agreement's benefits are thus modest, if not flimsy, and do not represent progress towards "energy security". India would be mistaken to place all its eggs in the "nuclear cooperation" basket. For, it is unclear if Bush can sell the deal to his Congress and the NSG. A House committee has just approved a measure preventing exports of nuclear technology to India. "This is a way ... to send a signal on this particular treaty," says a Republican member.
The U.S. establishment is divided over loosening the global nuclear order to accommodate India. People like Tellis advocate accommodation. Others like George Perkovich oppose it: "The costs of breaking faith with non-nuclear weapons states such as Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Sweden and others who forswore nuclear weapons [are] too high .... " Robert Einhorn, a non-proliferation aide under Clinton argues that the Manmohan Singh-George Bush deal "sends the signal that bilateral relations and other strategic interests will trump non-proliferation... And that will reduce the perceived penalties associated with going nuclear."
The 44-member NSG has countries that are likely to oppose dilution of its tough "Guidelines" - including Brazil, Argentina and South Africa (which renounced their nuclear capability) and possibly Japan, Germany and Sweden. In India, many DAE scientists are unhappy with the deal; they were excluded them from consultation.
A final word. Bush has declared India a "responsible" nuclear power, like all "other such states" "with advanced nuclear technology". We must ask if this is a contradiction in terms. States, which build weapons that can kill millions of innocent people, and are willing to use them, cannot be "responsible". On their 60th anniversary, we must remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain history's worst terrorist acts, far surpassing the Twin Towers attacks.
India must not further compound the horrific blunder of Pokhran-II. It must take, as the UPA's Common Minimum Programme promised, "a leadership role in ... working for a nuclear weapons-free world."
Copyright 2005 Frontline