An unequal deal

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Three essays on the nature and the wider implications of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal

UNCLE SAM’S NUCLEAR CABIN: Prabir Purkayastha, Ninan Koshy, M. K. Bhadrakumar; LeftWord Books, 12, Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 95.

This book consists of three essays around the common theme of the nature and the wider implications of the highly controversial Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. All the three essays are lucid and well-argued expositions on the different dimensions and consequences of the deal, alerting us, both individually and as a collective read, to the risks and contradictions of the proposed deal. Perhaps the most important point they make convincingly is that the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal cannot be seen as a stand-alone agreement, but must be seen in the broader international and national political, strategic, economic and ethical context.

Perceptions of the deal

Contesting the argument of the official supporters of the deal that it breaks India’s nuclear isolation and gives it access to advanced nuclear technology hitherto denied, Prabir Purkayastha demonstrates that the official U.S. and Indian perceptions of the deal and what it can do and cannot differ significantly. While the Indian government and its spokespersons present the agreement as a stand-alone deal limited to cooperation in the arena of civilian nuclear energy, the U.S. has explicitly anchored it within a larger Indo-U.S. strategic partnership. Purkayastha reminds us that the nuclear weapon-states have not fulfilled their part of the demonstrably unequal global nuclear bargain that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) represents, namely moving forward on universal nuclear disarmament or even holding good faith discussions on it. While developing a whole new generation of advanced nuclear weapons and seeking to militarise outer space, the U.S. and its allies refuse to recognise that Iran as a signatory to the NPT is well within its rights to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Two concerns

Purkayastha makes the interesting point that despite the West’s preoccupation with non-proliferation instead of universal disarmament, and with ensuring it through the NPT, by the 1990s, “... the nuclear non-proliferation regime itself was unraveling.” India could well have waited for the contradictions of the regime to mature than rush into a deal that officialdom claims will end its “nuclear isolation.” With India’s rising economic clout, market considerations would have forced a dismantling of the sanctions regime imposed on India as a non-NPT state under the NPT. Purkayastha shows that the two concerns raised by the political left against the nuclear deal are valid. One was that the deal seeks to bind India to U.S. on foreign policy issues, and the second that the U.S. would constantly shift goal posts in the process of translating the agreement into laws. The Hyde Act clearly demonstrates the validity of both these concerns. Purkayastha also shows that the deal is far from being a solution to India’s energy problem, in view of cost considerations.

Ninan Koshy shows that the Hyde Act entirely governs the 123 Agreement. The official attempt to proclaim its irrelevance to the Agreement holds no water. The Act explicitly links the deal to foreign policy, requiring an annual assessment from the U.S. President that India’s foreign policy is congruent with U.S. interests, and that India is helping U.S. efforts to isolate Iran. India’s two votes against Iran in September 2005 and February 2006 at the IAEA suggest that the Indian government has fallen in line.

Koshy also points out that the nuclear deal was preceded by the U.S.-India framework agreement on defence cooperation which spoke of collaboration in multinational operations (which implicitly include U.S.-led military operations in third countries without U.N. sanction) and expanding collaboration in missile defence.


Koshy shows by a meticulous examination of the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement that the Prime Minister’s assurances to Parliament have been belied. He brings out the wider implications of the deal, including how it fits into the U.S. policy of “containing China”, using India.

The theme of the implications of the deal for India’s interests in the crucial geopolitics of Central Asia, as well as our relations with China and Russia, is dealt with brilliantly by Bhadrakumar. In a comprehensive essay, he argues that the U.S. influence in Asia is diminishing and that it seeks “… to divide Asia and thereby to “contain” China’s expanding influence and Russia’s resurgence.” Noting that the stability and security of Central Asia is in India’s interest, he argues that India should cooperate with Russia and China through participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Unfortunately, the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and the larger Indo-U.S. strategic partnership, initiated by the NDA regime and carried forward by the UPA in violation of its National Common Minimum Programme, is seriously compromising India’s autonomy to pursue a Central Asian policy in tune with our national interests. Bhadrakumar argues that Asian unity must be an axiom of India’s policies and that we must not partner and assist the U.S. in its strategy of dividing Asia into rival blocs in a replay of the old cold war politics.

Taken together, the three essays constitute a welcome contribution to a healthy debate on not just the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal but the entire gamut of India’s emerging relationship with the U.S. and its implications for the sovereignty of our foreign policy and more fundamentally our national interest.

This book is a valuable sequel to Prakash Karat’s Subordinate Ally, also brought out by LeftWord Books.



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