India may like Bush n-energy policy

NEW DELHI, MAY 20. After its controversial welcome to American proposals on building missile defences, India may find itself in agreement again with the conservative Bush administration in Washington! This time it could be cheering the plans announced by the U.S. President, Mr. George Bush, to revive the civilian nuclear power industry in the United States.

There has been no rush this time to welcome Mr. Bush's decision to reverse nearly a quarter century of U.S. opposition to civilian nuclear power. The lack of any reaction in the capital may have less to do with the merits of the new initiative in Washington. There has hardly been any focus here on the energy policy announced recently by the Bush administration.

Mr. Bush's endorsement of nuclear energy comes amid revival of American public support for an industry that once looked moribund, the advent of safer reactor designs, reliable solutions to nuclear waste management, and continuing concerns about global warming.

Within the U.S., the renewed governmental support to nuclear power industry is likely to be as divisive as the plan for missile defences. American liberals, pacifists, environmentalists, and non-proliferationwallahs will all oppose any attempt to revive the use of nuclear power in the U.S. or support it outside.

But internationally, the Bush administration will find itself in line with France, Russia, and Japan who never really gave up on nuclear power. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy, struggling to accelerate its nuclear programme, could well say, ``we told you so''.

The shift in U.S. policy from intense opposition to the use of nuclear energy to active support could alter the international debate on managing the link between civilian nuclear energy use and the spread of nuclear weapons. India has a strong interest in finding a way to promote the safe and economical use of nuclear power without nuclear weapons proliferation.

India, which is keen now on promoting private and foreign participation in the nuclear power sector will at least hope the Bush administration will no longer stand in the way of Indian plans for civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia and France.

The DAE would also want to renew civilian nuclear cooperation with the U.S. broken by Washington in 1974 when India first tested a nuclear device. That would, however, require a basic reconciliation of Indo-U.S. differences on nuclear non- proliferation. While the diplomatic road ahead might be a long one, the prospects for an Indo-U.S. nuclear rapprochement do not look entirely bleak.

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The testimony of Ms. Christina B. Rocca, new pointswoman for South Asia in Washington, is getting rave reviews here. What appeals to India is more than Ms. Rocca's proclaimed opposition to the nuclear sanctions imposed by the previous administration, and her promise to work for their early removal.

The most attractive aspect of Ms. Rocca's testimony is the suggestion that a radical change in American thinking about nuclear proliferation might be in the offing. The fundamental reconsideration of the recent American approach on non- proliferation and international security, India believes, opens the door for a nuclear reconciliation between New Delhi and the Bush administration.

For eight long years, New Delhi grit its teeth when listening to unending sermons on nuclear non-proliferation from the arms control theologians of the Clinton administration. Ms. Rocca's prepared testimony stood in stark contrast, with barely one reference to the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

And in responding to questions from U.S. Senators, Ms. Rocca made it very clear that the nuclear sanctions, imposed after the May 1998 tests, had outlived their utility and that they came in the way of a broad-based U.S. engagement with India.

This is a great leap forward from the final words of the Clinton administration on nuclear sanctions. Although it diluted many of the sanctions, the Clinton team insisted Indo- U.S. relations would not realise their ``full potential'' until the non- proliferation dispute was resolved to the satisfaction of the U.S.

Rejecting that approach, the Bush administration is saying sanctions are in the way of building a new relationship with India and must go. This does not mean the U.S. will give up on non-proliferation entirely. The Bush team is calling for a framework, very different from the present punitive measures, to deal with nuclear differences with India.

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Along with a big shift in nuclear thinking comes a significant change in the key personnel dealing with nuclear proliferation in Washington. And nothing reflects this more sharply than the appointment of Mr. John Bolton as the non- proliferation czar in the State Department.

Mr. Bolton's two predecessors in the State Department were certified non-proliferation fundamentalists - Ms. Lynn Davis who served in the first term of the Clinton administration, and Mr. John Holum in the second. Mr. Bolton comes from the other end of the U.S. debate on arms control.

Mr. Bolton's nomination and the controversy surrounding it did not get much play in the Indian media, but is of considerable interest. He is opposed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Unlike his predecessors, he believes it is American military power and not treaties which will protect the U.S. from the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

As a conservative ideologue, Mr. Bolton is strongly opposed to the United Nations and the kind of multilateralism the Clinton administration tried to promote in the last eight years. ``There is no such thing as the United Nations,'' Mr. Bolton once famously said. He added that if the U.N. secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it would not make a bit of difference to the world.

Mr. Bolton's controversial views made him a big target for Democrats and arms controllers who campaigned against his nomination to the sensitive non-proliferation position in the State Department. But with the help of Mr. Jesse Helms, conservative chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Mr. Bolton managed to squeak through.

Together, the likes of Ms. Davis and Mr. Holum heading the non- proliferation lobby constituted one of the biggest obstacles to improvement of Indo-U.S. relations in the last decade. By adopting a doctrinaire approach to nuclear differences with India, they stymied all efforts to craft a productive partnership between the two countries. All that hopefully will change under the new administration.

While India may or may not agree with all that Mr. Bolton has on offer, it should have no regrets in seeing the nuclear ayatollahs of the Clinton administration riding into the sunset.