Although President George W Bush understood the need to ensure parity for India with France and the U.K. in a 21st century alliance calculus, the Europeanists within his administration slowed down his effort at ensuring an equal treatment for India. Much the same as Winston Churchill in the previous century, they regard it as a “country of a lesser god” that is simply undeserving of any except a subservient status. Sadly, the Obama administration has become even more a Europeanists’ delight than its predecessor, and it has very rapidly sought to dilute the few concessions that President Bush succeeded in extracting from his skeptical team.
This has been especially pronounced in the nuclear field. It is not rocket science that India’s ascent into middle income status will depend on a huge increase in its generation of energy, and that such an increase, given existing green technologies, will need to be powered mostly by energy from nuclear sources. The nuclear industries of India and the U.S. have excellent synergy between them, provided the U.S. acknowledges the implicit premise of the 2005 Singh-Bush statement and the 2008 unanimous vote of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow commerce and cooperation with India.
The non-proliferation lobby within the U.S. (a group heavily represented in the Obama administration) made India its primary target since 1974, neglecting to take account of the leaching of nuclear and missile technology from China and other locations to Pakistan and North Korea. Small wonder that it has demonized the India-US deal as a “danger to non-proliferation efforts”, despite the fact that a democracy of a billion-plus people is as much entitled to critical technologies as France or the UK. The reality, however, is that the Manmohan Singh government made several concessions to the U.S. side that have had the effect of substantially degrading India’s offensive capability. An example was the closing down of the CIRUS reactor, which was producing weapons-grade plutonium for decades. In exchange, India was to be given access to re-processing technology. Not merely has such technology continued to be denied to India, but the Obama administration is seeking to cap, roll back and eliminate India’s homegrown reprocessing capabilities.
Apart from strong-arm (and secret) tactics designed to force India to agree to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the Obama administration is now seeking to force India to give up its Fast Breeder Reactor program. As if on cue, those commentators in the world’s second-largest English-speaking country – including those not known for any previous interest in matters nuclear- who hew to the line of any incumbent U.S. administration have used the Fukushima disaster to call for the FBR program to be abandoned.
Whether by accident or by design, since 2007, this program has slowed down substantially, to the dismay of scientists working in the Atomic Energy Establishment who were rooting strongly for the India-US nuclear deal on the premise that this would ensure a much-needed alliance between the nuclear industries of both countries.
Instead, because of the present administration’s steady drumbeat of fresh conditions (and retrogressive tweaking of existing agreements), nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and India has remained frozen, even while that with Russia has bloomed. Hopefully, such a state of affairs will not continue for long.
One sector where a vigorous India-US partnership would immensely benefit both countries (of course, on the assumption – challenged by key elements in the Obama administration – that India is entitled to the same status as other key U.S. allies) would be in the field of thorium. India has nearly 300,000 tons of thorium (Th), more than enough to power the nuclear industries of both countries. India has already gone a substantial distance towards a viable thorium-based technology. The catch is that this involves reprocessing on a significant scale, a technology that the Churchillians in the U.S. administration say should be denied to India. This is despite the fact that when anyone last checked, India was not an authoritarian state but a democracy. Unless of course, such a prejudice is based on instincts that are not mentionable in polite company.
Despite having been treated as a pariah state by the US, India consistently abided even by agreements that the U.S. side had unilaterally discarded, for example at Tarapur. In this facility, a huge amount of radioactive material has piled up, that India has not re-processed, despite having the technology to, because the plant was set up in collaboration with the US. Some of the spent fuel has been converted after much expense and effort from unsafeguarded radioactive material to safeguarded irradiated fuel, especially in RAPS 1 and 2.
Despite such good behavior, not to mention an impeccable non-proliferation record, the Obama administration in effect continues to treat India as a nuclear pariah, seeking to drive it down to the status of a recipient country under the proposed international scheme for nuclear cooperation. Such a mindset would put paid to any possibility of an India-US alliance, and would be very good news to a country that U.S. non-proliferationists treat with kid gloves, China.
India has already developed two thorium-based systems, the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) and the Compact High Temperature Reactor (CHTR). Although for some reason there seems to be a sharp deceleration in such plans by the present Manmohan Singh government, plans are for the entry of the Indian private sector in this greenfield industry. Ideally, these would partner with U.S. companies, but the way matters are going, it would seem that Russian state enterprises may eventually end up as the preferred partners. This is presumably the reason why there is a significant lobby within India that opposes those within the government who seek to buy either the F -16 or the F-18 for the Indian Air Force. The continued reluctance to give India its due as a major power is behind the skepticism in South and North Block about relying on the U.S. for critical defense equipment. The Obama administration’s cavalier treatment of India’s rights as a responsible nuclear power are behind the pressure by elements of the armed forces to backtrack on plans for a comprehensive defense partnership with India. India gets treated as a Sudan or as a Gautemala in such a pairing, rather than get located in the same bracket as France and the US.
Despite their worst efforts, the plan to once again consign India to the bottom of the nuclear heap will not succeed. The 21st century mandates a vigorous partnership of the two most populous Anglosphere countries, India and the US. The non-proliferationists in the U.S. ought not to be allowed to make this hostage to their refusal to admit that India and its population are as responsible and deserving of privileges as the people of major U.S. allies in Europe. Should such a Churchillian view on India continue, the geopolitical gainers would be Russia and China.