I have been watching with pain and anxiety the events unfolding in the last few hours after the "secret" letter from the US State Department to the Congress was leaked by Rep. Howard Berman.
No, no, I DO NOT believe that the UPA Govt. misled the people or the Parliament. I also DO NOT believe that the US Govt. deliberately misled the Indian Govt. on this deal. My being upset has got nothing to do with this. I am upset because of the way the so-called "revelations" in this alleged letter are being misinterpreted by the media. The media is proving that it is thoroughly incapable of understanding the nuances in an international agreement, particularly one of this nature.
If the news channels are incapable (or unwilling) of understanding the dynamics around the deal, they should stop passing off uninformed speculation as "news".
While I am no fan of the Congress or the UPA govt., I do believe that Dr. Manmohan Singh, Dr. Anil Kakodkar and others in the team are patriotic citizens of Bharat. I cannot imagine that they would deliberately do anything that compromises India's vital security interests.
Seriously, I am beginning to feel that there is such a thing as TOO MUCH Democracy. It looks like our democracy is somehow obliging EVERYONE in the country to have an opinion on the nuclear deal, even though 90% (maybe more) of us are not equipped to understand it.
Hello, Boss! This is an international agreement. In any agreement, there is some give and some take. Each side has its own interests to pursue via the agreement.
In this case, India's interest is to secure supplies of nuclear fuel and reactors and become an active participant in the global nuclear energy industry.
USA has multiple interests here. Firstly, helping India reduce its own dependence on oil is good for the US economy. Secondly, the US does not like the prospect of China dominating all of Asia. It prefers an Asian order in which there is a more equitable power balance between India and China. The US sees a strategic relationship with India as a step in this direction. Also, with the nuclear energy option, India will be less compelled to go for other options like the Iran gas pipeline.
So where does nuclear weapon testing figure in all this? Nuclear testing is a hot issue, and one that is invoked the most by almost all critics. The deal has been criticized on the grounds that it constrains our "right to test" a nuclear device. This concern seems misplaced. After Pokhran-2, Vajpayee must surely have received proper assurances about our capabilities from the scientific and defence establishments, before he announced India's voluntary moratorium on future testing.
So, even if Manmohan Singh proceeded with the deal knowing that India's "leeway" to test may be constrained to an extent, it could be acceptable given the size of our existing arsenal and ability to take forward the nuclear weapons program without explosive testing. If we already have what is necessary to make different types of warheads, further explosive testing may actually be pointless. In fact we should be focusing our efforts on delivery systems (missiles and the like) and command/control systems, which are essential elements of the nuclear detterent.
Coming back to the issue of the letter made public by Berman. In any agreement between two governments, there are bound to be some "unwritten" lines and implicit understandings. It is not possible to write everything down or conduct everything in public, because as a whole the public's IQ is low. The public wants everything in black and white, has crudely simple notions about good/bad, right/wrong, trust/betrayal and easily falls for cheap, sensational news reporting.
For example, the public cannot understand the finely nuanced notion that even if the US "implicitly" has no problem with India conducting further nuclear tests, it cannot put this down in writing in an agreement. For obvious reasons, such an understanding needs to be between the two governments behind closed doors. Similarly, assume for a moment that the Indian Govt. after proper consultations with its security and scientific advisers concludes with reasonable confidence that India is not unduly harmed by desisting from further testing. Even then, it is politically unviable for them to say something like this in writing in the agreement.
I am not asserting that these specific "unwritten" understandings exist in the nuclear deal. Just that such a dynamic exists in international relations. That is why we have governments, assisted by experts and think-tanks who do the decision-making and enter into such agreements.
At some level, we need to trust our government to do what's good. If they betray that trust, make them pay for it later. But I don't think it's productive to stall, impede, thwart or destabilize the Govt. at each and every step, in the name of Democracy. I think that is too much democracy, which is actually a bad thing in India, as I wrote sometime earlier.