Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Remarks by Former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan at the Brookings
Institution on July 15, 2009

Thank you, Steve, for your generous remarks. Let me thank you also for
inviting me to spend a delightful two months at the Brookings and for
mentoring me. Five years after retiring from the Indian Foreign
Service, I felt the need for some education and that prompted me to
seek this opportunity and it has been a marvelous experience. I am
grateful to the entire Brookings community, particularly President
Strobe Talbott, for the many courtesies extended to me. A special word
of gratitude to Dhruva Jaishankar, who has been most helpful. He
constantly reminded me of his father, Ambassador Jaishankar, who was a
young recruit to the Indian Foreign Service when I met him many years

I should also place on record my gratitude to Mr. Sreedhar Menon and
Mr. Tushar Kothari for joining hands with Brookings to make my
Fellowship possible.

The purpose of this presentation is not to give you any dramatic
findings from my study of India –US nuclear cooperation in the last
two months. I shall reserve them for my book. Today, I would rather
seek to elicit insights from you into the subject of India-US nuclear
cooperation, particularly the prospects for such cooperation in the
new setting in the US and in India.

I had noticed a certain nuclear deal fatigue in Washington, though
many of its architects and its opponents gave me their time quite
liberally. The forthcoming visit of the Secretary of State to India
and a G-8 decision on reprocessing and enrichment has, however,
generated new interest in the subject, at least in India.

The US voted for change, drastic change, while India voted for no
change. Of course, neither of the electorates had India- US relations
on their mind when they voted. But the advent of new governments in
the US and India cannot but have a major impact on India-US relations,
more so on nuclear cooperation.

In India, the Manmohan Singh Government received a new mandate, but
with a significant difference in its composition . The new coalition
is more cohesive, with the Congress Party in a commanding position.
Even more significantly, the leftist parties are not a part of the
coalition. The left parties had left the coalition on the issue of the
strategic partnership with the United States and, more specifically,
the nuclear deal and fought the election on that issue. Therefore, the
victory of the Congress party is a vindication of its policy of
seeking a closer relationship with the US and it will not be
constrained by the reservations of the leftists. In the US, the new
administration is committed to a strategic relationship with India,
but it includes individuals, who have held the view that the nuclear
deal does not contribute to the non-proliferation objectives of the
US. The priorities of the new administration also seem to have changed
on account of the global economic crisis and the developments in the
Afpak region. Ironically, the coyness of the former Government of
India has now shifted to the new administration in the US, making it
still difficult for them to become embracing democracies.

To explore whether the nuclear deal has any chance of being
implemented by the present administration, we need to go into the
reasons why the Bush administration made the policies necessary to
sign a 123 agreement with India. The conventional wisdom is that
development of a strategic relationship with India to balance China,
gaining access to the emerging market in India and bringing India into
the non-proliferation regime are among the reasons. These reasons
still hold good today, though Democrats have traditionally been
comfortable with China. Against the background of global recession,
the US is likely to be more sensitive to Chinese views, which include
opposition to the nuclear agreement. But the proclaimed commitment of
the Obama administration to implement the nuclear agreement could be
attributed to the continuing validity of some of the original reasons.
No one doubts the desire of the new administration to strengthen and
diversify India-US relations, an idea, which the Bush administration
had inherited from the Clinton administration.

Perhaps, it is the adherence of the Obama administration to the
non-proliferation regime, which will create roadblocks in the
implementation of the agreement. It is far from clear whether the Bush
administration meant the agreement with India to be the beginning of
the end of the NPT regime. Possibly, it did not love NPT less, but
loved India more. If, in the process of shaping a new arrangement with
India, the NPT regime suffered, it did not seem to be of concern. A
moratorium, rather than ratification of the CTBT, was sufficient to
bring India into the nuclear mainstream. Similarly, a commitment to
negotiate an FMCT in good faith and to sign it, when ready, was
adequate and no interim measure was necessary to cease production of
fissile materials. More than anything else, India’s possession of
nuclear weapons and absence of comprehensive safeguards did not stand
in the way of India having the same rights and privileges as other
responsible states like the US. These might all be anathema to some of
Non-proliferation champions in the new administration.

Although President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons
is welcome to India, the path he has chosen to reach there is strewn
with dangers that may upstage the nuclear agreement. If the US Senate
ratifies the CTBT and the pressure is mounted on India to sign the
it, the two countries are likely to be on a collision course. Indian
public opinion was seen to be strongly in favor of an option to test
and one of the virtues of the agreement is that it does not expressly
prohibit testing. “We have the right to test and they have the right
to react” is the grand compromise that sold the agreement to the
Indian public. How long do the two countries have before a crisis
arises on this issue? FMCT is at some distance, but much depends on
how soon and in what form the FMCT will present itself. The
possibility of difficulties arising on this cannot be ruled out,
depending on the timing of the finalization of the FMCT.

As for the issues that the previous administration left unresolved
such as reprocessing and perpetuity of supplies, the situation is even
grimmer. A decision by G-8 to refrain from transferring enrichment and
reprocessing technologies to non-NPT countries has already set the
Ganges on fire. The fear is that the G-8 countries in the NSG will try
to reopen the clean waiver given to India, following the latest
decision. It has been pointed out that the G-8 decisions are not
binding; the NSG waiver cannot be reopened except by consensus and
that ENR material transfers, according to the 123 Agreement, were
“subject to the Parties’ respective applicable laws, regulations and
license policies”. It is also a fact that President Obama is not
enthusiastic about reprocessing even within the US, On June 29,
2009,he quietly cancelled a lengthy environmental review that was the
first step in allowing the resumption of commercial nuclear
reprocessing in the US. But anything that affects full civilian
nuclear cooperation is seen as detrimental to the spirit of the

Another concern is that the agreed dialogue on reprocessing may itself
run into rough weather as the Indian position is that it cannot buy
from the US till this as well as the perpetuity of supplies issue are
resolved. The US, on the other hand, attaches importance to India
signing the Convention on Nuclear Damages and earmarking two sites for
American nuclear parks. Some experts have suggested that these issues
are not so urgent, because India can merrily go on purchasing material
from other countries, leaving the US out. This approach can hardly
please the Americans, including the architects of the agreement.

Another aspect of the nuclear cooperation I would like to explore is
the linkage between the talks between Jaswant Singh and
Strobe Talbott and the 123 agreement. I had seen it as a logical
outcome of the marathon talks as the five benchmarks that Talbott had
put forward figure in one form or the other in the Joint Statement.
Headway was made in the talks on CTBT, FMCT, export controls and India
had no problem in working for the normalization of relations with
Pakistan. The only issue on which there was no progress was the
so-called strategic restraint, which had to do with the nuclear
weapons India has developed. When the US decided to exclude the
military installations from the purview of the agreement, a meeting
point suddenly emerged and an agreement became possible. In effect, it
was a change in the US insistence on strategic restraint that led to
the new understanding.

But there are others, who believe that that the agreement was a new
idea, invented by the Bush administration and that the previous talks
and the NSSP discussions were useful only in creating the atmospherics
for the
agreement. “Clinton created the atmospherics, we created policy”, an
architect of the agreement told me. This lets the BJP off the hook for
disowning an agreement they had initiated. But this is a point worth
investigating. I know for a fact that the BJP Government had mooted
the idea of inspection of additional nuclear facilities in return for
relaxation of the technology denial regime.

Today, there are a number of proposals for the globe to move towards
nuclear disarmament. Even some of the cold warriors are moving away
from the deterrence doctrine to recommend not only reduction, but also
elimination of nuclear weapons. The US and Russia are in the process
of taking the initial steps in that direction. Some cynics are of the
view that these proposals are designed merely to avoid a breakdown of
the NPT Review Conference in 2010. Some movement towards nuclear
disarmament may prompt non-nuclear weapon states to recommit
themselves to their nuclear virginity. The India-US nuclear agreement
is likely to get some attention in this context. It remains to be seen
whether the US would go slow on the implementation of the agreement to
avoid criticism on that account.

The relationship between defense and nuclear cooperation has been a
matter of discussion in India. The leftist parties had alleged that
massive acquisition of weapons from the US was a precondition for the
nuclear agreement. It is to be explored whether defense cooperation
will provide sufficient incentive for the US to maintain nuclear
cooperation even if there is delay in nuclear trade.
These issues I have raised are by no means exhaustive. Since the
agreement is unprecedented, it is not easy to anticipate every problem
that is likely to arise. I would very much encourage a discussion on
these and other aspects. I am sure that I will greatly benefit from
your views and advice. On that will depend the nature of the study I
am planning to produce.

Thank you.

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