Saturday, September 05, 2009


By T.P.Sreenivasan

It was the twitter culture that did Obama in. He decided to
encapsulate the race issue and its solution in less than 140
characters. In the Gates case, the police behaved stupidly, he said,
without realising he shared his skin colour with the victim and the
police sergeant in question had another skin pigment. Hell broke loose
in no time and expression of regret over wrong choice of words was not
sufficient to put out the fire.

Obama is nothing, if not innovative. “We can!” he said again. Inviting
Gates and Crowley for a lunch or dinner in the White House would have
been overkill and so he hit upon a beer on the White House lawns, rain
or shine. Beer can put out any fire; spirit would have only fanned it
further. Boston has a Beer Summit every April and Gates and Crowley
should welcome a real summit with the chief himself and everything
would be forgotten and forgiven, thought the strategist President.

But the cure turned out to be worse than the disease. The three could
not agree even on the brand of the beer. San Miguel, the Boston beer
should have been the obvious choice, but there was no consensus and
red, blue and light were brought in. Then came the question of racial
balance at the summit and the President brought in his deputy more for
his colour than for his wisdom. There was no time to get his choice of
beer and so he ended up drinking the Boston beer that was originally
stocked for the occasion. In any case, as the only one not a party to
the dispute, Biden had to remain sober to keep the balance.

The setting was perfect, the brew was right and the racial balance was
intact. Then came the hard job to establish as to who behaved
stupidly. Was it Gates, who protested when he was accosted inside his
house by a policeman, who proceeded to handcuff him? Was it Crowley,
who thought he found a misfit in an aristocratic neighbourhood and
proceeded to treat the good professor as a criminal? Gates’ ID showed
that he was a Professor at Harvard, but how could he be sure that he
did not break into homes in his spare time? Why was it that an
institution like Harvard did not show the address of the Professor on
his ID? Or was it the President, who thought that, with his election
as President, there was no more racial prejudice in the United States?

Not even Biden could resolve the issue. No champagne was brought in at
the end of the summit to celebrate the grand reconciliation. Cameras
and recorders were kept away, but it did not take much effort for the
reporters to know that beer did not resolve years of racial prejudice.
No amount of beer could wash away the dirt accumulated over the years
in the minds of men. Gates and Crowley were seen mumbling things to
themselves as they left the White House lawns. Biden complimented his
boss for his wisdom and foresight in organising the event. Obama
shrugged it away. But he tried, didn’t he?
Obama has learnt his lesson. One swallow does not make a summer. One
African American President cannot heal all wounds. His “stupidity”
comment was honest, but honesty does not pay. Gates will, in future,
take special care of his key and will not give reason for his
suspicious neighbour to call 911 to report a break in. Crowley will
not change, because most criminals he comes across in his daily work
is of a particular colour. His only choice is to leave the police
force and sell beer to the White House for future summits, which
should be a growing industry, considering that racial prejudice is
still alive and well. Even the US Government tends to deploy more
African Americans at places, where the law is likely to be broken, be
it parking lots or customs barriers.

The beer summit brought a bonanza to journalists. “Brewhaha” was my
favourite, but “Coalition of the Swilling” “Ale to the Chief” and “The
cop, the Professor and the President: It All Comes to a Head” were
also good. Someone said that Gates should have tried to climb over the
White House wall to get to the lawn for the beer summit!

Another beer story should be a good tail-piece. An Australian lady
diplomat offered her resignation after five years in the service. When
asked why, she said: “When I joined the service, I was promised
champagne and proposals all the way. But in the last five years, I
have not seen anything but beer and propositions.”
Santy’s Bombshell

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Two significant scientific accomplishments of India lost their sheen on the same day. The news of the loss of contact with Chandrayaan-1 flashed across the screens with an equally unexpected admission by one of the architects of the 1998 nuclear tests that the yield of the thermonuclear device was lower than what was claimed by India. Both are disappointing developments for Indian science, the latter with major strategic implications. Nothing succeeds like success and partial success will be seen as partial failure.

Dr. Santhanam, a frequent visitor to Washington during my days there, has a bit of Puckish humour about him and a certain transparency, which is unusual for nuclear scientists, bearing the burden of the nation’s secrets. But on matters of strategic thinking and scientific reasoning, he is precise and clear. It is for this reason that his sudden revelation, the first of its kind from the scientific establishment, surprised everyone. His statement carried such credibility that the whole weight of every one concerned came down heavily on him. Dr. Abdul Kalam, Mr. M.K.Narayanan, Mr. Brajesh Misra, Dr. Chidambaram and Dr.Kakodkar spoke in unison to disown Dr. Santhanam. The usual suspects in the dissident group of scientists, Dr. Prasad and Dr. Gopalakrishnan remained skeptical. The official position that the tests were a “huge success” and that the thermonuclear device had a yield of 60 kilotons was reiterated.

It is the way of the world that the general public will give greater credence to a “maverick” view rather than the establishment view as such doubts have been raised by outside agencies and strategic thinkers in India. More importantly, we need to analyze the repercussions that the Santhanam statement may have internationally. With the nuclear deal in position and the Obama Administration moving slowly, but steadily towards the CTBT and wondering whether the US should have any nuclear trade with India at all, the nuclear establishments around the globe must be revisiting the India file.

“I would like to declare on the floor of this august Assembly that India will never sign this unequal Treaty (CTBT), not now, not later” stated Ambassador Arundhati Ghose in the UN General Assembly on September 10, 1996. Those words reverberate around the globe even today, though much has happened since, including Prime Minister Vajpayee’s expression of readiness to reconsider the matter if everyone else accepted the CTBT. But nothing that has happened till today has altered the reasons for the Indian position in 1996. There is no greater commitment to disarmament today, the discriminatory aspect still remains and violation of international law in the form of article 14 on Entry into Force is still there.

What has changed is the nuclear status of India, India’s moratorium and the nuclear deal, which involves the NSG waiver. Though the moratorium is voluntary, it has assumed a certain international significance as it is at the centre of the nuclear deal. Everyone understands that there is no deal without the moratorium. We have no obligation to sign the CTBT anymore as the Prime Minister’s assurance predates the nuclear deal. The CTBT itself is embroiled in the domestic politics of the US and its international power equations. Dr. Santhanam’s claim that he chose to make the revelation to reduce pressure on India to sign the CTBT, therefore, is far-fetched. Pressure on India to sign the CTBT is not an immediate contingency. President Obama has to find the required number of votes in the Senate to ratify the CTBT before he embarks on his messianic mission to bring it into force.

What the Dr. Santhanam statement does is calling into question the credibility of the Indian nuclear establishment. The findings put out by India have already been challenged by others, but Dr. Santhanam was one of those who were present at the test site with others in military fatigues. His crossing over to the side of the skeptics will be a serious challenge to the scientific establishment. His explanation that India needs more tests despite the moratorium will only make India suspect in the nuclear community. However well intentioned, his statement can only do more harm than good for India. The world outside will recall the passionate demand for testing at the time of the negotiations on the nuclear deal.

The question facing the nation relates also to the credibility of the minimum deterrent, a matter which may interest our adversaries. Dr. A.Gopalakrishnan and others have asked whether it is necessary at all to have a thermonuclear device when we already have fission weapons in our arsenal. It may be more productive to invest in research and development of fusion weapons and also participate in ITER. The higher priority should be for us to miniaturize the weapons and improve our capacity for delivery. Perhaps, this is what is implied by the confident assertion of the NSA and others that no further tests are necessary. In other words, the political purpose has been served and there is no requirement of further tests as Dr. Santhanam and others advocate. The objectives of the politicians and the scientists could be different, right from the beginning, according to Mr. CMA Nayar of the Kerala International Centre. The scientists may be disappointed, but the Government is not.

India has never revealed the specifics of the minimum deterrent. Mr. Jaswant Singh stated repeatedly that it was not a “fixity”. So no outsider can judge whether further tests are necessary to maintain the deterrent. Since the NSA has stated even after the statement of Dr. Santhanam that the test was only partly successful that no further tests are necessary, the Government is relying on the judgment of the mainstream scientists that the credibility of the arsenal is intact.

The non-proliferation Ayatollahs in the US will now go hammer and tongs at India for harbouring ambitions to test thermonuclear weapons and they will campaign against the implementation of the deal. No one can take away the NSG waiver unless India tests, but the needle of suspicion will be on India right now. The non-proliferation czars in the State Department will now be preparing for the eventuality of an Indian nuclear test. India will have to work overtime to restore confidence in bilateral relations. Dr. Santhanam’s bombshell will have an impact beyond our borders.