USS Nimitz and the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

An unusually strongly worded piece in The Forbes, by Gary Weiss, today, with my responses:

“This nation of 1 billion that is so short of energy that blackouts in major cities have become a national scandal, this same country that is wrestling with the U.S. over implementation of a nuclear pact to deal with India’s energy needs, is getting its knickers in a twist over a visit by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.”

The whole nation is not opposing the visit.

“I am not making this up. The Indian media is abuzz with articles speculating about whether or not the Nimitz has nuclear weapons, and a denial from officials seems to be having little effect.”

A correction: there has been no denial from US officials. The official US response is that the US does not divulge this kind of information.

“You might think, from reading all this sheer nonsense, that people there are still marching to the sea to gather salt and spinning their garments on hand looms like the Mahatma. (Well, a lot are, come to think of it.)”

Well, at least that’s better than wetting their garments, watching reruns of Paris Hilton video clips.

“You’d certainly think India doesn’t want to have anything to do with nuclear energy.”

Just like differences between the Congress and the Bush Administration, there are differences between the main political party in power and its coalition allies. If India didn’t want to have anything to do with nuclear energy, we wouldn’t have entered into the July 18, 2005 agreement.

“The other day, an Indian negotiator, S. Jaishankar, was asked at a conference when gaps between the U.S. and India on all these nuclear issues will be closed. “As soon as the other side agrees with me, the gap will be closed,” he was quoted as saying. That was blunt talk from an Indian diplomat engaged in delicate negotiations. “The gloves are off,” said a commentator in The Telegraph.”

First, that same Telegraph article says: In the last nine years since India and the United States of America began talking on subjects they never ventured into before, it was always the Americans who broke the bilateral understanding not to use the media to press an advantage in the negotiations between the two sides. For a change, India decided to give Washington a taste of its own medicine.

Second, the Global Security Newswire reports that the comment was made as a joke.

“It’s hard to fathom why India feels so strongly about a side issue like spent-fuel reprocessing, particularly when its citizens are protesting an otherwise routine visit of a nuclear carrier to an Indian port.”

If it’s hard to fathom, ask. Or research:

Billed as the “Tarapur effect,” New Delhi is extremely cautious on these two issues, having been let down by the Americans before.

In 1963, India obtained its first two power reactors from the U.S. with a promise of lifetime support. But in the 1970s, Washington changed its policy unilaterally and stopped supplying fuel.Huge pools of spent fuel produced by the reactors began to accumulate at Tarapur as Washington refused to agree to take it back or grant India permission to process it.

“That is why we are insisting on a clear, rights-based approach,” an Indian official said. The Americans are insisting on taking the issue “down the line,” or leaving it to be dealt with later as and when India is ready to reprocess the spent fuel.

Back to the Forbes piece:

“By going to the mat on the issue of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, purely out of national pride, the Indian government threatens to torpedo an agreement that it desperately needs and to set back relations with the United States. India should realize that the enactment of the nuclear deal on the U.S. side was something of a miracle, given the Bush administration’s domestic weakness and serious concerns about the South Asian nuclear arms race. India should stop pressing its luck.”

Now who’s talking blunt?

Both the US and Indian media should stop putting labels, stop making sweeping generalizations and criticisms, while these two democracies struggle with domestic political challenges. The Indians need to understand their new role as a nuclear-powered nation, as excellently argued by Raja Mohan. The Americans need to understand that this nation of 1 billion people has a vast assortment of regional political parties who make the coalition government work. Only if we deal with ground realities on both sides, can we successfully ink the deal.

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4 thoughts on “USS Nimitz and the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

  1. Extremely well-written rebuttal. Only wish Forbes magazine had the Web 2.0 sense to put a feedback/comments section for their articles.

    The interesting thing about the media “buzz” on the Nimitz issue is the very fact that the media finds the bandwidth to question the permission to let it dock, for right or wrong reasons. The US media, on the other hand, is engaged in a 8-year old orgy of Bush bootlicking in between their Paris Hilton fetishes.

    As you mention, Im sure Mr Weiss has no clue about how truly plural (albeit young and immature) democracies work. After all he lives in a country with a 2 colour palette – Red and Blue.

  2. Small correction. They do have a “Send comments to the editor” section (at the top, next to the print link). Not sure if it displays your comments, but its worth a try.

  3. Pingback: India US Nuclear Deal - We’ve Done It! « An Unquiet Mind

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