August 19, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

On the sovereign right to test’

The India-US nuclear deal makes the costs of testing less asymmetric

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Jerry Rao’s op-ed in the Indian Express does much to blow the misunderstanding over India’s sovereign right to test nuclear weapons. It also does much to clarify our understanding of the Indian Left’s championing of everyone’s nuclear weapons programme, save India’s own. [see Rohit’s post]

The situation is quite clear on our so-called sovereign right to test. We can test nuclear weapons whenever we wish because we are, most emphatically, not signing the NPT. But just as in 1974 and in 1998 there was a cost to testing, so will there be a cost going forward. The enormous achievement of the Indian negotiating team is that this time around the costs would not be asymmetric. The last two times we were lonely losers in the world of international atomic trade. President Clinton went public in 1998 that he would “come down like a tonne of bricks” on India because we had the temerity to test. President Bush has conceded that while the US can react to a fresh Indian test, it will not be costless to them. The US too will pay a price and a stiff one at that. Sovereign behaviour comes with a price tag and, if anything, Dr Singh has lowered the price tag substantially.

The real opposition from the Left, ironically, is to any progress by India in the nuclear space. The Left supports China’s nuclear programme (despite our unresolved border dispute with China and despite their assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear development). The Left parties are vociferous supporters of Iran’s nuclear ambitions (with their eye on Indian Muslim support, which rightly or wrongly they believe is tied to our loud approbation of Iranian violations of a treaty that they voluntarily signed). It is only with constructive progress of India’s atomic industry (which is virtually impossible without removing the “tonne of bricks” currently resting on our heads) that the Left Front has a problem. It is fascinating to note that the Indian Left has enthusiastic supporters in the American Left who too would like to sabotage 123 and ensure that India signs the NPT as is, or else face something heavier on our heads. [IE]So why is it surprising the The Hindu changes tack and now advocates putting the nuclear deal on hold’?

As Jerry points out, the debate over this issue is no longer over its pros and cons with respect to the national interest. The political debate over this deal is now solely devoted to saving or bringing down this government, and over possible electoral alliances for the next general elections.

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