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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Yup. Our free press is indeed free! I’ve writ­ten about my frus­tra­tion with Amer­i­can bipar­ti­san pol­i­tics before ( — you put it apt­ly, that they live in a coun­try with a 2-col­or palette!

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve sub­mit­ted my post URL as com­ments to the Edi­tor. Not that they’ll do any­thing with it, but I’m hap­py I expressed myself! 🙂

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