Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Toxic Wasted Deal

DAE chief Anil Kakodkar's recent broadside against the Indo-US nuclear deal is a very significant political moment.

By going public with his reservations, he has robbed Dr. Singh of his legacy -- respect for the deal on which he has staked so much.

If the deal goes down now, Dr. Singh would have been torpedoed by an underling. There are too many ambitious people in the Congress not to see this as an opportunity to try to topple him. There are the Natwar Singhs and Mani Shankar Aiyars of the world who Dr. Singh sidelined, and there is the Iran lobby that Dr. Singh betrayed. With little support from the BJP and the Left, he'll become even more dependent on Mrs. Gandhi's patronage to lead India. The caricature would have become entirely real.

If the deal goes through somehow, his opponents in his party and the vast majority of the opposition will use Dr. Kakodkar's comments to claim the deal was a sell-out. They'll tell India -- heavily propagandized to consider our nuclear scientists as heroes -- not to believe politicians but listen to Dr. Kakodkar and his scientist allies. Who would Indians believe on nuclear issues -- Dr. Singh or Dr. Kakodkar? This is heady stuff on which elections can be wagered. Dr. Singh's legacy would have become toxic waste from its own success.

Dr. Kakodkar is a political villain because he has deliberately destroyed Dr. Singh's leadership. Heads he wins, tails Dr. Singh loses.

This still leaves us the question of the nuclear deal. What are we to make of it now?

Let's understand the big picture. India needs civilian nuclear power and global respectability for its strategic nuclear capability. Absent amendments to the NPT (extremely unlikely), the only path forward is a de facto acceptance as a nuclear state. This is what the deal offers.

But, there is no free lunch. In return for this exceptional status, the nuclear godfathers seek to limit India's strategic capability. In a way, we put ourselves in this box when we proclaimed our interest in a "minimum credible deterrent". Why minimum? This concept -- Mr. Vajpayee's legacy -- is a ridiculous notion. Now that we are stuck with this self-inflicted constraint, America can safely argue we already have a "minimum" deterrent -- why not then cap our strategic capability at this minimum level?

This is the deal that's on the table -- whether or not we like it. The negotiations will not change this overall structure. All they can do is to change, on the margin, what the meaning of the word"minimum" is. To the extent, Dr. Kakodkar was willing to engage in negotiation in the first place, he'd already accepted the notion of limits on our strategic plan. Therefore, his outrage at this late stage is somewhat amusing -- and highly disingenuous.

Personally, we have a problem with Mr.Vajpayee's (and Brajesh Mishra's) notion of "minimum credible deterrent". If it were up to us, we'd have used a language like "maximum possible deterrent".

Then, we'd have leveraged India's expanding place in the world, the profit urges of American nuclear industry salivating to serve India, and the fact that a failed deal now means India will turn away from America again -- at least for one generation -- to cut a more favorable deal for India.

But, India rarely plays up to its strength; we negotiate as if we've already lost. Besides, if the deal goes down for fear of harming our strategic capability, it's not as though we are about to catch China or even Israel in terms of aggregate deterrent capacity with our own efforts.

These are the terrible cards we are dealt. Given this, Dr. Singh's deal is not as terrible an option as some seem to suggest. With this deal, we'll have significantly increased civilian nuclear power, will be accepted in NPT as a de facto (and in international law, de jure) nuclear weapons state, and will retain our minimum credible deterrent. Without this deal, we'll remain in nuclear isolation hence forever dependent on tricky hydrocarbon energy, without respect for our strategic strength, and with the same minimum deterrent as in the other scenario.

Neither option is perfect, or as we'd script it ourselves, but of the two, the first is clearly better. Dr. Singh's legacy may have been poisoned, but he has our full support to conclude the deal. And, oh by the way, he should fire Dr. Kakodkar.


Jaffna said...

Primary Red,

I do not agree with your assessment. The Vajpayee administration made a mistake in enunciating a strategic doctrine of a "minimum credible deterrance". In doing so, it unnecessarily limited India's future policy options. The Manmohan Singh administration should not repeat this mistake by agreeing to the United States-India nuclear deal as currently defined. The deal would only serve to operationalize and provide international legal sanction to this self-imposed limit. It is not in India's interest to unilitarally cap the production of fissile material at its current stage of nuclear development. The United States appears to have changed its goal posts since July last year and this surprises me. It is not in the interests of that country to see India play second fiddle to China in the strategic arena either.

Manmohan Singh appears to be looking at issues purely from an economic standpoint. There is the added strategic dimension that needs to be factored in. Anil Kakodkar's intervention was therefore timely and welcome given the technical nature of the discussion. For one, the fast breeder reactors need not be placed under the civilian nuclear program and be subject to IAEA scrutiny! There needs to be more debate in policy circles before international agreements with huge consequences can be rushed through. Kakodkar's interventions were therefore relevant and much needed.

More later when I have studied the proposed deal in some depth.

cynical nerd said...

PR: you might want to read up a bit before shooting for the US.

After Pokhran II, many Western nuclear 'experts' wrote that India's arsenal is puny a few dozen war heads. Now they are coming after India's FBR in which US has nothing to offer except Pu from their world-wide reserves (the Japanese and Russians have shitloads of them).

Make no mistake, India owes to nobody as far as nuclear tech is concerned.

btw, India's nuclear arsenal is a top secret as far as I know. It is supposed be at a minimal level (reduces cost of maintenance) but since the civil+military programs are interlinked , they can jack-up fissile material production and build the warheads in a relatively short notice.

If India can manage to take care of its energy needs till 2025 (for eg., by saying to hell with climate change and constructing large thermal power plants), then the Thorium cycle will take over which can provide 100s of GW for many many years - something the US does not want India to have.

OTOH, fast forward 10 years after we agreed to this deal. Once we are heavily dependent on US Pu supplies (under GNEP), they can really control our energy security by threatening to cut-off the supplies. At that point if they ask us to give our weapons, we'll have no choice but to give up.

Before asking India to open up IGCAR, will the US allow access to LANL? And do you know how many unsafeguarded reactors the US military runs? 100 at atleast.

btw, Dr. Kakodkar is no Mike "You are doin a heck of a job" Brownie. Top civil servants in India actually have worked in the field and know the stuff they are doing.


Primary Red said...


On Kakodkar, he may be a terrific scientist but he crossed the line when he took his concerns public. Surely, he had the ability to voice his concerns directly to the PM without puttng him in a politically tough spot.

This is why he should be fired.

As far as what might or might not happen in 25 years, all we have to say is that this a very long time to wait for a serious development spurt in our country.

Best regards.

Apollo said...

he crossed the line when he took his concerns public. Surely, he had the ability to voice his concerns directly to the PM without puttng him in a politically tough spot.

PR have u ever walked into a government office to get some work done. this is india boss the biggies have a big ego and they won't listen to any reason. anil kakodkar had no option but to take his grievances public.

remember how nehru parcelled out Aksai chin to china. he said it is a desert where even a blade of grass doesn't grow. that is the level of strategic thought that our government has. totally myopic they need to be pressured heavily so that they don't sell out.

Primary Red said...


Surely there's a difference between how the govt. treats ordinary Indians and how Dr. K would be treated.

We grew up in a family of a decorated Indian scientist who, like Dr. K, rose to very high ranks in the public sector. So, we have some sense of how these things work at that level.

Maybe its diff. for DAE -- who knows, but we somehow doubt it.

Best regards

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing that you have the gall to suggest that MMS should fire Dr Kakodkar. For what? Speaking his mind and putting his nations interests above his personal ones- getting censured etc by the PMO/ PM etc? Furthermore, read up on Kakodkar- where he came from & what he did for India- it irrelevant to state that you came from a family of scientists and so on and so forth & so know about this particular issue. If the issue was so clear cut as SG of the Indian Express makes it out to be, then why are AN Prasad, PK Iyengar- all respected figures well known to & a silent part of the establishment, coming out in public? Would you have them censured as well? For quite some time now the Press was trash talking the DAE- painting it out melodramatically as being engaged in empire building, intent upon scuttling a historic deal & the like- scarcely a peep about the FBR's and why DAE was aghast at the thought of the FBR's being brought under US/ IAEA inspections. Kakodkar did what he had to, to rebut such idiotic assertions, at a time, when the deal was being carried forth under utter secrecy, with the usual all is well line being peddled by the establishment. Instead of respecting a person, who tried to make good, without trashtalking the GOI in turn, you folks accuse him of being disloyal to the GOI etc etc and having broken some covenant of silence and hence liable for summary dismissal. In Pakistan perhaps. Or some tinpot regime run nation. But not in India. And for crying out loud, get a grip and identify with the source you espouse- Shekhar Gupta is widely discredited as one of the SAsian cabal- he is Stephen Cohens protege, or so he proudly informs us. He routinely trash talks local R&D, DAE et al (damning with faint praise for the requisite balance) and has written reams on the uncouth nationalists pushing for the "bomb". Pretty much shows where he is coming from.



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