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A Faustian deal

In Goethe's masterpiece Faust, the protagonist makes a pact with the devil, Indian media accuses his government of doing the same.


The United States withdrew from all nuclear cooperation with India after India conducted a nuclear test in 1974. The United States, along with the rest of the world, also faced harsh criticism of both the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998. But more than 30 years after that the US broke contact, the US and India have agreed an agreement to resume cooperation on civil nuclear energy.

Full member of the nuclear club

This collaboration came about after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington this summer. In Indian strategic thinking, this was celebrated as a breakthrough. The agreement was seen as an implicit admission of India as a nuclear-weapon state, and a full member of the "nuclear club". The collaboration was seen by many as a dilution of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

George Perkovich, Vice President and Head of Research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace were among those who warned against this. He believed that the cost of fulfilling India's wishes would be to break with countries such as Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina and others, which gave up the hunt for nuclear weapons. He felt it would be too high a cost. Others, such as senior researcher from the same center, Ashley J. Tellis, felt that the NPT needed to be updated and that India should be made part of the deal.

There were some voices in India who warned of the deal as well, including A. Gopalakrishnan, a nuclear engineer, and former chairman of the IAERB (India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board). His criticism mainly focused on the value to India. The United States does not have much experience with commercial uranium-based heavy water reactors, which is the backbone of the Indian nuclear program.

A possible political opposition was drowned in the massive stream of enthusiastic reports that India was now being taken seriously in the world. The Indian foreign policy line, which had been stuck for many years, was rejected. India, which now considered itself one of the nuclear powers, even before the agreement had been ratified in the United States, underwent a transformation in virtually all issues related to nuclear and nuclear weapons. India rejected its long-standing stance on total global disarmament, and was approaching a non-proliferation stance to a greater extent. This was confirmed at the end of October by Indian Foreign Minister Shyam Saran.

Disappointed to Iran

This new line was also confirmed by the message that India supported Western countries in the criticism of its long-standing ally Iran, paving the way for any sanctions by the UN Security Council. This came as a shock to many countries in the alliance-free movement, for Iran, and for the local opposition. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a professor of international politics from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, it says: "India pays for the agreement with the United States by sacrificing its own political independence." It all felt even worse after US congressmen asked India to choose between "the ayatollahs' Iran and the democratic west." For the Indian opposition, this was a confirmation that the new Indian policy was dictated to the United States.

Incidentally, India is in negotiations with Iran and Pakistan on a gas pipeline from Iran, which will pass through Pakistan. Iran has announced through unofficial channels that it may break negotiations after what it sees as a Dehli fraud. The Indian opposition agreed.

As if to pour salt on the wounds, US Ambassador to India, David Mulford, demanded that India as soon as possible submit a plan to the United States to prove that India intends to separate the civilian nuclear program from the military. This, said the ambassador, was a prerequisite for the US Congress to approve the proposal. The undiplomatic tone, combined with the timing so close to what many Indians see as a solid course change in Indian politics, has set the minds of the Indian opposition.

The US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has been in charge of an Asia-centric foreign policy, where encircling China has a central position. Prior to the attacks on the United States on September 11, it was the main axis of US foreign policy. Although the media focus after these attacks has been about other conflicts, the focus on China has not diminished in administration. The idea is to build alliances with China's neighboring countries, just as it did with the Soviet Union in its time. We see the effects of this policy with changes in traditional American politics. An incline against India in the Indian-Pakistani conflict is part of this, a change in Japan's defense policy is another. We also see an approach to Russia. US strategists are talking about raising a new Chinese wall around China. But while the US government considers this strategy to be the most important and overriding principle of American politics, the elected officials do not necessarily agree. Namely, the agreement with India has angered the US Congress, which may refuse to ratify the agreement.

The Indian government, for its part, is carrying out firefighting work, and the Prime Minister has stated that any action from India presupposes a reaction from "the other side", ie the United States. This is in stark contrast to what the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress says, where it is assumed that India will do its part to prove its case, then the US Congress will consider whether it is willing to move forward. Furthermore, the co-operation agreement is interpreted as meaning that civilian nuclear power plants will be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Commission IAEA. This is different from nuclear weapons countries, where such an inspection is voluntary. Professor Chenoy believes that the political class in India will never accept this discrimination.

The Indian government is currently in a political crossfire. A broad opposition front comprising a number of Communist parties, the Samajwadi Party, which can best be classified as a center party and Janta Dal, a secular party, has launched campaigns against what they see as the Indian betrayal of Iran. The right-wing nationalist party BJP, which led the country until last year, has also criticized the cooperation agreement with the United States, on the grounds that it was signed without a national consensus.

India's domestic policy will not only complicate, but may in fact totally block such an agreement. This is further exacerbated by a stream of comments from US government officials that does not help to improve India's domestic climate. It is not known how the Indian government now views the agreement, but the Indian media is now starting to talk about a "Faustian" agreement.

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