President Obama recently made the second visit of his presidency to the nation of India, and one of the main outcomes of this visit was the prospect of increased cooperation between the United States and India regarding nuclear technology. This sample essay will explore this deal between the two nations in greater depth.
Historical antecedents to the U.S. and India nuclear deal
To start with, then, the beginnings of nuclear cooperation between the United States and India can actually be traced back to the Bush administration. In the year 2008, a “123 Agreement” was signed between the two nations (see Staff Writer for the Times of India). The name of this agreement refers to a provision of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act that governs the conditions that must be met before the United States can legally enter into nuclear cooperation agreements with other nations.
So, the United States has 123 Agreements with other nations as well; and the agreement reached with India signified the ending the threat from weapons of mass destruction. This established the legal and political framework for all further negotiations between the two nations regarding this subject, including the recent deal reached between Obama and Modi.
Origins of the 123 Deal
The 123 Agreement with India was originally formulated back in the year 2005, although it took the next three years for Congress to formulate the deal into appropriate legislation. Writing in the year 2006, the Council on Foreign Relations had the following to say about this deal:
“The recent nuclear deal has highlighted the tensions between two widely held American foreign policy objectives: strengthening bilateral relationships with major powers and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The agreement, which proposes to change decades-old policy, has stirred considerable controversy, particularly in Congress, which must amend the long-standing law if the deal is to go through” (paragraphs 1-2).
Essentially, the 123 Agreement signified the United States’ recognition of India as a major world power with whom increased cooperation was desirable; but at the same time, it meant expanding India’s nuclear capacities, which was antithetical to the policy imperative of nonproliferation. This is a tension that has needed to be negotiated since the time that the agreement was signed, and its implications can still be seen today (see below).
Historically, the United States’ interest in a closer relationship with India can be traced to the Cold War and its aftermath. In fact, during much of the Cold War, the United States was actually closer to Pakistan than to India, due to the perception that India, although formally non-aligned, was tilting its loyalties toward the Soviet Union. As Etzioni has noted, though:
“following the rise of China, the George W. Bush administration decided to lure India into the West’s camp and draw on it to help contain China. Bush, therefore, offered India civil nuclear technology and access to uranium, the fuel it needed for nuclear power reactors” (paragraph 2).
In short, the United States has developed an important strategy interest in India over the course of the past several years. Obama’s recent efforts thus do not stand in isolation and must be understood within this broader historical context. It is time now to turn to the more recent deal negotiated by Obama himself.
Meaning of the recent American-India nuclear agreement
As Busvine has pointed out, the purpose of the recent deal struck between Obama and Modi was to address two key issues that has prevented the Indian nuclear industry from developing in accordance with the 123 Agreement over the past few years. The first of these concerns consisted of inspections, and the other consisted of liability for a nuclear fission energy plant accident (paragraph 3). In general, the recent nuclear deal consisted of India agreeing to work more closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the one hand, and working out lines of responsibility for nuclear accidents on the other.
The technicalities of the deal are relatively unimportant for present purposes. The most important point is that when one hears about how the deal was a “breakthrough”, this is essentially referring to the fact that Obama and Modi were able to reach workable solutions to these issues that had hamstrung the implementation of the 123 Agreement for years.
Reflecting on the nuclear deal from the Indian perspective, Biswas has noted the irony in the fact that the same political party that was vehemently opposed to the original 123 Agreement back in the years leading up to 2008:
“had actually managed to pull this off now it is in power. Much of it has been put down to the personal chemistry between Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi” (paragraph 3).
At first, it may seem odd that a policy issue as important as nuclear cooperation could be largely decided by a factor as idiosyncratic and non-rational as personal chemistry. However, this reasoning does make sense if one bears in mind that when it comes to the issue of nuclear cooperation, trust is an absolutely fundamental issue: it is necessary for both stakeholders in the agreement to feel confident that the other stakeholder will honorably uphold his end of the agreement.
Personal chemistry between varying leadership styles can make or break a deal and could very well give rise to this kind of trust. The fact that Obama was able to achieve the nuclear deal is especially remarkable given the highly tense relationship between India and the United States even as recent as one year ago: at that time, Prime Minister Modi was not even allowed to enter the United States, apparently for reasons of national security (see Baker and Barry).
In any event, it is worth pointing out that the recent nuclear deal between the United States and India, as well as the original 123 Agreement, pertains specifically to the development of nuclear capacities for civilian purposes; it is unrelated to any kind of cooperation at the military level. One of the main implications of the deal is that American companies will now have increased opportunity to build nuclear reactors within the nation of India.
These reactors will primarily be used to generate energy. However, this in and of itself may continue to remain controversial, insofar as the opinion prevails that nuclear energy is in and of itself inherently dangerous and that its proliferation for any reason whatever thus undesirable.
International implications of the nuclear deal
To an extent, the nuclear deal between Obama and Modi signifies an attempt by the United States to expand its influence over the affairs of India. As Biswas has indicated:
“American supplies are already facing competition. Russia is planning to build 20 reactors in India. France is building six reactors in the western state of Maharashtra, one of India’s most industrial states. America will build at least eight reactors” (paragraph 9).
Insofar as India intends to become increasingly reliant on nuclear energy, it is clear that a correlation is likely to emerge between the strength of a given nation and India and the extent to which that given nation is invested in India’s nuclear industry. In this context, the recent deal, which will enable further implementation of the 123 Agreement, will enable to the United States to ensure that India does not fall too far under the influence of a nation such as Russia.
Neighboring states’ fears of U.S. control
At the regional level, the recent nuclear deal between the United States and India has clearly provoked the suspicion and concern of India’s regional rivals. Pakistan is a notable example in this regard. Tahir has reported the following:
“Pakistan was upset at the Indo-U.S. agreement, in part, because the United States has never positively responded to its longstanding request to seek nuclear technology for a civilian energy program” (paragraph 8).
Especially within the context of past cooperation between the United States and Pakistan during the Cold War era, the United States’ willingness to help India but not Pakistan now could easily be interpreted as a “snub” at the level of international relations. Moreover, Pakistan is concerned that India could easily use its civilian nuclear technologies in order to develop nuclear weapons in the event that this need and/or desire arose within the nation (even though this would be in contradiction to the 123 Agreement).
China is another nation that would seem to be concerned by the strengthening of the relationship between the United States and India. According to Malik, Modi has taken the opportunities opened up by the nuclear deal with Obama in order to develop a similar deal with India’s southern neighbor Sri Lanka; and this itself would seem to be a bid at fulfilling a leadership role within the region and thereby curtailing the influence that has historically been exerted by China.
Moreover, it has been reported by Malik:
“the Chinese state media reacted sharply to President Barack Obama’s January visit to the Indian capital New Delhi, terming India’s relations with the U.S. as ‘superficial,’ saying that Obama’s three-day trip was more symbolic rather than pragmatic” (paragraph 8).
Whether this is actually true is perhaps less important than the fact that China obviously wants it to be true.
In summary, this essay has consisted of a discussion of the recent nuclear deal between India and the United States. It has considered the historical implications of atomic warfare and nuclear weapons production, antecedents of the deal, the meaning of the current deal, the international implications of the deal, and the outlook for the future. In general, the deal signifies a step forward in the relationship between the United States and India and a fuller implementation of an agreement that was actually reached several years ago.
At the regional and international levels, though, the deal may well prove to be controversial over the coming times, insofar as a closer relationship between the United States and India will cement India’s status as a leading power within the region. This could potentially threaten the power and influence several other nations within the region, including Pakistan, China, and Russia. Care must thus be taken to monitor and effectively negotiate these implications.
Baker, Peter, and Ellen Barry. “Obama Clears a Hurdle to Better Ties with India.” New York Times. 25 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/world/asia/obama-lands-in-india-with-aim-of-improving-ties.html?_r=1.
Biswas, Soutik. “Will the India–US Nuclear Deal Work?” BBC. 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-30978152.
Busvine, Douglas. “Factbox: The U.S.–India Nuclear Deal.” Reuters. 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/02/03/india-obama-nuclear-idINKBN0L70AE20150203.
Council on Foreign Relations. “U.S.–India Nuclear Cooperation: A Strategy for Moving Forward.” Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2006. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://www.cfr.org/india/us-india-nuclear-cooperation/p10795.
Etzioni, Amitai. “The Darker Side of the U.S.–India Nuclear Deal.” The Diplomat. 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://thediplomat.com/2015/02/the-darker-side-of-the-u-s-india-nuclear-deal/.
Malik, Aman. “Is India–Sri Lanka Nuclear Deal Aimed at Countering China?” International Business Times. 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/india-sri-lanka-nuclear-deal-aimed-countering-china-1817322.
Staff Writer. “India, US Sign Landmark 123 Agreement.” Times of India. 11 Oct. 2008. 16 Feb. 2015. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-US-sign-landmark-123-Agreement/pmredirectshow/3582223.cms?curpg=2.
Tahir, Muhammed. “News Analysis: U.S. Nuclear Deal with India Draws Ire of Pakistan.” Xinhua Net. 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2015-01/29/c_133956917.htm.