N-deal hangs in balance Whether it is McCain or Obama, Indo-US nuclear deal will see more downs than ups.

The lack of political consensus has almost checkmated the UPA government’s most important foreign policy and national security initiative – the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. 

Despite the irrefutable logic of obtaining uranium supplies and nuclear reactor technology quickly to further India’s nuclear energy programme, and the almost unanimous approval accorded to this agreement by the nuclear scientists and members of the strategic community, India’s political class has allowed coalition politics to prevail over national interest. 
The stubborn resistance of the Left Parties and the incomprehensible vacillation of the BJP and some of its NDA allies have stymied a key initiative that can set India firmly on the road to world power status and pull it out of the doghouse of nuclear apartheid and the technology denial regime. Only a political miracle can now salvage this deal before a new US Administration takes office in January 2009. Hence, it is important to understand where the two presidential candidates stand on this key issue.

Different perspectives

John McCain, the Republican candidate, has followed President Bush’s lead in clearly identifying India as a “natural ally” of the US. According to The Washington Post, McCain’s “informal” advisors include Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, and Henry Kissinger. Each of these influential foreign policy gurus has at one point or the other supported closer relations with India. 

The fact that McCain is being advised by deal proponents such as Ashley Tellis is certainly telling. Tellis was the behind-the-scene pointsman on the deal during the initial periods of negotiation. Hence, McCain is more likely to re-assert support for the deal without wasting time in deliberations over whether it is politically wise to wait for the dust to settle in India.

Early indications suggest that McCain will not use the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as a leverage, but from the India’s point of view this must not be taken for granted and should be an area of concern. However, the major problem with a McCain presidency will be his hawkish view on Iran, which he labels as “the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism.” Here Indian and US interests will certainly clash as Iran is central to India’s energy security interests.

Barack Obama, the young Democrat in contention for the post of US President, inspires enthusiasm among those tired of the old guard and desperate for “change”. However, Obama’s position on India seems far more rigorous and less understanding than McCain’s. While Obama voted for the US-India Energy Security Cooperation Act of 2006, he was a strong advocate of stopping India from accumulating fuel for imported reactors. 

An Obama administration will work hard to amend parts of the deal and may seek to make its passage conditional upon India signing the CTBT, and to a lesser degree, the FMCT. Another potential problem with Obama is his stated position to resolve the dispute over Kashmir. 

Ups and downs

A US involvement in  a Kashmir settlement dialogue will reverse rather than enhance the limited goodwill between India and Pakistan, making it even more difficult to reach an arrangement that is acceptable to both nations. 

Outside of India’s immediate security interests, as President, Obama can be expected to work hard to de-emphasise America’s post 9/11 war-like approach to resolving international problems. This will help in reducing tensions between states like Iran and the US, much to India’s advantage. Under Obama, the US will most likely be partial to a European approach to international politics, which believes in reconciliation and engagement, rather than the use of force as a primary agent of coercion. 

Overall, the broad contours of the Indo-US strategic partnership will continue to follow the present trajectory of mutual understanding and cooperative engagement on major international issues. It is only the nuclear deal that will see more ups and downs – in fact, more downs than ups. 

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, and Rudra Chaudhuri is a Ph D scholar at King's College, London.)