Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Indo-USA Nuclear Deal: Not So Subtle Hints and Larger Picture

Senator McCain reveals it all – the deal is unlikely to go through Congress this year and he expects Senators (and by implication House members) to play their roles, roles of due diligence. (http://ia.rediff.com/news/2006/jun/20mccain.htm?q=np&file=.htm) He says he does not oppose this deal, but…. This has become a familiar refrain by now in American Congress. Sen. Kerry started it first and now looks like other Senators have picked this tune.

Many Senators and House Representatives have gone on record to say that not passing this deal will be damaging to Indo-USA relations. This means all these elected representatives are perfectly aware of expectations on India’s side. However, it seems that a substantial number of these elected representatives (majority?) has apprehensions of this or that sort to this deal. Then what do you do when you are an American Congress member? Try making ‘noise’ but no action. It is obvious that all these Congress members are smart enough to play such ‘expectation management’ games. It has gotten to a point where it is no more a subtle hint.

There is a sense that Indian Politicians have realized a serious possibility that this deal may not go through. By now they know it. It is fine for Dr. Singh since that kind of demonstrates his leadership without any shoving from Left. Left gets what they want without spending any political capital. So may be it is not so expensive politically to let go this deal. Indian public – well, either it is engrossed in World Cup or is worrying about Mansoon and by now forgotten the Air Force One Trip.

The constituency of NPT purists or dogmatists has never been too weak in USA to oppose this deal. Add to it all the drama going on about Iran and N. Korea. Regular gossip reports of China – Pakistan clandestine nuclear dealings keep on surfacing. Russia has not constrained any possibility of dangerous nuclear dealings with Iran. Given all this background, it is not very easy for Congress members to back the current Indo-USA Nuclear Deal. Further, which Congress member is going to get any extra votes because of backing to this deal? None. If at all, by opposing this deal these Congress members will maintain their profile by not doing something obvious which can be perceived by American people as fillip to nuclear proliferation. In the end merits of the deal are less of an issue in the political World Cup which is perennially played in Washington DC.

Given the loss of momentum for this deal, it will be worth while for India to engage in many other beneficial bilateral issues like increased H1B visas and other work force immigration, cooperation in energy issues and more joint efforts in research and technology.

Unfortunately one more area where India may look for cooperation from USA, it could be a disappointment – backing to Shashi Tharoor’s candidacy for UN Secretary Job. The selection on India’s side does not seem very attractive to USA, for some valid reasons. At this point if anyone in the world believes that some insider can do the job of changing UN drastically then that person must be kidding. Tharoor has grown in this job while Annan has been at the helm and that does not inspire any confidence. Further, what organization like UN needs is some one like a ‘roll the sleeves’ type economist or a strong manager with MNC experience or a diplomat with excellent track record of successful multinational treaties. The last person we need is literary type celebrity trying to bring glamour or finesse or style to the job. Sadly that is the first impression of India’s nominee, rightly or wrongly. So all in all India is playing steps in this game which are unlikely to make a tango with Washington. This means again the creativity of India’s Babudom has to work in other areas to find more lucrative, beneficial and meaningful relationships with Washington. Military cooperation and more political alignment in security related matters can be a true winner. Starting with S. Asian flash points surrounding India (Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan etc.), more coordinated efforts with Washington in these neighboring countries will be lot advantageous to India.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA 95111
June 20, 2006.

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