New Delhi, April 16: India is about to sign a bilateral agreement with the US, which will require New Delhi to give up the option of testing a nuclear weapon forever.
This bilateral agreement will be in addition to Washington’s attempts in the US Congress to impose the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on India through the backdoor, which was reported in The Telegraph on March 18.
The bilateral commitment to give up India’s option to test a nuclear weapon at any time in the future, which the Manmohan Singh government is about to undertake, is part of what is known as the “123 agreement” between New Delhi and Washington.
The Telegraph is in possession of the 22-page draft of the agreement, which the Americans submitted to the Indian government recently.
Article 11 of this draft agreement says: “If India at any time following entry into force of this Agreement detonates a nuclear explosive device, the United States of America shall have the same rights as specified in paragraph I.”
Paragraph I says the US “shall have the rights to cease further cooperation” with India in civilian nuclear energy if New Delhi is in violation of the commitments it gave to the White House at the time of the July 18, 2005, nuclear deal and follow-up actions.
Already, a bill before the US Congress to implement the nuclear deal requires India to give up testing another nuclear weapon in perpetuity as a condition under US law for Washington’s help in promoting civilian nuclear energy in this country.
The BJP, in particular Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose government initiated a nuclear dialogue with the US after Pokhran-II, has opposed the current government’s readiness to agree to the CTBT through the backdoor.
When foreign secretary Shyam Saran was in Washington last month, he was asked at a meeting of the strategic community there about this proposed provision in US law to limit India’s nuclear option.
Saran’s reply was that the US was free to include anything in its domestic legislation, but India had the sovereign right to chart its own destiny.
The draft “123 agreement”, however, flies in the face of that argument: if India signs this agreement as it is now presented by the Americans, New Delhi will be willingly agreeing not to test any more nuclear bombs.
Such willingness is significantly different from what America on its own incorporates in its domestic legislation, which need not be binding on New Delhi.
Besides, India has a long tradition, since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, of scrupulously honouring all treaties and bilateral agreements and New Delhi is not expected to break that tradition if it signs on to the CTBT through the “123 agreement”.
But if India refuses to sign this agreement, it will be a kiss of death for the nuclear deal because it has to be submitted to the US Congress for approval after New Delhi’s signature.
Congress is unlikely to approve the agreement unless it has the backdoor CTBT provision as it is already part of the legislation now on Capitol Hill.
The “123 agreement” is so called because section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 establishes an agreement for cooperation as a prerequisite for nuclear deals between the US and any other nation.