The Indo-US nuclear agreement was a watershed in many ways. First, it led to the de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan and their relations vis-a-vis the United States. The agreement signalled a significant investment by the United States in its relationship with the US. Also, it led to the Indo-US relations being seen as a bilateral relationship rather than from the lens of the American relations with Pakistan, which was how New Delhi historically perceived it. Secondly, the agreement altered, in a significant way, the nonproliferation and export control regime that the US and its allies had put in place following the Indian 1974 nuclear explosion. Thirdly, after decades of isolation, the agreement allowed India to re-engage the international civilian nuclear market.
Though there have been other books on the Indo-US nuclear agreement1 the book by Dinshaw Mistry is useful and important. One of the significant reasons for this is that Mistry develops a framework for explaining nuclear negotiations. As Mistry correctly points out (p. 4), there is a wide body of literature on explaining nuclear proliferation and countries’ rationale behind developing nuclear weapons.2 However, recognizing the need for a different explanatory framework for nuclear negotiations and attempting to put forth such a framework is the work’s singular achievement.
Another important aspect of the book is the detail which Mistry has gone into while assimilating data on various actors, actions which influenced the negotiations. The data is beautifully condensed into tables and provides useful information on the influence of the media, lobbying activities, expert testimonies in the US Congress and the like. The data provide important background information and contextualizes the ‘wheels within wheels’ which were moving to make the agreement a reality.
Mistry explains the Indo-US nuclear negotiations through interplay of diplomacy and domestic factors which include bureaucratic politics, legislative opposition and mobilization by supporter and opponents. This interplay fashioned the broad parameters of ‘win sets’ of both countries thereby laying down the contours of a ‘possible’ agreement which would be palatable to both countries and their respective domestic constituents.
Mistry briefly recaps the story of how India and the US got to the historic July 2005 Bush-Manmohan Joint Statement. The two countries traversed through fourteen rounds of Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks, to the November 2002 High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG), to the July 2004 Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) before the initial discussions on widening and deepening the scope of the Indo-US partnership got underway. Mistry has done a good job of capturing the finer nuances of how the July 2005 Joint Statement was finalized given the long history of mistrust on both sides.
Historical tensions and the resultant mistrust has its genesis in the Indian 1974 nuclear explosion and the reaction of the US and the West viz. the Tarapur fuel supply issue. The ghost of the past came back again and again to haunt the negotiations during various phases and shaped the nature of the agreement in significant ways. The story of bilateral negotiations reads like a racy thriller from start to the finish. The July 2005 Joint Statement was itself finalized just a few hours (pp. 54–55) before the two leaders were scheduled to make their public appearance. Similarly, it was in the final days
(p. 225) of the Bush administration that congressional approval for the agreement and formalities for nuclear cooperation with India were completed.
The book moves chronologically and progresses along the Indo-US negotiations on the nuclear cooperation. It begins with a background to agreement to the negotiations of the Separation Plan, to discussion in the US Congress and the Indian Parliament, to negotiations on the 123 Agreement and the IAEA Safeguards to securing the NSG exception and finally the securing of approval from the US Congress.
Mistry is able to weave the analytical framework and provide details of the diplomatic negotiations and how they continued to be influenced by various domestic political factors throughout the process. Mistry keeps the eye on the ball and does not deviate from the framework and that is the strength of the book. However, given the focus on the overall framework many of the chapters are structured in a similar fashion down to similar sub-headings. One realizes that it is part of the logic of the book but it does make reading the chapters a little repetitive. However, the quality of the research that has gone into the book and the lucid writing more than makes up for this.
Despite the fact that the Indo-US nuclear agreement was a landmark development in the bilateral relations and witnessed administrations in both countries investing significant political capital to its success, little progress has been witnessed on the ground ten years since the July 2005 Joint Statement. The Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act, 2010 especially provisions relating to liability of suppliers is seen as a major stumbling block.3 Howevr Mistry devotes a paltry four pages to the issue which has poured cold water over all the hoopla surrounding the nuclear agreement and the claims that it would be the panacea for meeting India’s future energy requirements. One explanation for this could be that the book largely focuses on Indo-US negotiations, but given the continuing dialogue between the two countries on ironing out the differences surrounding the liability legislations more in-depth analysis on the issue would have added value to the book.
1 P.R. Chari, Ed., Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Seeking Synergy in Bilateralism, Routledge India, New Delhi, 2009.
2 For important works on this issue see, Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better”, Adelphi Papers, No. 171, London, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981; Scott D. Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search for a Bomb”, International Security, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 1996/97, pp. 54-86; Jacques E.C. Hymans, The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006; Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007.
3 Anupama Sen and Arghya Sengupta, ‘Resolving the nuclear liability eadlock’, The Hindu, January 6, 2015 available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/lead-article-resolving-the-nuclear-liability-deadlock/article6757524.ece
Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. arun_summerhill[at]yahoo.com. He tweets @ArunVish_