The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

News on Nukes: Shivshankar Menon on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Ishita Chawla, UG’21

Last Tuesday, a bunch of enthusiastic (and hungry) Ashokans skipped their lunch hour to engage in discussion with Indian diplomat, Shivshankar Menon, regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal. Mr. Menon was the national security advisor of India under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His public service career has ranged from disarmament policy to foreign relations and diplomacy. Some of his most notable work was during his position in China as ambassador, where he significantly contributed to enhancing Sino-Indian relations. He has even authored a book titled “Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy”. Now venturing into the world of teaching too, Mr. Menon is a visiting faculty of International Relations department right here at Ashoka, teaching a course called “India in South Asia”.

After around 30 years of US imposed sanctions on India, talks of a nuclear deal between the two countries finally began in 2005. India itself has little to no supply of Uranium and after the 1974 sanctions, even countries with a rich supply, refused to sell it to us. As a result, Indian nuclear reactors were running at only 60% capacity.

Menon reiterated the fact that going forward with the deal was hugely beneficial for both parties. “The rise of India is in the strategic interest of the US”, he remarked. It was in the US’s interest to make an investment in a country like India, with an exponential growth projection. On the other hand, it was in India’s interest to be transformed, especially by a superpower like the US back then. However, getting the deal together was no cakewalk. At the start of negotiations, India was understandably on the fence about the whole affair. The US originally wanted to shut down our nuclear program and were now asking India to make a special exemption for them. To prove their commitment to the deal, the US, a state which did not allow cooperation with non-weapon states, was willing to amend its laws to work with India. But getting the deal geared up was not the only hurdle. After several delays, the deal had to be negotiated before Bush’s presidency came to an end. India was forced to negotiate with each of the 44 countries of the NSG, some of which had no weapons, in a very short amount of time. Further, the deal took place during the 2008 financial crisis. In retrospect, Menon remarks, it would’ve been easy for both Bush and Singh to walk away from the deal at such a time of turmoil. However, both countries were determined to make the deal work, and each leader showed resolve and commitment.

The deal was one of the crowning moments of Manmohan Singh’s term and consisted of several negotiations from both sides. The US gave us fuel supply assurances from them and their allies, while India promised to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation. Towards the end of the talk, Menon also briefly touched upon the implications and personal learnings that came of the deal. He talked of how he realized the sheer power and influence the US had over the rest of the world at the time: when they wanted something, they would have it. Further, Menon accepted that the deal was not all roses. It frightened both Pakistan and China, and their commitment to each other strengthened greatly post the NSG clearance in 2008. However, our reactors now work at full capacity, and this strategic partnership was a crucial factor towards the development of friendly Indo-US relations.

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