Tag Archives | Obama

Winning the small nuclear battles

Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama must move forward on nuclear trade when they meet this week.

Some newspapers and political parties would have us believe that the PM is in New York with the express intention of selling India’s soul to America.

They contend that India’s Nuclear Liability Act (NLA), which allows for costs to be imposed on the supplier in the event of a nuclear disaster in India, is about to be sold down the river by the PM in order to remove impediments to the participation of U.S. firms in civil nuclear trade with India.  There was furor when it emerged that the Attorney General had issued an opinion indicating that the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL) had the right to waive the liability provision, if provided for in a contract.

Outraged opposition parties and left-leaning media outlets argued that India was bypassing its own law to please the U.S.  A few observations on the subject:

The language in the NLA appears to be fairly clear on the applicability of supplier liability.  Clause 17 reads:

The operator of the nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for nuclear
damage in accordance with section 6, shall have a right of recourse where-

(a)    such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;
(b)    the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his
employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects
or sub-standard services;
(c)    the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of
an individual done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.  [THE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NUCLEAR DAMAGE ACT, 2010]

We’ll leave matters relating to the legal interpretation of the language in the Act to the experts on the subject, but if our admittedly untrained legal interpretation is correct, clause 17(a) does allow for supplier-side liability if “expressly provided for” in a contract between the operator (in most cases, GoI) and the supplier.

If this is indeed true, then the question of “bypassing” Indian law simply doesn’t arise.  The law itself does not make supplier-side liability mandatory.  Further, it the begs question of what the opposition — which was out screaming blue murder this past month — was doing when the bill was being debated in 2010.  Even assuming their very busy schedule of staging walkouts in Parliament got in the way of them expressing an opinion when the bill was being debated, what have they been doing the past two years since its enactment?

The NLA in its current state is simply incompatible with the IAEA Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), which India undertook a commitment to accede to.  Contingent on these incompatibilities, India has signed the CSC but not ratified it, as ratification would require a change in our liability laws.  It is strange then that we appear so eager to be brought into the mainstream of the global framework for civil nuclear commerce and yet not want to be bound by its rules.

The issues pertaining to supplier-side liability are not U.S.-specific.  The truth is that no one is willing to do business with India given the costs imposed by the NLA on suppliers.  The Russians have refused to bring Kudankulam 3 and 4 under the ambit of the NLA.  The French company Areva has also made it clear that it will not be able to move forward, given the language in the NLA. The Canadians have expressed reservations.  Potential Indian suppliers themselves appear to be uneasy with supplier-side liability with FICCI warning that the NLA “threatens to completely undo the government’s efforts to accelerate nuclear power generation…”

The AG’s interpretation that the operator had the ability to contractually invoke or exclude supplier-side liability actually dates back to October 2012, when his legal opinion was provided during negotiations on Kudamkulam with the Russians.  There was not so much as a whimper in the left-leaning media then, but apparently now this interpretation causes a “dilution” in our liability laws to allow the prime minister to carry as a “gift” to the U.S.

The Cold War ended two decades ago, folks.  There is no benefit in India pretending to be more soviet than the Soviet Union in 2013.

Many in India are yet to appreciate the impact the NLA has had on the general mood towards India in DC.  This was about more than just nuclear commerce.  Presidents of the U.S. do not make phone calls to their Chinese counterparts asking them to drop their opposition to a third country’s bid for an NSG waiver merely at the prospect of being able to sell few nuclear reactors.  India would have most likely remained a nuclear paraih were it not for the efforts of the Bush administration.

Since obtaining an NSG waiver, the UPA has bungled like only it can.  Debates on nuclear liability were emotive rather than pragmatic, drawing wrong lessons from the Bhopal tragedy.  While the NLA automatically precluded the possibility of the participation of U.S. companies in civil nuclear commerce with India, companies in Russia and France, which were initially underwritten by their governments, were able to enter into exploratory discussions with India.  With Russia and France no longer willing to abide by the NLA, the prime minister arrives in the U.S. attempting to salvage a relationship and an economy.

Realistically, neither the U.S. nor India have each other on their list of top priorities at the moment. The Obama administration is faced with a precarious situation in Syria and is battling opposition on healthcare reform and budget disputes.  Meanwhile, with India heading to polls in May 2014, the UPA is effectively in a holding pattern with very little political capital at its disposal for brave new ideas.

Under the circumstances, if a pre-early works agreement can indeed be concluded between NPCIL and Westinghouse, it might help arrest the doom and gloom and allow both sides to reevaluate positions sometime next year.  This is about as much as we can hope for when Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama meet on Friday.

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“The worst day in Western diplomatic history”

The Obama administration’s actions and inactions in Syria have undermined the global chemical weapons regime.

The Telegraph has called September 9, 2013 the “Worst day in Western diplomatic history.”

A series of rather spectacular gaffes on Syria have hurt the Obama administration’s credibility at home and abroad. Syria, however, only represents a microcosm of the Obama administration’s disastrous handling of affairs in West Asia since the beginning of popular uprisings in the region in 2010.

Perhaps swayed by public sentiment or by a desire to not be seen as being interventionist, the Obama administration watched as despot after despot was dethroned in the Middle East.  This was good, many people argued, because “democracy” was an idea that had finally arrived in the Middle East.  The people had spoken.

Except that the institutions for democratic governance weren’t there in the Middle East nor could they be built overnight.  Thus, those who rode momentary popular waves of support to assume leadership in these countries simply carried on in the ways of the last usurper by accumulating power, subverting law and silencing opposition.  Three years on, not only is there no democracy in the Middle East, the region is now significantly more volatile than during the last three decades of rule by U.S.-allied strongmen.  Large swathes of Syria and Libya are now controlled by Islamist militias, many of whom are allied with al-Qaeda.  Egypt is on boil as the Muslim Brotherhood spars with the Deep State.

In Syria — like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — the Obama administration chose not to intervene militarily when uprisings against the regimes broke out.  Choosing not to intervene then in Syria made sense.  U.S. interests in Syria are limited and Syria has never been a U.S. national security priority.  But the humanitarian crisis that resulted from the battle between insurgents and Bashar al-Assad’s regime concerned many, including the U.S., which pushed for a Coalition of the Somewhat-Willing to provide arms and ammunition to the Free Syria Army and other rebels, but not intervene directly in the conflict.  Two years on, the battle for Syria is still inconclusive and the civilian death toll is well over 100,000.

Having decided against direct intervention in 2011, Mr. Obama erred in declaring an arbitrary “red line” for U.S. military action in Syria to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.  The red line is arbitrary because a precedent for intervention on the grounds of the use of chemical weapons by one party in a conflict simply does not exist.

In fact, as this piece from The George Washington University’s National Security Archives tells us, Saddam Hussein’s “almost daily use” of chemical weapons against Iran and Kurdish insurgents were “known-knowns” to the U.S. when Donald Rumsfeld met with Mr. Hussein in 1983 to discuss, among other things, their mutual antipathy towards Iran and potential alternate routes to transport Iraq’s oil to the U.S.:

The U.S., which followed developments in the Iran-Iraq war with extraordinary intensity, had intelligence confirming Iran’s accusations, and describing Iraq’s “almost daily” use of chemical weapons, concurrent with its policy review and decision to support Iraq in the war [Document 24]. The intelligence indicated that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces, and, according to a November 1983 memo, against “Kurdish insurgents” as well [Document 25].

Following further high-level policy review, Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 114, dated November 26, 1983, concerned specifically with U.S. policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. The directive reflects the administration’s priorities: it calls for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities, and measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf, and directs the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take appropriate measures to respond to tensions in the area.  It does not mention chemical weapons [Document 26].

Soon thereafter, Donald Rumsfeld (who had served in various positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including as President Ford’s defense secretary, and at this time headed the multinational pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co.) was dispatched to the Middle East as a presidential envoy…

Rumsfeld met with Saddam, and the two discussed regional issues of mutual interest, shared enmity toward Iran and Syria, and the U.S.’s efforts to find alternative routes to transport Iraq’s oil; its facilities in the Persian Gulf had been shut down by Iran, and Iran’s ally, Syria, had cut off a pipeline that transported Iraqi oil through its territory. Rumsfeld made no reference to chemical weapons, according to detailed notes on the meeting [Document 31]. [National Security Archives]

So having committed to a “red line” which had no precedent,  the Obama administration was put in a fix when intelligence reports recently emerged of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian insurgency.  Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm for a limited military strike against the Assad regime wasn’t shared by all.  Many in the U.S. questioned the value of a limited strike, while the UK voted against participation in a military operation against Syria.

Even as momentum towards a military strike against Syria was being built,  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bizarrely ad-libbed his way into declaring that military operations would be put on hold if Syria turned over its chemical weapon stockpile.  The Russians and Syrians capitalized on Mr. Kerry’s statements; U.S. military operations against Syria are now on hold, pending U.S.-Russian discussions in Geneva on the logistics of negotiating the Assad regime’s surrender of its chemical weapons stockpile.

These events have effectively left in tatters both the Obama administration’s credibility in the region as well as the collective efforts of the last thirty years towards an international regime against the use of chemical weapons.

Deterrence works only if punitive responses to non-compliance are credible.  In this case, either the Assad regime calculated that its use of chemical weapons would go undetected or that detection would not matter because the U.S.’s ability to make good on its threats was not credible.  This has proven to be the case.  The Obama administration’s handling of the situation in Syria undermines the Chemical Weapons Convention and sets a poor precedent on the future use of chemical weapons.

Others might rightly conclude that the costs of using chemical weapons will be insignificant and can be absorbed.  As long as promises are made to the effect that any existing stockpiles of chemical weapons — post-use — are relinquished, no harm will come of them.  Considering the logistical challenges inherent in both verifying the destruction or surrender of chemical weapons stockpiles, and the ease through which new chemical weapons stockpiles can be built (relative to, say, nuclear weapons), this is a bargain most countries will take.

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Threading the needle

What the U.S.’s “Apolo-jee” to Pakistan really means.

There is jubilation among Pakistan’s social media commentators on the apology (hereinafter referred to as “apolo-jee”) apparently tendered by the U.S. to Pakistan on account of the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November at the Salala checkpost near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  If these narratives are to be believed, then the U.S. has, after months of resistance, accepted culpability for the murder of the Pakistani soldiers and apologized to the Pakistani government for its transgression.

Moreover, little David, financially bankrupt and increasingly running out of room to maneuver, stood up nonetheless to Goliath; and would you believe it, Goliath backed down.  It’s a beautiful little tale, and one that will no doubt leave many teary-eyed.  But really, what did the U.S. say today that it hasn’t said on several occasions since November 26, 2011?

U.S. Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton’s office released this statement to the press:

This morning, I spoke by telephone with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

As I told the former Prime Minister of Pakistan days after the Salala incident, America respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and is committed to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. [U.S. Department of State]

Let’s examine this “apolo-jee,” shall we? First, a reiteration of a regret does not an apology amounting to acceptance of culpability make. Second, apparently, both Pakistan and the U.S. acknowledged the “mistakes” made that resulted in the loss of Pakistan’s military lives.  But whose mistakes? Vague. Third, “we are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistan military”? Losses? What losses, and suffered where? The Pakistani armed forces have a rich and storied history of suffering losses, as anyone in India can tell you.  Pakistan’s own politicians, military officials and commentators are quick to remind the world that it has lost 40,000 of its finest supporting “America’s War.”  Sec. Clinton’s statement is, therefore, hardly an apology for Salala.

Furthermore, Sec. Clinton’s statements say nothing that the U.S. has not already said about the incident. NATO’s secretary general expressed “regret” a mere two days after the Salala incident.  The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Pakistan regretted the incident too.  In fact, various Obama administration officials had “regretted” the incident about 20 times.  All these apologies were summarily rejected by Pakistan. So pray, why is regret #21 the charm?

The fact of the matter is, Pakistan had put itself in a position whether it could neither back down from a costly confrontation with the U.S., for domestic political reasons, nor continue to impede the U.S., given its economic condition. Both Pakistan and the U.S. had previously attempted to arrive at a settlement, but these negotiations proved inconclusive due to Pakistan’s demand for both an apology, and transit fee of $5,000 per truck that crossed its territory.

Now, if this was a “soft apology,” today’s statement certainly did not say “we’re sorry we killed your soldiers.”  And per the New York Times, Pakistan has agreed to keep the transit fee at its current rate of $250 per truck.  So Pakistan is 0-for-2 in its demands to the U.S., but has nonetheless opened up its on-land supply routes to NATO.  Still feel like David won?

Quite simply, Pakistan had ratcheted up the rhetoric to a point where it couldn’t climb down without losing face. The U.S. had two options — allow Pakistan to continue to squirm, or work out an arrangement with Pakistan to re-open on-land supply routes.  It chose the latter, allowing Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership to step back from the brink without suffering yet another humiliating surrender at the hands of the U.S. Pakistan, for its part, was more than revealed.

If any further clarity was needed, the conspicuous absence of any Difa-e-Pakistan Council crazies, whose leaders had previous organized mass protests and even written an “open letter” to Pakistan’s parliamentarians urging no compromise on reopening supply routes, provides us enough context to the apology that never was.

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Sensationalistan

Where the mind is without fear and the head is buried in the sand.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published its report on China’s nuclear forces ( pdf).  This is an annual report, and part of a series that the Bulletin publishes on the nuclear forces of other powers.  Nothing particularly earth-shattering for those that have been following China’s nuclear program, but I bring this up because of this little extract, pertaining to India:

In a section describing Chinese-Indian relations, the 2010 Pentagon report stated that China is using the more advanced and survivable DF-21s to replace DF-4s to improve regional deterrence. This was picked up by the Press Trust of India, which mistakenly reported that according to the Pentagon, China has moved advanced longer range CSS-5 [the DF-21 NATO designation] missiles close to the border with India. Not surprisingly, the report triggered dramatic news articles in India, including rumors that the Indian Strategic Forces Command was considering or had already moved nuclear-capable missile units north toward the Chinese border.

The Pentagon report, however, said nothing about moving DF-21 missiles close to the Indian border.  Instead,it described the apparent near-completion of China’s replacement of DF-4 missiles with DF-21 missiles at two army base areas in Hunan and Qinghai provinces,a transition that has been under way for two decades. The two deployment areas are each more than 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from the Indian border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]

The Press Trust of India got wind of this “story” on August 17, and without anyone validating the statements in the article to the source,  announced:

China has moved new advanced longer range CSS-5 missiles close to the borders with India and developed contingency plans to shift airborne forces at short notice to the region, according to Pentagon.

Not to be outdone, Asian Age added in its own masala, about Agni-II being moved to the border to counter these imagined Chinese moves.

In the wake of a recent Pentagon report that China is moving advanced CSS-5 ballistic missiles to areas close to the Sino-Indian border, New Delhi is clearly taking no chances.

The government is also reportedly moving the strategic Agni-II missile inducted earlier to areas near the Chinese border. These have a range of around 2,000 km.

Asian Age ran its story despite the fact that it received official denial from the Army that missile units had not been moved to Eastern Command.  “News makers” indeed, quite literally.  The folks at the Bulletin were probably being kind by describing Indian media reaction as a “mistake.”  This is borderline warmongering.

Pity,  no one stopped to read what was written in the U.S. Department of Defense’s publication, or sought any clarification on what China was doing.  Had they done so, it would have become apparent that all the Chinese were doing was replacing their old liquid-fueled DF-4s with solid-fueled DF-21s in Hunan and Qinghai provinces (about 1,500 km from the Indian border).  The only reason the DoD mentioned India in this context was the upgrade was partly motivated by China’s desire to “improve regional deterrence.”  How this translates to “China moves its missiles closer to the Indian border,” only PTI can tell us.

But this is just symptomatic of a larger malaise plaguing large sections of our media: a flippant regard for facts, for corroboration, a desperate quest for sensational news items (even when none exist), for “dumbing-down,” and for drama above all else.

Were that not the case, stories such as this extraordinary piece about Mr. Obama’s visit to India would have never been published. Folks, 34 warships including one aircraft carrier is not a “presidential entourage.” It is an invasion. 

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