The Henry Hyde Act – Catalyzing Indo US Relations

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The expectations over a new era in Indo US relations were fulfilled with signing of the Henry Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act by US President George W Bush. This was a landmark event in many ways. Nuclear non-proliferation has been one of the most steadfast foreign policy objectives of America. For the first time the United States was placing its relationship with India above its concerns over nuclear non-proliferation.

Restricting access to nuclear technology leading to weaponisation is the primary means to achieve this goal. By allowing nuclear energy goods exchange with India which is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the United States has for the first time shown flexibility in its approach to non proliferation based on ground realities. These truths are quite obvious. First and foremost is an emerging consensus within the United States that India has responsible governance, which understands the complexities of management of nuclear weapons and would thus ensure that these are not used to pursue tangential goals.

This conclusion would have come after a reasoned analysis of the Indian political spectrum as well as stability of governance in the country. The US administration is thus fully confident that what ever is the political dispensation in New Delhi, there is no scope of unrestricted proliferation beyond reasonable security needs of the country and that India’s nuclear armory will always remain in safe hands.

The emerging economic importance of India is another issue of consequence, which needed consideration. The United States has had to subordinate its concerns on nuclear proliferation by a responsible state due to the emerging opportunities in economic relations with one of the largest markets in the World, second only to China. While China’s growth appears to be reaching its apogee, India has just about started to chart its trajectory on the J curve.

The United States would not want American industry including defense and armament to be denied an entry in what is today one of the largest strategic markets in the World. The Hyde Act thus provides an ideal inflection point for White House to work out a partnership, which has been in the offing over the years.

India’s growing political importance in the Asian region is also evident as it has successfully managed its internal complexities and is now looking outwards. This externally driven approach of the country will engage many nations in its path and thus the US initiative was more than expected. The limited opposition to the Treaty within the United States senate demonstrates the wide-ranging consensus on India that has emerged in Washington. That such a concession is not being given to any other state is also worth noting. Critics within the US establishment are however skeptical of the impact this move will have on negotiations with other nuclear aspirants as Iran and North Korea.

The next stage in fructification of the Deal would be evolving the 123 Agreement between the two countries, which will have to take into account the many apprehensions expressed in Indian political circles about the Act including its impact on India’s sovereignty. However, the momentum of greater economic engagement is already evident with a green signal given to American industry. The key beneficiaries are likely to be companies as General Electric, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Pratt, and Whitney, which will be competing with European and Russian firms for the large nuclear energy, aerospace and defence market in India. Other large conglomerates as Wal-Mart are also foraying in partnership with Indian companies as Bharti Telecom, which has a large retail footprint in the mobile telecom sector in India. The era of a golden phase in Indo US relations is just beginning given that the Act is against the backdrop of a Government in India which is supported by the Left parties traditionally antagonist towards America.

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.