Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nuclear Power May Turn on the Lights to Peace in South Asia

In July, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make her first trip to India as the United States top diplomat. The speculation surrounding her trip has many within the Indian establishment wrangling over what message she may bring from President Barack Obama. Earlier this month, Undersecretary of State William Burns delivered a message to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directly from President Obama. Undersecretary Burns was very coy about the contents of the letter, only stating that he did not know what the contents of the letter contained, but hinted that it could be in preparation for Secretary of State Clinton’s upcoming journey. Moreover, when asked whether or not the letter included Kashmir, he stated that the policy of the United States still maintains the view that the “wishes” of the Kashmiri people must be a part of the solution.

This came on the heels of mixed reports from India regarding the possibility of troop reduction and/or withdrawal from not only the Line of Control, the border between India and Pakistan, but from the Valley of Kashmir as well. Due to the timing of such open discussions within the Indian establishment, one can only conclude that the letter delivered by Undersecretary Burns contained a possible roadmap to peace between India and Pakistan, and that this strategy would allow US Foreign Policy to kill two birds with one stone. The first bird would come in the form of ending the fear of the Kashmir dispute resulting in nuclear holocaust. The other affording Pakistan the ability to remove troops from the LoC and focus their efforts primarily in the brutal struggle with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the SWAT Valley and Northwest Frontier Province. In order to accomplish such lofty ambitions, there appears to be a two-pronged approach with the aid of Japan-Pakistan relations serving as means to provide the necessary safeguards.

US Nuclear Leverage

The controversial US-India nuclear deal in mid-2008 came under considerable criticism, especially in non-proliferation circles. The agreement not only rewarded India for disregarding the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but also gave them access to US nuclear technology that on the surface may appear to amount to technological transfer of US civilian standards and practices. These practices can easily lead to robust gains in reprocessing fissile materials. However, when the Obama Administration took office, regardless of ratification by Congress and the signing by President Bush, President Obama has the right to revisit the contents of the package. Moreover, the deal itself undercuts US efforts in negotiations with Iran regarding it’s own nuclear aspirations, as well as negotiating a new arms reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

By revisiting the agreement with PM Singh, President Obama has a valuable negotiating tool to curtail nuclear weapons production in India through greater transparency requirements, as well as India becoming a signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India’s current development necessitates the need for more energy. Moreover, by bringing India once and for all out of the “nuclear shadows”, India will become a useful ally when dealing with Iran, who India maintains close relations.

The Japanese Nuclear Front

Currently, there are negotiations between the Japanese and Pakistani governments regarding a similar civilian nuclear pact where Japan would invest $20 Billion (USD) in helping construct new civilian nuclear plants, as well as technological transfer of Japanese innovation which continues as one of the worlds most innovative. According to one anonymous source involved in the discussions, “the deal is very close to being completed. However, Pakistan must come to the realization that the security guarantees that Pakistan will not use the technology for reprocessing materials for the creation of weapons is non-negotiable.” However, skeptics in Japan already exist due to the A.Q. Khan nuclear syndicate that includes the likes of North Korea, whom Japan in all likelihood is in greater danger than that of South Korea. This deal would make for interesting bedfellows to say the least. Pakistan is in dire need of new forms of energy, and receiving aid from Japan with regards to nuclear power for civilian purposes would be of incredible assistance.

Japan is the only country to have actually experienced the destruction of nuclear or atomic weapons first hand. Moreover, for Japan to aid a country that gave their greatest threat, North Korea, the ability to possibly relive that horrific experience, will require an amazing amount of trust. However, as the United States closest ally in Asia, Japan can place itself at the forefront of regional diplomacy via assisting an end to the worlds longest and possibly most dangerous conflict. Furthermore, Japan can limit the nuclear threat that Pakistan poses regionally by requiring the same safeguards the United States will require of India. Finally, the US can provide the necessary pressure on Pakistan given the current level of cooperation the US and Pakistan currently share.

The Kashmir Dynamic

Of course, all of this hinges on the belief that both the US and Japan can use their influence by offering this technological transfer in exchange for bringing to a close the dispute between India and Pakistan. The most complex issue of course involves the disputed territory of Kashmir. The problem is the fact that Kashmir long ago stopped being a land dispute, but a dispute regarding water rights. Both countries need access to not only the Siachen Glacier region for drinking water, but also the Jhelum River for hydroelectric power. Given the direct impact in energy availability domestically, the Governments of India and Pakistan will no longer have a legitimate excuse for the continued waste of both human and monetary capital inside the Kashmir region. Of course, it will require engagement with the Kashmiri Separatist movement. However, the prospect of creating an autonomous zone with an irrelevant border could become appealing to all sides. Finally, nuclear technology can be a weapon of peace, rather than a weapon of mass destruction.

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