Long Papers

These are the term papers I wrote for my humanities courses, a book review for Science Fiction and (I know it doesn’t make sense) a study of the Indo-US nuke deal for Human Rights. I’m assuming this one will be somewhat more interesting than the next…

Psychohistory in Foundation by Asimov

1) The Worlds of Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books from his first short stories in 1939 till his death on the 6th of April, 1992. He is most famous for the Foundation Series, set in the same universe as his other great creations, the Robot Series and the Galactic Empire Series. Several of his works have received “exceptional” awards: his short story, “Nightfall”, was voted “the best science fiction short story ever written” in 1964, and the Foundation Series won the Hugo award for “Best All-time Series” in 1965.In addition to his work in science fiction, he wrote several mystery and fantasy novels, as well as a great deal of nonfiction; his popular science books were acclaimed for their clarity and historical detail, and they were so comprehensive as to provide etymologies and pronunciation guides for the technical terms he used.

A Humanist and rationalist, he frequently railed against superstitious and pseudoscientific beliefs that tried to pass themselves off as genuine science. Always a committed liberal, he agued for several causes including feminism, gay rights and population control, even before they entered the mainstream political consciousness. Some of his beliefs influenced his novels: they frequently have discussions and debates as key scenes, with the human, rational sides generally being more persuasive.

Asimov’s writing style has always been clear and direct, with few convoluted metaphors or unexplained puzzles, although several works have nonlinear chronologies. Ironically enough, this has been criticized as “extremely non visual” and has led to a comparative dearth of literary criticism. Although he was one of the pioneers of “social science fiction” under John W. Campbell, his stories are almost entirely plot-based, with little character development or focus on interpersonal relationships. According to Cowart and Wymer’s Dictionary of Literary Biography (1981),

His words do not easily lend themselves to traditional literary criticism because he has the habit of centering his fiction on plot and clearly stating to his reader, in rather direct terms, what is happening in his stories and why it is happening. In fact, most of the dialogue in an Asimov story, and particularly in the Foundation trilogy, is devoted to such exposition. Stories that clearly state what they mean in unambiguous language are the most difficult for a scholar to deal with because there is little to be interpreted.

Along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, he was called one of the “Big Three” of SF in the twentieth century. The Foundation series is perhaps his best-known work, and in the pages that follow we will try to understand why it has been called a masterpiece.

2) Synopsis

The book consists of five different short stories (or, in book form, parts): The Psychohistorians, The Encyclopaedists, The Mayors, The Traders and the Merchant Prices. A short summary of each part follows.

a) The Psychohistorians

This story is narrated from the point of view of Gaal Dornick, a young scientist who has been invited to join Hari Seldon, the great mathematician and psychohistorian, at the University of Trantor. Dornick is in fact a minor character in the series itself, but his role as the naive outsider to the work of Hari Seldon, its consequences and the planet of Trantor itself are a useful excuse for Asimov to fully explain the intricacies of his universe to the reader. In the first few scenes, we are shown the completely urbanised planet of Trantor with its great dome-covered cities, the capital of the Empire and the centre of the galaxy. This story also introduces the science of psychohistory to the reader, which will be further explained later in this article.

After arrival on Trantor, Gaal is visited by Dr. Seldon in his hotel room, when he explains the nature of psychohistory and why it predicts the fall of the Empire in 300 years. As the story progresses, Gaal is followed and later detained by the “Commission for Public Safety”, a bureaucratic body. He is also informed that Dr. Seldon has been arrested. The rest of the story, in typical Asimovian fashion, consists of the trial of Seldon and Dornick, where Seldon impresses upon the judges the true implications of his work. He also manipulates the Commissioners into giving him what he really wanted i.e. exile to a planet (Terminus) on the fringes of the galaxy where he could establish his Foundation, ostensibly to compile all the knowledge of mankind. The story ends with Seldon’s explanations as to the necessity of such an exile to Dornick, and sets the stage for the story of the Foundation.

b) The Encyclopaedists

The Encyclopaedists is set 50 years after The Psychohistorians, on the planet Terminus, where the (first) Foundation has been established. It deals with the conflicts between the views of the academic-minded Encyclopaedists led by Lewis Pirenne, and the pragmatic Mayor Salvor Hardin, one of the “key individuals” in the history of the Foundation. It also introduces the concept of “Seldon crises”, crucial points in history where action is limited to a few choices, among which the right one must be chosen to ensure survival.

Terminus is under threat, after the Prefect of nearby Anacreon declared himself King in an act of rebellion to the Empire, which supports the Foundation. Hardin believes that Terminus must protect itself, and Pirenne believes that the weak and rotting Empire will do it instead. Anacreon wishes for Terminus to be a protectorate and pay tribute. Hardin, who realizes that the Empire cannot possibly protect Terminus if it is attacked, discovers that Anacreon, as well as most other planets in the Periphery (of the Galaxy) do not have nuclear technology. He then implies that Terminus has nuclear weapons, while in truth it is limited to nuclear power generation, which grants them some time before the apparently inevitable annexation. Hardin solves the crisis, as we find later, by playing off the four kingdoms against each other, arguing to them that any one of them having exclusive access to nuclear power would be fatal to the rest. Seldon’s “Time Vault” is opened, and the “farce” of the Encyclopaedia is exposed. We are now told by a recording of Seldon that the real purpose of the Foundation was not to preserve knowledge, but to serve as a seed from which civilisation could re-emerge after the fall of the Empire. The story ends on this note, with the additional mention- both by Seldon and in Hardin’s thoughts- that the solution is obvious, and centres on Anacreon’s lack of nuclear power.

c) The Mayors

Thirty years after the events of “The Encyclopaedists”, Salvor Hardin is still in power, although in the very first scene we see that he is in danger of being ousted. He has instituted an artificial religion over the last 30 years known as “Scientism” which allows technology to be shared without explaining the necessary science. This means that only those inside the Foundation control the technology, but the religion becomes widespread enough in the four kingdoms of the Periphery that all people can use it. This religion is absolutely fundamental and authoritarian in form. The Foundation is thus quite powerful-too much so to suit the current ruler of Anacreon, who wishes to take over the Foundation. He is able to obtain an abandoned imperial cruiser, which he demands the Foundation fix. Hardin obliges him and is labelled a traitor by his political enemies, who believe that Hardin has given away too many of the scientific advantages the Foundation possessed. However, the ship has been modified while it is repaired: Hardin adds a hyper wave relay to communicate with the ship.

When Wienis, the regent of Anacreon, sends the same ship to attack the Foundation, Hardin is on Anacreon, and has already planned a revolt by the priests, who control all technology in the Kingdom. They then rouse the mobs against the king. The priest on the ship then uses the relay to “curse” the ship i.e. turn off several of its key functions. The frightened crew begs forgiveness, and they return home. Hardin returns to Terminus as a hero, having once again proven true his maxim, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Finally, the Vault is opened again and Seldon mentions that the time has come to let go of Scientism as well. As he says, “The Spiritual Power, while sufficient to ward off attacks of the Temporal is not sufficient to attack in turn. Because of the invariable growth of the counteracting force known as Regionalism, or Nationalism, the Spiritual Power cannot prevail. “(p101)

d) The Traders

Unlike the previous two, this story does not cause any significant change in the Foundation’s policies, although it hints at one; it is instead useful to establish just how existing policies worked. Despite Seldon’s warning, we find in this story that the Foundation is still relying on Scientism as its basic mode of conquest, 75 years after the events in “The Mayors”. The Foundation has imposed its peace on a considerable section of the Periphery. This story focuses on Limmar Ponyets, a Trader, who is sent to retrieve another trader, Eskel Gorov, who is actually an agent of the Foundation. He has been captured and is due to be executed by the rulers of the planet Askone for breaking trade laws. Askone had so far refused to trade with the Foundation since it was afraid of being controlled through Scientism. It has its own queer traditions which abhor nuclear power, efficient as it is, which is at the core of Scientism.

Ponyets gives gold as ransom for Gorov, created in the court by a machine that can transmute iron to gold. He then bribes Pherl, one of the ambitious leaders of Askone, with the machine, and manages to record the transfer. He then uses this recording of Pherl committing blasphemy (as the Askonians reckon) to force him to buy his cargo in exchange for tin, a resource that is rare in the foundation. His cargo, of course, is nucleics; and to use them, Pherl will have to work towards the acceptance of nucleics in Askonian society, something which he will be in a position to do once he becomes their leader, using the very gold that Ponyets gives him.

e) The Merchant Princes

Set about 175 years after the establishment of the foundation, “The Merchant Princes” tells the story of Hober Mallow, a Master Trader and later Mayor of Terminus who put an end to the practice of conquest by Scientism. This is also the longest and most twisted of the five stories. Mallow is sent by Jorane Sutt, secretary to the Mayor, to investigate the Republic of Korell, near which three Foundation ships had recently disappeared. Korell, like Askon in “The Traders”, is wary of Scientism and has forbidden Foundation missionaries on its soil. While on Korell and waiting for permission to trade, Mallow’s crew takes in a missionary, but he gives him up to the Korellians, which grants them an audience with the Commdor, ruler of Korell. Mallow establishes trade without Scientism, and makes large profits. He also discovers that while the Korellians have some relics of the Empire, they have no modern technology or any way of repairing/creating replacements in the event of damage.

When he gets back to the Foundation, Mallow is charged with the murder of the priest. However, he uses the trial to his advantage when he proves that the priest was simply an actor, a test by the Korellians. He runs for Mayor and wins. Years later, Korell declares war on the Foundation. However, by now its society is so dependent on the Foundation technology that Mallow first brought them that a trade embargo is enough to cause domestic revolt. Thus Mallow proves that Scientism is no longer needed, and takes his place in history as one of the first Merchant Princes of the Foundation.

3) An Analysis of Psychohistory

One of the most fascinating ideas that we encounter in the novel is the concept of “psychohistory”. Psychohistory, as Gaal Dornick defines it, is “that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli” (page 32). Perhaps a more functional definition would be that it is a branch of science that “combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make (nearly) exact predictions of the collective actions of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire.” It is interesting to note that although its field of application and its data are drawn from history and the “soft” sciences of psychology and sociology, its practitioners are essentially from the “hard” science of mathematics. Although every conclusion that is reached through psychohistorical analysis is “put in words”, for our understanding – as seen in “The Psychohistorians” when Seldon asks Dornick to analyse the situation on Trantor from a psychohistorical perspective, as well as in many instances later in the series when we encounter the Second Foundation – Asimov insists that all such deductions are based on rigorous mathematical proofs.

True to form, Asimov has provided a very clear explanation of the nature of the science in his novels, including some of the underlying assumptions or requirements for the predictions to hold. The Encyclopaedia Galactica tells us,

Implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment. A further necessary assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random” (page 32)

Seldon’s recording further elaborates on the first requirement at the end of “The Encyclopaedists”, after he reveals that the encyclopaedia project was a fraud, and attempts to explain why they had to be kept unaware of this fact for fifty years:

Were you to discover those ins and outs, our plan might fail; as it would have, had you penetrated the fraud of the Encyclopaedia earlier; for then, by knowledge, your freedom of action would be expanded and the number of additional variables introduced would become greater than our psychology could handle” (page 117)

Asimov himself explained the second requirement as analogous to the Kinetic Theory of Gases in physics, and in agreement with statistical theory in general. While it is difficult to predict the actions or movements of any one particular gas molecule (or human), given information on the large scale forces acting on them it is much easier to predict the actions of a large number of men or molecules.

As a matter of fact there is a third, implicit requirement for the axioms of psychohistory to hold, one that should be obvious but is not explicitly mentioned or made aware to any of the characters in Asimov’s universe till the very end of “Foundation and Earth”, the concluding novel in the Foundation Series. This is simply that, since human psychology was used as a model in developing psychohistory, the science would not be able to make any predictions at all concerning the actions of non-human species (i.e. aliens) or any sub-species of humans sufficiently disjoint from conventional human psychology, such as the Solarians, introduced in the same book. According to Golan Trevize,

“The two known axioms deal with human beings, and they are based on the unspoken axiom that human beings are the only intelligent species in the Galaxy, and therefore the only organisms whose actions are significant in the development of society and history. That is the unstated axiom: that there is only one species of intelligence in the Galaxy and that it is Homo Sapiens.”(p 695, Foundation and Earth)

An important implication of psychohistory in the major storyline in “Foundation” is the concept of “Seldon crises”. Yet again, Asimov sees to it that we need not speculate about the phrase. Hober Mallow explains to Jaim Twer in “The Merchant Princes”,

“The future course of the Foundation was plotted according to the science of psychohistory, and then highly developed, and conditions arranged so as to bring about a series of crises that will force us most rapidly along the route to future Empire. Each crisis, each Seldon crisis, marks an epoch in our history.” (p 243)

Salvor Hardin also sees the crises as fundamental to the Foundation’s destiny. He tells Verisof that “Each successive crisis in our history is mapped and each depends in a measure on the successful conclusion of the ones previous.” (p143). The idea behind them is that if things go according to plan, when the crisis arrives there will be only one possible option that could enable the Foundation to survive. This ensures that the Foundation will proceed along the path that Seldon had marked out for it, and no other.

Another intriguing question raised by the concept of psychohistory is about the importance of individuals in determining the history of a race. While contemporary history tends to focus significantly on “Great Men” (and, sometimes, Women) psychohistory seems to imply a sense of fatalism or destiny. Seldon’s “Plan” seems to be an unstoppable monster, a leviathan that brushes away any individual’s attempts at changing it. However, as we see, the Plan depends upon individual cunning to make it work: but for the efforts of Mallow and Hardin, the Foundation would not have survived. Also, we see from the next book in the series (Foundation and Empire) that a lone individual called “the Mule” is able to take over the Foundation and nearly destroy the Plan.

On the same vein is the question of ethics. If the system is designed in such a way that individuals in the grip of a Seldon crisis have only one option (bar extinction) available to them, does that release them from the moral obligations that this course of action might introduce? The novel mainly treats any unpleasant actions by the main characters – such as Gorov blackmailing Pherl in “The Traders” – as inevitable, necessary steps that must be taken for the greater good. Largely, this question is avoided by simply not forcing the individuals in question to do something truly objectionable.

4) Conclusion

Asimov himself mentioned that the idea for the first Foundation story was inspired by Edward Gibbon’s classic tome, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The basic premise of the story was invented spontaneously on his way to meet his editor, John W. Campbell. From this humble beginning was born the series that has long been considered the most important work of modern science fiction. It has a Hugo Award to prove it; the only one ever given for “Best All Time Series”, in 1965.

The Foundation series is unique in several ways, many of which have been explained in the pages above. In going about its main purpose, which is to show how a civilization advances, it also presents many valuable insights into the nature of manipulation, destiny and the scientific method.The concept of psychohistory and the growth of the Foundation is something that I have always cherished as the triumph of reason over superstition, of deliberate effort over fate, of man’s innate rationality over one of a dozen other mystical terms. As I mentioned in my introduction to the author, Asimov was a Humanist and rationalist, and he has made sure that his views were well represented. He may have got some of his science hopelessly wrong, he may have botched up the chronology of his works when he attempted to integrate the Robot, Empire and Foundation Series into a single universe, and he may not have created particularly fleshed out characters, but all of Asimov’s stories have reasonable heroes, admirable leaders and sensible plots. Foundation is certainly no exception. It is both thoroughly enjoyable to read, and delivers a degree of cognitive estrangement that very few things provide without having to be physically ingested.

5) Bibliography

Primary References:

Isaac Asimov, Foundation, 1951, Gnome Press (ISBN 0-553-29335-4)

Secondary References:

Online References






Dictionary of Literary Biography, Cowart and Wymer(1981)(via Wikipedia)

Foundation and Earth, Isaac Asimov (1986)


All page numbers quoted are from the “Foundation” and “Foundation and Earth” “.lit” ebooks for the Microsoft Reader, in “small” font size.



For all those culturally deprived people who don’t get my title, its a play on Star Wars Episode 4, and this is the 60th year of Indian independence. Get it?

Episode 60: A New Hope

The civilian nuclear deal between India and the United States of America is nearly complete. It is now time to assess what this deal means for both the countries. Does it live up to the guarantees that the leaders of both the countries have made to their respective legislatures? Has India been forced into a state of paralysis regarding its strategic development, as some here claim? Have the Americans given too many sops to India with little in return, as some THERE claim? Given the restrictions imposed by the Hyde Act on the U.S. President, can this deal work in a way that India can stomach?

The principal legal documents in the deal are the Hyde Act, passed by the United States Congress in 2006, and the 123 Agreement signed by the USA and India in 2007. It is important that we know the nature of these documents. The Hyde Act is a part of the domestic law of the United States, created specifically for the case of India to amend the United States Atomic Energy Act. It is binding on- and only on- the United States government and its citizens. The 123 agreement is a bilateral treaty negotiated and signed by the United States and India. This treaty is binding on India as long as India is a part of the global community and upholds international law. Many of the objections to the deal in India are with respect to the provisions in the Hyde Act, which affects us only so far as it curtails the discretionary powers of the government (President) of the United States. Keeping this in mind, let us now proceed to examine the commitments made by the respective governments to their legislatures, and if/how the 123 Agreement fulfills them.

The general goals and policy of the Indian government prior to signing the 123 Agreement were stated by the Prime Minister in his speech to Parliament on the 17th of August, 2006. With reference to the meaning of “full civil nuclear co-operation” and India’s goals, he mentioned:

“The central imperative in our discussion with the United States on Civil Nuclear Cooperation is to ensure the complete and irreversible removal of existing restrictions imposed on India through iniquitous trading regimes for the past three decades. We seek the removal of restrictions on all aspects of cooperation and technology transfers pertaining to civil nuclear energy that is ranging from the supply of nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors to reprocessing spent fuel, that is, all aspects of a complete nuclear fuel cycle”1.

He also said that “nothing, in our thinking, will allow us to compromise on the autonomy of decision-making in matters relating to the research and development.” It was also indicated that before any safeguards are in place all current restrictions would have been lifted. The PM stated that while India would hold to a unilateral voluntary moratorium on testing, any reference to nuclear detonation in the bilateral agreement would be unacceptable to India. He dismissed the idea of any safeguards similar to the ones imposed on the non-nuclear weapon states who have signed the NPT, and that “We cannot accept introduction of extraneous issues in Foreign Policy” such as Iran.

The United States Government and the Congress, as we see from the conditions in the Hyde Act, have a somewhat different view of the whole arrangement. The US believes that the rights of State Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (not including the Nuclear Weapon States as defined in the NPT) to research, develop and produce nuclear energy applies only so far as it is consistent with the general goal of non-proliferation; its general policy is to “further restrict the transfer of sensitive technologies such as enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production2, and this extends to India as well. It is also working towards “a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes by India, Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China”. Specific reference is made in the Hyde Act about securing India’s cooperation in sanctioning and containing Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These statements are in direct opposition to the policies that the PM has pledged to uphold. The Act goes on to demand the application of IAEA safeguards in perpetuity to India’s civil nuclear facilities, and the completion of an Additional Protocol with regard to the civil nuclear program. It states that the transfer of nuclear material to India must be terminated if there is any “materially significant transfer by an Indian person” of any technology that is inconsistent with NSG or MTCR guidelines unless the President determines that this would be harmful to non-proliferation or common defense and security. It goes on to give more exceptions to this rule in the following clause. Section 106 of the Hyde Act is the one that has been subjected to the most disagreement inside India. It states that “Any determination and any waiver under Section 104 shall cease to be effective if the President determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device after the date of the enactment of this title”. This is considered unacceptable since it has obvious implications for research and development of the strategic program, and also simply as an offence to Indian sovereignty.

Repeated mention is made throughout the Act of the desire of the United States that any transfer of nuclear material or technology should not help with the strategic (nuclear weapons) program of India or, through India, any other country. All the guidelines and safeguards given in the Act should be viewed in light of this general over-riding sentiment. The sentiment is one that India can live with: after all, it is hardly fair to ask a country that believes in non-proliferation to assist us in making nuclear weapons. The problem is that the implementation measures given in the Hyde Act extend to areas where we cannot tolerate another country’s influence.

As we have seen, there is a considerable amount of conflict between the stated goals of both countries. India requires help and cooperation in areas such as reprocessing that the United States is unwilling to give; the United States requires us to orient our foreign policy in a particular way that Indian leaders find distasteful: even if the desired direction is acceptable, the lack of choice associated with the “requirement” is unacceptable. The US has codified in law that all cooperation must cease if India detonates a nuclear device; India is completely and uncompromisingly averse to the idea of not being allowed to detonate when it so desires – it is open to the idea of a voluntary and unilateral policy of non-detonation, and no more. It seems impossible that all these view can be reconciled into a mutually agreeable treaty, but as we will see, the 123 Agreement does the job rather well.

Many of India’s key requirements are explicitly guaranteed by the 123 Agreement, and therefore it appears that the United States concedes a lot of ground to us. India is referred to as a state with “advanced nuclear technology” – one step below the Nuclear Weapons States as defined in the Non-Proliferation treaty, but quite a few steps above the Non-Nuclear Weapon States. The purpose of the agreement is stated to be “full civil nuclear cooperation”; provisions are made for the development of a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel which gives a lifetime supply to India’s reactors covered by the deal, as opposed to the much tamer “reasonable requirements” guarantee in the Hyde Act; The agreement explicitly mentions India’s military nuclear facilities and affirms that nothing in it affects the rights of India to use material and technology developed independently of the deal in any way it desires. Reliability of supplies is further reassured, to soothe India’s fears about any recurrence of the sudden and abrupt halt in nuclear supplies to India after the 1974 nuclear tests. Transfer of sensitive material and technology is also provided for. One of India’s major reservations about the deal is the possibility of being bound by the deal in unacceptable ways in case of some severe change in the global political situation. Article 14 on Termination of co-operation specifically contains a clause that makes both parties pledge to consider if the reason for termination came about due to a serious concern by the other party about a “changed security environment”. The 5th clause also calls upon the party seeking the return of nuclear material and technology –another major thorn for India- to undertake consultations with the other party and carefully consider the implications of their actions.

The “catch” here is the intentional ambiguity of some of the terms referred to in the agreement. The 123 agreement is a bilateral treaty between two sovereign nations and is therefore a specific legal document. As such, it is required to have clear – at least, as clear as possible- definitions of any specific terms used. Article 1 of the treaty is meant for this purpose, and defines all the technical terms and some of the more unusual meanings of non-technical terms: for instance, “information” as used in the treaty refers not to information in general but information that is not in the public domain and is transferred between the parties. Some terms, however, are quite conspicuous by their absence. “Full civil nuclear co-operation” is one of them. It is a phrase that is used several times in the article and is also sprinkled about the Prime Minister’s speeches, and it is vague enough to require definition, but none has been given. This is because full civil nuclear co-operation according to India includes the transfer of enrichment and re-processing technologies, whereas according to the Hyde Act these are technologies that should be kept safe from those wishing to make nuclear weapons. Also notable by its absence in the Act is any reference to nuclear testing. This implies that India is not bound by anything other than its own policies with regards to detonation, and this implication is further reinforced by Article , subsection 4 of the agreement which states that “nothing in this agreement should be interpreted as affecting the rights of the Parties” on anything acquired independently of the agreement. However, it is quite clearly stipulated in the Hyde Act, which is domestic law of the United States, that the US must cut off all nuclear co-operation with India in the event of a detonation. Since domestic law is above international law in the order of application and since in any case no mention of any contradictory assurance is made in the 123 Agreement, we can be reasonably certain that a nuclear test by India in the very near future would have serious repercussions.

Now that all the provisions of the deal are dealt with, let us look beyond the legal texts and consider the impact that this agreement will have on both countries. I believe that the agreement will be beneficial to both countries, particularly India. Since there has already been so much speculation in the media about this deal, let us very briefly go through the arguments that commentators both in favour of and against the deal in both countries have made.

Arguments by American commentators in favour of the deal:

1. The treaty will be beneficial to US industry, assuming that the Indian government sources a good proportion of their energy contracts to companies in the United States.

2. Technology and skilled scientists maybe transferred to the United States, which is at a peculiar position with respect to its nuclear sector: owing to the policies set by President Carter in the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the public reactions it evoked, many of the present generation of nuclear scientists in the United States have not seen a reactor being set up in their country during their careers, and thus lack the practical expertise in setting up a reactor.

3. Will aid global nonproliferation if certain mutually acceptable conditions are imposed on India and it is brought into the global “non-proliferation fold”.

Arguments by Indian commentators in favour of the deal:

1. The deal provides us with uranium, which we severely lack.

2. It accepts us as a de-facto nuclear weapon state ( a “state with advanced nuclear technology” is the terminology used, but as it makes reference to our nuclear weapons it implies de-facto acceptance)

3. Participation in the international community could only be useful to any country, and while our technology may be at a very great level there is surely much that we can learn from other countries that have successfully created a nuclear energy sector.

4. Our indigenous resources will be freed up for use in strategic programs.

Arguments by American commentators against the deal:

1. The treaty practically legalises Indian nuclear weapons and will indirectly benefit India’s strategic program by freeing up indigenous uranium, thereby making the US commitment to non-proliferation mere hypocrisy.

Arguments by Indian commentators against the deal:

1. The Hyde Act virtually imposes a ban on nuclear testing by India, which is unacceptable as an assault on our sovereignty and as a threat to our R&D capabilities.

2. We will be indirectly forced by the US to follow their lead on foreign policy issues by invoking threat of demanding return of nuclear material.

3. We will not get access to sensitive technologies such as enrichment or reprocessing, which would drastically cut down our benefits from the deal.

4. Importing uranium will naturally shift the focus from our current three-stage development program or civil nuclear energy, which relies largely on fast-breeder reactions and making use of indigenously available thorium. If our indigenous civil plans are delayed or shifted to a lower priority, we will become incapable of taking care of our energy deals in the event of a termination of the deal.

All the arguments given by both sides are reasonable, but some do require further elaboration, particularly those given by the anti-deal lobby in India. While all of these arguments are right in the current political scenario, an acceptably optimistic view of the future may prove them all incorrect. One major factor we have to consider is the effect of American industry and industry lobbies on any political decisions that Washington makes.

Let us consider a time 15 years from now. The deal is in place and several American companies have invested billions of dollars into the Indian nuclear industry. They have set up factories, recruited workers, and have a very profitable business in the country. Also assuming that India continues to grow at a fast rate, we can expect several major American and multinational companies across all sectors to set up shop in India, and also expect quite a few companies- and therefore, their employees- to be dependent either on Indian imports or exports. India has not conducted a nuclear test for the past 15 years, and Indo-US relationship is at a cordial level. Let us suppose that Pakistan conducts a nuclear test which reveals some new and fearsome capabilities, and the Indian government deems it necessary to do immediate research, including testing, to re-create a minimum credible deterrent. Is the United States likely to demand termination of the deal in such an event, as required by the Hyde Act? I think not. I believe it is more likely that the Hyde Act itself is amended, retroactively if need be (i.e. if the test has already been done) than that the Americans will risk the loss of so much of their efforts and money spent over the preceding 15 years.

A convincing analogy is the US-China negotiations over the granting and keeping of Most Favoured Nation status to China. The lobbying power of US industry was such that even despite President Clinton’s fierce desire to further the Human Rights cause in China using the threat of removal of MFN status, he, as well as his predecessors, was completely ineffective in provoking any change3. Similarly, I believe that a strong India -which may be fashioned to a great extent by the deal- can overcome many of the stipulations currently attached to the deal. This takes care of the first 3 arguments against the deal in India. The last one, unfortunately, takes on the form of a necessary sacrifice, a calculated risk that we have no choice but to take. However, there is no reason to believe that we cannot continue to research indigenous development using thorium reactors etc if the energy industry is privatized to a greater extent.

Some have asked if any nuclear deal is worth “sacrificing our sovereignty”. Others have commented that India would become a mere puppet of the United States if we agreed to this deal. I believe that when we attempt a truly objective evaluation of an agreement, we should be careful to avoid getting caught up in rhetorical outbursts. Of course, loss of sovereignty is something we should care about. Of course, we may have to step carefully for the next few years. However, I believe the long term benefits more than make up for the short term costs. On the whole, I believe that the deal is beneficial to India and, while it involves a leap of faith and courage on our part, future generations of Indians would accuse us of incompetence and ideological bungling if we did not dive in.

Footnotes and References

  1. Prime Minister’s Statement in Parliament on August 17th 2006, HK/5g/7.30
  2. Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, Title 1,Section 103, Subsection 5.
  3. Trade Threats, Trade Wars: Bargaining, Retaliation, and American Coercive Diplomacy, Chapter Four.(Ka Zeng, The University of Michigan Press,2004)

Other references are given along with the main text.

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