Who US, what sanctions?

By conducting nuclear tests, India was only asserting its sovereignty. Now, if it gives in to US pressure tactics, it will tantamount to begging forgiveness for a wrong it never committed

Published: Sunday 31 January 1999

-- (Credit:   pradip saha / cse) the United States seeks to punish those with whom it does not agree. Perhaps, this is democracy, North American style. The idea of sanctions is thus ingrained in its diplomatic discourse, though experience shows it mostly does not pay off. When India chose to declare last May that it could blast its own nuclear weapons, the us expectedly slapped economic sanctions. There was no surprise about this, given the us track record. (What some Europeans and the Japanese did is irrelevant, for they only play the follow-the-leader game, and would undoubtedly end their sanctions the minute Washington does.)

But most people missed the fine print, and were surprised when on November 19, five months after economic sanctions were imposed, the us government announced it was placing a ban on 208 Indian "entities". Really speaking, this ban is no more than an elaboration of Washington's post-Pokhran sanctions on June 12. Under it, the us would not export to these "entities" which include 30 public sector undertakings, nine private companies and, the remainder, a range of government departments, university faculties and academic institutions of excellence. The extent of the exports is not significant here, for all these institutions look to multiple sources anywhere, including the us . Thus, it is the symbolism which is relevant.

The ban is punishment for allegedly contributing, directly or indirectly, to the Indian nuclear and missile programmes. The selection of "entities" is at once naive and demonic. It includes electrical and construction majors like Godrej, Larsen & Toubro and Crompton Greaves, and internationally-respected scientific institutions like the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. Perhaps the legendary Aryabhatta, whose contribution to mathematics and astronomy is monumental, escaped by a whisker only because bureaucrats in the us Bureau of Exports Administration ( bea ) had not done their homework. It appears that the us had made up its mind to hit at the cream of India's civilian academic and corporate institutions so that they may not forget the lesson in a hurry. This amounts to no less than calculatedly targeting India's pride.

Why these organisations have been singled out is wholly unclear. Equally unclear, of course, is why have scores of other institutions of learning, especially those given to the mathematical and natural sciences, been left out. After all, the defence capability of a country -- nuclear weapons and missiles are irrelevant -- reflects the sum total of the economy and the knowledge base of that country, if the capability is indigenous and not borrowed or stolen as in the case with some states politically close to the West. The us ' own terrifying arsenals have depended heavily over the years on advances in the civilian sector. It is not to be expected that in any society the needs of security would routinely seek to appropriate any and all advances in learning available within the system, whatever the source. But, by no stretch of imagination does a civilian organisation become a de facto defence establishment if fruits of its labours find military utility or application.

Besides, who has decreed that a state must not engage in nuclear research? Indeed, one of the objectives outlined in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is to promote nuclear research for peaceful purposes. The us " permits" this luxury only to its allies, and imposes all kinds of conditions -- pertaining to inspections -- on the pursuit of knowledge in the nuclear field as though it was its gift to do so. Whose permission did the us take when it fabricated its nuclear power and weapons industry. Who inspects its nuclear installations? Possibly, it is a case of the divine right of kings. Morals do not have much to do with it. Nor does defence of democracy or freedom, as is sometimes self-servingly claimed by us apologists. Increasingly, with less and less conviction.
India has rightly rejected us sanctimony and gone its own way in May. Quite correctly, it made no argument against sanctions. That would have amounted to seeking forgiveness for a wrong done, when what India did was no more than assert its sovereignty. Now it must not buckle under, and make representations to the us administration for lifting the ban on its "entities". The ban is supposed to come in to effect from January 19. Until then, technically, it does not apply. If the Indian government proves weak-kneed, it would be going back on the very logic of self-assertion, and would be akin to begging mercy.

(The author is a well-known journalist)

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