Striking a civilian nuclear deal with a country outside the P5 (the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France and China) is perceived as an effective way of keeping a check on its military ambition to create atomic bombs. However, there are several grey areas in such an agreement, which leaves even the parties to the agreement — including the opposition in democracies — wondering whether the decision to enter the accord was right. The BJP, as the main opposition party in India, had such misgivings when the Manmohan Singh government had signed the India-US civilian nuclear deal. The Republicans viewed the contract with Iran sceptically, too, finally leading to the withdrawal of the US from the negotiated agreement the Barack Obama administration had reached, along with other P5 members, with Iran. This is not to say that the pacts were identical; they were not even similar. Whereas India was allowed to separate its military nuclear facilities from the civilian parts that would be under the ambit of the pledge in 2008, Iran was denied both enrichment and reprocessing beyond certain limits by the framework signed in 2015. Further, while the Indian opposition doubted the US intention, it is American opposition that had a second opinion after their then government shook hands with the Iranians.

Donald Trump, since the time he was elected as the Republican presidential candidate, had been speaking against the Iran nuclear deal framework. As the President, he has made the US withdraw from the arrangement — upholding his remarkable domestic record of fulfilling several other election promises. Internationally, if America’s allies such as Great Britain, France and Germany have “regretted” the decision, it must be because they had worked hard to reach the agreement, too. However, Trump has his own calculations for reaching the decision finally as he wishes to prevail upon Kim Jong-un of North Korea for the disarmament of the latter. This is the other aspect of such compromises. The onlookers are never convinced such a deal is constraining enough for the non-P5 party’s military ambitions. Pakistan had, for that reason, sought an equivalent of the 123 Agreement for itself — a request the George Bush Jr administration had turned down. It is plausible that, during the negotiations with the dictator of N Korea, Kim would cite the example of Iran while refusing to disarm.

The final aspect is cost. Does a country really need energy generated from fission and fusion reactions for civilian purposes such as generation of electricity? The price every reactor demands for safeguards against accidents of the type of Chernobyl is prohibitive for a developing country and, therefore, the 123 Agreement was inadvisable for India. There are much cheaper options of energy available other than the fact that, after all the ado, the energy generated by nuclear means would take care of a mere 6% of India’s energy needs. Iran was not complaining, as the agreement, after the inspection of that country’s nuclear installations by the International Atomic Energy Agency, would lead to the US and EU lifting all nuclear-related economic sanctions and the United Nations would withdraw the stringent resolutions that were adopted with a lot of apprehension about Iran’s intentions. In the case of India, the sanctions on it had long been lifted when the bargain was struck while the economy was performing wonderfully even when the sanctions were on. Finally, neither the Singh government nor its successor, the Narendra Modi dispensation, could get India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, as the US has so far failed to make China desist from playing the spoilsport. In the overall analysis, one wonders what end is met by negotiating a non-P5 country into a civilian nuclear deal.