To assist the corporate bottom line, the Obama Administration is peddling the worst sort of wares abroad.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just concluded a visit to India in which she acted as a shill for U.S. arms and nuclear companies. The United States and India signed an agreement that will pave the way for the possible sale of more than 100 fighter planes to India, the largest pending weapons deal globally (Lockheed Martin and Boeing are in the running for the contract). And India announced that two civilian nuclear reactors—most likely to be constructed by General Electric and Westinghouse—will be set up in the country as part of the U.S.-India nuclear deal signed a couple of years ago.
The Indian elite was nervous about the new Administration in Washington, uncertain whether India would receive the same warm embrace it had from Dubya’s people. It needn’t have worried (though differences did crop up during the Clinton trip on issues like climate change).
In a recent interview with me (available in the July issue), Rajmohan Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson, expressed apprehension about how the Indian political leadership has veered away from the ideals of his grandfather. He bemoaned its enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, its desire to cultivate a strategic relationship with the United States, and its muted tone as a moral authority on the global stage. The Bush Administration encouraged these tendencies, and the Obama folks seem to be heading down the same path.
The fighter jet deal has been in the works for years now, but that doesn’t make it any less repugnant. Presumably, it is meant as a counterbalance to the billions in military aid that the Bush Administration showered Pakistan with over the years, and to the Obama Administration’s announcement a few months ago of a $3 billion, five-year military aid package to Pakistan (much of which will be transferred back to the coffers of U.S. arms companies).
As a result, both nations are spending their scarce resources on shiny new military hardware. And if they still feel insecure, there's plenty more where that came from.
Like the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration is using Pakistan in the "war on terrorism," and flattering India as a junior global partner, a role India is willing to be employed in as long as the United States assuages its ego (as Clinton did by referring to it as “a global leader for the 21st century”). The United States fulfills its geostrategic aims, while U.S. arms manufacturers rake in the moolah. The losers in this scenario are the Indian and Pakistani people.
The nuclear deal is also very problematic. By agreeing to supply fuel, reactors and other technology to India’s civilian nuclear sector, the Bush Administration legitimized a nuclear weapons project that India conceived in dishonesty. India, in return, gave up any pretense of pressing for global nuclear disarmament, and signaled that it would open up its vast civilian nuclear sector to U.S. corporations. The pact “will present a major opportunity for U.S. and Indian companies,” Ron Somers, president of the U.S-India Business Council, said in 2007. He was so right.
But the really interesting thing here is what the United States is demanding: that the Indian Parliament pass a law releasing the U.S. companies from legal responsibility if there’s an accident. Since the worst industrial disaster in history, with a toll of tens of thousands of lives, was caused by a U.S. corporation in India, some Indians are not too happy and are promising a tough fight against any such measure.
“With what happened in Bhopal in view, we will oppose any move to bring in legislation to shield U.S. suppliers from liability in the event of a nuclear accident,” says S.P. Udayakumar, convenor of the National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements.
This is not the first time that a U.S. company has sought immunity from the consequences of a disaster in India. DuPont asked to be released from all such responsibility when it was negotiating with the Indian government in the 1990s to set up a nylon plant, but the people of the state of Goa, where the plant was slated to be located, mobilized to nix the venture.
The deals that the Obama Administration is pushing will be worth $20 billion to U.S. corporations if they go through. The damage that they cause could be incalculable, however.