The US Bush Administration’s rule-bending for India could encourage other countries to have second thoughts about renouncing nuclear weapons, warns Sharif Shuja.
On July 18, 2005, President George W. Bush agreed to grant India “full civil nuclear-energy cooperation” and to help it acquire “the same benefits and advantages” as other states with nuclear weapons.
Early in March this year, the United States reached an agreement with India to facilitate the transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India. India also needs Australian uranium to generate electricity.
Australia has recently signed a uranium export agreement with China, and in the near future it will be exporting uranium to India, and many new uranium mines will commence operation in Australia.
Selig Harrison, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and director of the Asia Program, had drafted an open letter to the US Congress urging that it ratify the decision by the executive.
Arguing that India was an ideal counterbalance to China, Harrison said, “Failure to implement [the White House’s decision] would be a body blow to the development of the strong relationship with India, [which is] so important to achieving US goals in Asia and beyond.”
Good for America?
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the fray, stressing in a Washington Post piece the positive business spin-offs from the deal. “Our agreement,” she wrote, “is good for American jobs, because it opens the door to civilian nuclear trade. India plans to import eight nuclear reactors by 2012. If US companies win just two of those reactor contracts, it will mean thousands of new jobs for American workers.”
However, critics such as David Albright, a physicist and former UN weapons inspector, have begun attacking India’s record on nuclear proliferation.
India Today‘s Washington correspondent, Anil Padmanabhan, wrote:
“While collectively the US Congress does not seem to voice an objection to the civilian nuclear deal, many members still harbour a considerable degree of reservation.
“Part of it is also borne of the deep-rooted scepticism and mistrust of the Bush Administration.” (India Today International, April 3, 2006).
Senator Joe Biden, Democrat member of the Foreign Relations Committee, argued, “The Administration must show Congress it will make us more secure by bringing India into closer compliance with international non-proliferation norms, that it will not assist India’s nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and that it will not cause other countries to question their commitment to non-proliferation because of a perceived double standard.”
While India’s nukes have broken no laws, in practice it got its start in the weapons business, rather as North Korea and Iran did, by misusing technologies and materials provided for civilian purposes. This could be regarded as cheating.
Rule-bending for India is bound to encourage some other countries to rethink their nuclear options too. But less damage might have been done if the non-proliferation gains had been real ones.
In particular, India should have been pressed to stop making fissile material as a condition of any bargain. Pakistan, already signalling interest, could have joined such a moratorium.
China can be expected to insist on doing for Pakistan what America wants to do for India, adding to a regional arms race that has led to a cascade of proliferation in the past.
Giving India a freer ride is also likely to embolden Iran and North Korea in their defiant posture, with potential repercussions for the security of all their neighbours.
The case for India
India needs to import nuclear fuel and technology, but was refused because it did not sign the NPT. Like Pakistan and Israel, India never signed the treaty, and its weapons-making breaks no laws. And India is not Iran or North Korea. They signed the NPT and cheated.
India is also a responsible democracy. It does not support terrorist groups, and has not exported weapons technology.
Most importantly, India has adopted two policies that none of the five established nuclear powers follows: no first use of nuclear weapons, and no weapons to be used against a non-nuclear nation.
Meanwhile, in return for America’s bending the rules of nuclear trade, India will put more civilian nuclear reactors under international safeguards, and stiffen its anti-proliferation resolve.
India has two great attractions. One is stability. India has proven mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of power and the ability to withstand terrible internal conflicts – in Kashmir and the north-east, for example – without danger to its integrity.
Another attraction is demography. India will remain younger and dynamic well into the middle of the 21st century.
So, for many reasons, a close partnership between India and America seems both desirable and inevitable.
Many will take the view that the war on terror is still America’s biggest challenge, and Pakistan is of much greater strategic significance to America than India, based largely on Pakistan’s help in fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
If other strategic issues are considered, one would see that America and India are more natural allies than America and Pakistan.
In addition, after the horrendous revelations of the proliferation network organised by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan – long celebrated as the Father of the Pakistani Bomb – Pakistan needs to demonstrate responsible nuclear stewardship.
This means that Islamabad has an interest in de-linking progress on nuclear risk-reduction measures from a Kashmir settlement. Pakistan also seeks significant arms transfers from the United States, including nuclear-capable F-16 combat aircraft. It makes little sense for Washington to arm Pakistan with offensive weapons if tensions are on the rise in South Asia.
In his visit to Pakistan, Mr Bush took care to ensure that friendship with India did not damage his close ties to Pakistan.
China is an important factor that needs to be examined. China has deployed missiles in Tibet. It is actively aiding Pakistan in its missiles and nuclear program, besides strengthening its defence infrastructure – which aims at encirclement of India.
China’s role in Nepal and its U-turn on support for India’s United Nations Security Council bid have not helped matters.
A prudent strategy for India would be to use its growing relationship with the US, with Tibet and Taiwan thrown in as a force multiplier, to balance China. India must engage with the mindset of a robust power.
President George W. Bush is dealing with the world as it is, and wants democratic, friendly, law-abiding India to be treated as an exception by the US Congress. The Bush Administration is trying to convince Congress to endorse this historic deal. However, Congress can veto Bush’s nuclear agreement with India.
India may not have signed the NPT, but America has. In doing so, America promised not to help other countries with their nuclear-weapons programs.
It also pioneered the reinforcing principle that only countries that have all their nuclear facilities under international safeguards (which India does not now, and will not have, in the future) should benefit from trade in civilian nuclear technology.
If countries were going to sign the NPT and renounce nuclear weapons themselves, they needed assurance that as many others as possible would follow suit. To encourage them, treaty rights – help in enjoying the benefits of civilian nuclear power – were to be withheld from those that shrugged off or ignored its obligations.
The US deal with India changes this.
- Sharif Shuja is an academic staff member of the International Studies Program at Victoria University.