Nuclear dealing with India too risky
Sylvia A. Smith
Sylvia A. Smith
Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, IN
April 9, 2006
WASHINGTON – On the surface, the case for allowing India to buy uranium and nuclear technology from the U.S. and other countries is a hard sell.
After all, India never signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. It built and tested a nuclear bomb. It defied the world on this and now wants to be recognized as a legitimate nuclear weapons state without agreeing to any curbs on its current or future production of nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration is pushing Congress to allow this by approving legislation that would amend a half-century of U.S. law, the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits nuclear exports to countries that haven't signed the non-proliferation treaty. In exchange, India has agreed to put 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors under international rules that allow inspection. But the other eight would be classified as military, and as such would not have international monitors or inspectors.
Sen. Richard Lugar introduced the administration's legislation but has not declared whether he ultimately will support the bill.
"Congress must undertake its own exhaustive deliberations on this matter," he told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a hearing last week, "and we must reach our own conclusions. No one should suggest that the answers to our questions are either easy or obvious."
But Lugar indicated he might find a persuasive argument for acquiescing to the possible expansion of nuclear weapons despite his years of work to do just the opposite. He was, after all, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times for his work in reducing the world's supply of weapons of mass destruction.
The argument Lugar finds tempting is energy.
"India's energy needs are expected to double by 2025. And the United States has an interest in expanding energy cooperation with India to develop new technologies, cushion supply disruptions, cut greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for declining global fossil fuel reserves," he said.
"Now, one may say, 'Well, there are surely easier ways of finding energy for India than getting into nuclear power.' Well, I'm not certain I see them."
However, government analysts say that the expansion of India's nuclear energy program wouldn't make much of a dent in pollution, global warming, the exhaustion of non-sustainable fuel and other nasty energy-use byproducts.
A Congressional Research Service report estimated that if six new nuclear power plants are on line by 2025, they would replace just 2 percent of India's annual carbon dioxide emissions. The researchers also estimated that the new nuclear power plants would reduce India's oil consumption by 2.9 million barrels a year, a fraction of the world's annual use of 43 billion barrels.
"The near-term benefits (next 20 years) are likely to be minimal," the report states.
Knowing Lugar's keen worry about energy as a weapon of war – he argues that a country can turn off a pipeline and bring an importing nation to its knees – Rice made a special point to mention the pollution-reduction aspects of more Indian nuclear power plants.
But, ultimately, she told Lugar's Foreign Relations Committee, the U.S. should take a reality pill.
"Past non-proliferation policies did not achieve their goals. In fact, they had no effect on India's development of nuclear weapons. They didn't prevent India and Pakistan from testing nuclear weapons in 1998. They contributed little to lessening regional tensions which brought India and Pakistan repeatedly to the brink of war," Rice said.
The current reality is even starker, she said: New Delhi will never agree to a cap on its nuclear arsenal because it would be an arms control agreement that does not include China and Pakistan. And India will never sign the non-proliferation treaty, period.
"The time comes when you must deal with the realities," Rice said.
Members of Congress began last week to back the deal, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But the non-proliferation community is sour, including former Sen. Sam Nunn, the Democrat who is Lugar's partner in the program to identify and eliminate the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons stockpile of the former Soviet Union.
"Nunn, who was briefed on the deal by State Department officials," the Washington Post reported two weeks ago, "said he is concerned it would lead to the spread of weapons-grade nuclear material, unleash a regional arms race with China and Pakistan and make it more difficult for the United States to win support for sanctions against nuclear renegades such as Iran and North Korea. Nunn is a board member of General Electric Co. – which built nuclear power reactors in India before New Delhi conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 – but he said he thinks the economic benefits are overstated."
He and others have suggested that, at the minimum, the agreement ought to require India to stop making nuclear material for weapons and to freeze the production of any additional nuclear weapons.
Nunn is not alone in his concerns, and – energy benefits aside – Lugar seems well aware of them. There is talk of Congress putting various conditions on the agreement, but administration officials have cautioned against that.
At an earlier hearing before Lugar's committee, Robert Joseph, the top U.S. arms control official, said any tweaking Congress does could be a deal-breaker. "We must resist the temptation to pile on conditions," he wrote to Lugar later. Rice also bluntly said last week that India simply will not agree to a straightjacket on its nuclear military program.
But members of Congress want to see some limitations. Some have expressed reluctance to act until the details of the agreement are worked out. Rice said the deal wouldn't go into effect until India had reached a separate agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and that Bush would certify all was well before the legislation was implemented.
And there's the rub. Bush is asking us, again, to trust him. The prewar intelligence mangler, the war mismanager, the Dubai Ports World muffer, the Katrina mishandler wants us, through Congress, to rely on his judgment. No, thank you.
The agreement with India might be pragmatic and, ultimately, beneficial to the U.S. and the world. But authorizing India to make even more nuclear weapons just doesn't seem either pragmatic or beneficial. It's scary. Congress must demand better negotiating from the administration.
Sylvia A. Smith has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1973 and has covered Washington since 1989. She is the only Washington-based reporter who exclusively covers northeast Indiana.