A Pretty Good Deal For America
By William S. Cohen
5 April 2006 The Wall Street Journal A20 1013 words
(Copyright (c) 2006, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
One of the most important successes of President Bush's foreign policy is the progress being made in building a strategic partnership between America and India, thereby helping reinforce a strong democratic anchor in Asia. Congress is about to consider legislation that would allow the implementation of a U.S.-India agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. This agreement is key to moving forward in a number of areas of mutual advancement. Some detractors say that it is imperfect and will harm long-held nuclear nonproliferation goals. On balance and over the long term, however, I believe the U.S. stands to gain far more than it will lose by implementing this agreement.
In the U.S.-India Joint Statement of July 18, 2005, the two countries set a course toward increasing ties in the arena of civilian nuclear cooperation. The agreement is important to India and the U.S. because it helps India meet its growing energy needs, but current U.S. policy and law prevent the U.S. from implementing it. India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and will not agree to sign it, because to do so would mean giving up existing weapons that it deems necessary for security. Some argue that carving out an exception for India in the civilian nuclear sphere sets a bad precedent by rewarding India for developing its own nuclear weapons. Critics would liken India's behavior to Iran's or North Korea's and suggest that this agreement will encourage bad behavior by others.
The moral equivalency argument fails a crucial reality test. Iran signed the NPT and then covertly used loopholes in the treaty to pursue its goal of developing nuclear weapons. North Korea, having cheated on its past agreements, has now completely withdrawn from the NPT. Moreover, both Iran and North Korea are known proliferators. India, by contrast, developed its nuclear program outside of the NPT. Importantly, it has not shared or distributed its nuclear material or technology to other nations or rogue groups.
In exchange for changing U.S. policy, law and international agreement, India has made numerous commitments to us. It has committed to separate civilian and military nuclear programs and put the majority of its civilian programs under IAEA supervision and safeguards. These safeguards would prevent diversion of materials to India's existing military program.
Moreover, India also has committed to maintain its exemplary record regarding global nonproliferation and is expressing interest in possibly joining the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative. India has passed a national export control law, bringing its law and legal practice into conformity with international standards. New Delhi has reiterated its commitment to maintain a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. Finally, and possibly most importantly, India has agreed to work with the U.S. toward achieving a fissile material cutoff treaty.
Make no mistake, this agreement with India is by no means perfect and the Bush administration could have done a much better job in consulting with Congress first. Congress should carefully weigh the provisions of the agreement and the proposed implementing legislation, considering ways the administration can further the cause of nuclear nonproliferation in a manner that enhances but does not undermine the agreement with India. But in doing so, Congress should remain mindful that there are many critics in New Delhi who are opposed to the agreement for the very reason that it imposes restrictions on India and are looking for reasons to reject it. If the agreement is rejected in Washington or New Delhi, it is unlikely that India will be able to go forward with further development of its civilian nuclear power generation capability. This will add significant new pressure to the oil market and also force India to burn more coal. Both of these outcomes will damage U.S. economic and environmental objectives.
Initiated under President Clinton and accelerated under President Bush, a closer U.S.-India strategic partnership is born of a shared global vision, the mutual pursuit of democratic ideals, and a common interest in ensuring strategic and regional stability. Simply put, these shared goals and ideals are what make the India case worthy of exception and vastly different from the examples of Iran and North Korea. Strategically, the U.S. and India are laying the foundations of our mutual vision for future defense and security cooperation against the pressure and threats posed by failed states, global terrorist networks and emerging hegemons.
In reality, India is in fact an increasingly important partner to the U.S. and European efforts aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear weapons development program. Delhi and Washington share the problems posed by global extremist terrorism and coordinate ever more closely on a full range of related intelligence matters. India's voice and assistance in the international community helping to ensure that Afghanistan and Iraq are successes is increasingly important. Perhaps, however, our greatest long-term confluence of strategic interest is shaping the positive emergence of China as a global power. To all of these ends, India has great ambitions of joining the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member and assuming even greater global responsibility.
Fundamentally upgrading the U.S.-India relationship represents one of the most important strategic innovations in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Congress should recognize and consider carefully this reality during its deliberations on the civilian nuclear agreement. It is time for two great countries to set aside historical misunderstandings, resolve differences, and move forward with a mutual commitment in promoting democracy, advancing freedom, maintaining security, and establishing free and open markets. India and the United States are embarking on an important and historic journey for the future. Close strategic cooperation and defense security ties between the two countries will be an important element in determining the success or failure of that journey in an ever more complicated and dangerous world.
Mr. Cohen, former secretary of defense, is CEO of The Cohen Group, a strategic advisory firm in Washington.