HAWKINS: U.S.-India nuclear bond?
Sunday, September 21, 2008
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Sept. 11 said she supports waiving House rules to speed passage of the U.S.-India nuclear trade agreement by the end of the year. "It does have support in the House," she said. The seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with its focus on national security, was an apt time for the speaker to talk about the pact with India. The agreement has diplomatic implications that extend far beyond even its substantial economic benefits.
Passage of the agreement with India would be a positive contrast to the U.S. cancellation of a nuclear deal with Russia on Sept. 8. The Russian deal would have allowed Moscow to establish a lucrative business in the import and storage of spent nuclear fuel from U.S.-supplied reactors around the world.
Given Russia's ties to rogue regimes like Iran, and questions about security at its existing nuclear sites, making it a global center for nuclear fuel storage seemed like a bad idea from its inception. The deal got a deservedly cool reception when sent to Congress for approval in May. Russia's invasion of Georgia led President George W. Bush to pull the agreement.
The U.S.-India pact has had its American critics. Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, raised initial concerns at an April 2006 hearing, arguing, "We must not undermine world support for the nuclear nonproliferation regime by saying that nuclear weapons are fine for our friends." Yet this is exactly what the United States has done for the last 60 years, and must continue to do in the real world of global power politics.
The United States directly helped Great Britain's nuclear development during the Cold War. France developed an independent nuclear deterrent. While this was often disquieting to American leaders, it was not considered a threat like the weapons deployed by Russia or China. Israel is believed to have nuclear arms, but Washington has rightly refused to consider this as the moral equivalent of an Iranian bomb. Treating friends and rivals differently is the essence of foreign policy.
Mr. Biden now supports the agreement. Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, also had some initial reservations, but on Sept. 7 hailed its approval by the 45-nation Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). He called for the deal to "expeditiously" win Senate approval, saying it is "another building block in the partnership between our two countries."
Because India is not a party to the Non-proliferation Treaty, it needed a waiver by the NSG. The agreement does have nonproliferation elements. India will place all future civilian nuclear reactors, and 14 of its current 22 reactors, under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection. It will also continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons tests. But it will not stop building nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them because of the dangerous geopolitical situation with which New Delhi must contend. India is situated between radical Islamic states to the west and a rising China to the east.
The United States cannot afford to treat India as a nation inferior in standing to China, which is rapidly building both nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Washington understands "India would never accept a unilateral freeze or cap on its nuclear arsenal. We raised this with the Indians, but the Indians said that its plans and policies must take into account regional realities. No one can credibly assert that India would accept what would amount to an arms control agreement that did not include other key countries, like China and Pakistan." Miss Rice met with Indian Defense Minister A. K. Antony on Sept. 10 to put finishing touches on the agreement.
Wisdom is the ability to judge how things differ on their merits. India is clearly not Iran or North Korea. India already has a fledgling nuclear arsenal and an expanding atomic energy program. India first conducted an underground nuclear test in 1974, prompted by China's entry into the nuclear club 10 years earlier.
India then renounced the development of such weapons and as late as 1988 was calling for U.N. talks to eliminate all nuclear arms. But the rapid rise of China and the increased militancy of Pakistan heightened regional tensions. India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, bringing new American sanctions against both countries. The sanctions on New Delhi were lifted in 2001 as President Bush gave improving relations with India a high priority.
The U.S.-India nuclear pact is an important step in creating a stabler diplomatic alignment in Asia that can support U.S. security interests in the region.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in defense and trade issues.