During the early cold war era, both superpowers provided nuclear technology to selected Third World countries–the United States to South Korea and Iran (under the Shah), the Soviet Union to China and North Korea–as a way of cementing ties with favored allies and shifting the global balance of power in their favor. Later, as concern over the spread of nuclear weapons intensified, the superpowers agreed to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and to cease transferring weapons-related nuclear technology to nonweapons states. For thirty-five years nuclear nonproliferation was a major priority of US foreign policy. But now, in a throwback to early cold war power politics, President Bush has agreed to supply nuclear technology to India in blatant violation of the NPT.
Under the deal with India, announced by Bush on March 2 during a state visit to New Delhi, the United States will provide technology, equipment and nuclear fuel to India’s civilian nuclear industry, which will be separated from the military establishment and placed under some form of international inspection. This arrangement was described by Nicholas Burns, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, as a “major win” for nonproliferation because it will place approximately 65 percent of India’s nuclear capacity (as measured in megawatts) under inspection. What he failed to acknowledge is that 35 percent of India’s capacity will remain exempt, and thus usable for making weapons.
The deal invalidates decades of effort by US policy-makers to persuade India to abandon its nuclear weapons program and sign the NPT; it also confers de facto recognition of India as a nuclear weapons state. But it does far more harm than this: By allowing the sale of nuclear fuel to India’s civilian reactors, it will enable India to divert more of its own fuel to military use. According to Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this will allow India to manufacture several dozen bombs a year, compared with six to ten now. India will also be able to apply technology acquired for civilian use to military purposes.
Under these circumstances, any US deliveries of nuclear technology to India will constitute a significant breach of Article 1 of the NPT, which prohibits participating states from transferring such technology to another state if the transfers would assist or encourage the recipient’s nuclear weapons endeavors. “If this nuclear deal stands,” Cirincione declared, “the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is going to fall.” By undermining the NPT in this way, moreover, the deal provides a perfect excuse for other countries, including Iran and North Korea, to defy the treaty as well. “America cannot credibly preach nuclear temperance from a barstool,” said Representative Edward Markey of the transaction.
What could inspire Administration officials to undermine US nonproliferation objectives so severely? One key motive is a desire to enlist India in a global campaign to contain China, widely viewed as the most potent future threat to permanent US global supremacy. Although overshadowed for a time by the exigency of defeating terrorism, this goal has recently gained renewed vigor. Thus, a military alliance with India (which has its own quarrels with China) makes eminent sense, and establishing a nuclear relationship with New Delhi is seen as the sine qua non of any such alliance. The other key motive is a desire to revitalize the moribund US nuclear industry. The Administration is determined to promote nuclear power, and technology sales to India will provide cash for the industry and help legitimize its resurgence at home.
There are many good and important reasons to oppose this deal. What all of them share is a recognition that the Indian nuclear arrangement will invite further proliferation–making nuclear war more, not less, likely.