Crunch time for U.S.-In­dia nu­clear deal

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Af­ter three years of painstak­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, dozens of con­gres­sional hear­ings, and the near fall of In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh’s gov­ern­ment, the fi­nal stage of the U.S.-In­dia civil nu­clear deal is at hand. U.S. law­mak­ers will have to act quickly be­fore they re­cess – to en­sure this his­toric mo­ment is not lost.

If en­acted, this agree­ment will mark a new era for U.S.-In­dia ties. It will en­able our two democ­ra­cies to cre­ate a freer, more sta­ble and more se­cure world.

Skep­tics who ar­gue the deal will harm in­ter­na­tional non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts miss the broader pic­ture. They ig­nore In­dia’s ris­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic clout, its re­spon­si­ble record on non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, and the role it can play in in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to deal with the most se­ri­ous pro­lif­er­a­tion threats of the 21st cen­tury.

Un­der this deal, In­dia will place 14 nu­clear re­ac­tors un­der per­ma­nent safe­guards, ne­go­ti­ate an ad­di­tional pro­to­col with the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, and har­mo­nize its ex­port con­trol lists with those of the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime and the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group. It has al­ready com­mit­ted for­mally to a uni­lat­eral mora­to­rium on fur­ther nu­clear test­ing.

As a fel­low democ­racy that shares many of our geopo­lit­i­cal con­cerns, In­dia’s in­clu­sion into the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion regime makes strate­gic sense. In­dia’s growth in power and in­flu­ence helps to en­sure that one coun­try does not dom­i­nate Asia. It will re­in­force sta­bil­ity in a re­gion that ac­counts for a quar­ter of U.S. trade and in­vest­ment and al­most half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

Rev­ers­ing years of mis­trust be­tween Wash­ing­ton and New Delhi on the nu­clear is­sue has proved chal­leng­ing. Take the re­cent release of a con­fi­den­tial let­ter from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Howard Berman, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, re­as­sur­ing the con­gress­man it wouldn’t sell sen­si­tive nu­clear tech­nolo­gies to In­dia and would im­me­di­ately ter­mi­nate nu­clear trade if New Delhi con­ducted a nu­clear test.

This cre­ated a firestorm in In­dia, with po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents por­tray­ing it as proof the United States seeks to re­strict In­dia’s strate­gic op­tions. In the United States, how­ever, the let­ter demon­strated to law­mak­ers that the ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der­stands the se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions of a po­ten­tial fu­ture In­dian nu­clear test, and is well-pre­pared to deal with it.

This mat­ters be­cause U.S. leg­is­la­tors have been leery about lan­guage found in the “123 Agree­ment” that ap­pears at odds with the Hyde Act, passed two years ago to au­tho­rize civil nu­clear trade with In­dia, par­tic­u­larly where it con­cerns fuel sup­ply and nu­clear test­ing.

Pres­i­dent Bush has tried to clar­ify the U.S. po­si­tion in the leg­isla­tive pack­age now be­fore Congress by declar­ing the fuel sup­ply as­sur­ances con­tained in the “123 Agree­ment” were not legally bind­ing on the United States.

From the U.S. per­spec­tive, Wash­ing­ton has the tools it needs to both up­hold its Nu­clear Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT) obli­ga­tions and to bring In­dia into the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion main­stream. If this his­toric nu­clear deal is fi­nal­ized, it will strengthen global non­pro­lif­er­a­tion by mak­ing New Delhi a stake­holder in a sys­tem seek­ing to adapt it­self to mod­ern pro­lif­er­a­tion threats.

In­dian strate­gic af­fairs an­a­lyst K. Subra­manyi­amre­cently noted China was ad­mit­ted into the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) in the early 1990s (de­spite a spotty non­pro­lif­er­a­tion record) to in­te­grate it into the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion regime as a stake­holder. “What the pro­mot­ers of the NPT and the NSG are now at­tempt­ing is to make the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion regime to­tally in­ter­na­tional by bring­ing In­dia into it,” he ar­gues.

If the deal lapses and is left for the next ad­min­is­tra­tion, it could take sev­eral months be­fore the new Congress con­sid­ers it. By then, In­dia will be head­ing into its own na­tional elec­tions, cast­ing more un­cer­tainty over the deal’s fate. It’s time to fi­nal­ize this land­mark ini­tia­tive.

Lisa Cur­tis is a se­nior re­search fel­low in the Asian Stud­ies Cen­ter at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion (her­itage.org).

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