George W. Bush thought that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was wrong. Now Mr. Bush has returned from India, and has proposed a nuclear deal that he believes will help both the Indian and American people. He is wrong again.
Mr. Bush wants to cut a deal that will advance India’s nuclear capabilities, with potential profit for US corporations. The deal will bring some of India’s nuclear reactors under international safeguards, but will have the effect of further undermining the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
In exchange for robust nuclear technology sharing, Mr. Bush’s “deal” will place 14 of India’s 22 nuclear facilities under international safeguards. That will leave eight of India’s nuclear facilities without safeguards, including a fast breeder reactor program that produces plutonium that can be used by India to increase its production of nuclear weapons. The deal provides no cap on India’s production of more nuclear weapons-grade fissionable materials.
India never joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it did develop nuclear weapons. The deal is being sold to the Congress and American people on the basis of strengthening relations with the world’s largest democracy, while the fact that it undermines the non-proliferation regime is being swept under the carpet.
The deal with India also undermines US credibility in its efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Unlike India, Iran is a party to the NPT and has publicly renounced nuclear weapons. Iran is subject to inspection and monitoring by the international community, which could be strengthened. The US loses its ability to influence the Iranians by dealing in such an unprincipled manner with India. Certainly Iranian leaders have not failed to notice the double standards in the US application of its non-proliferation policies.
Further, the nuclear weapons states that are parties to the NPT have obligations under the treaty to participate in “good faith” negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. India has no such obligation. India gets all the benefits with none of the obligations. Iran gets none of the benefits and all the burdens. What does this say to the rest of the world?
It gets worse: the deal will allow India to harvest the plutonium and enriched uranium from its non-safeguarded nuclear facilities and use it for increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal. Not only is Pakistan upset about this potential change in its nuclear balance with India, but other countries will question why they should stay bound by their non-proliferation pledges under the treaty. An enlarged Indian nuclear arsenal will undoubtedly provoke China to increase its arsenal. The US and Russian reaction to such a build up predictably will lead them to further strengthen their own arsenals.
To the rest of the world, the proposed US-India nuclear deal says that the US isn’t serious about preventing nuclear proliferation. A country such as India that develops nuclear weapons only has to sit back and wait for the US to place other geopolitical or economic interests ahead of non-proliferation and the sanctity of the rule of law. Other countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria and Brazil, which could potentially develop nuclear arsenals, may decide to rethink their options and follow the path of India.
What will China do in its relations with Pakistan? Will they refrain from sharing nuclear technology and helping to strengthen Pakistan’s nuclear capacities? On what basis will the US seek to stop China’s nuclear sharing with Pakistan when the US has played fast and loose with its own obligations under the law?
Fortunately, the Bush administration cannot make this deal by itself. It must have the approval of Congress to alter the 1954 Atomic Energy Act as well as the approval of the 45 member international Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Bush administration has already submitted legislation to Congress that essentially asks it to waive its oversight functions with regard to nuclear proliferation matters in this deal. Congress should certainly not relinquish its power of oversight, thereby giving the president a blank check to make any deal he wishes with India, regardless of the proliferation consequences. Congress should say No to this overreaching of the Executive branch.
There is to no good argument for the Nuclear Suppliers Group to change its rules to allow this deal to go forward. Greed is not a good argument. The proposed US-India deal punches a big hole in the ship of non-proliferation. The argument that by making this deal with India we bring it onto the ship thus fails, for the deal itself will sink the ship.
The deal should not be given a pass by either Congress or the Nuclear Suppliers Group unless all of India’s nuclear facilities, civilian and military, are placed under international safeguards; a verifiable fissile material cut-off treaty is negotiated, signed and ratified by both the US and India; and both countries make clear and binding their commitment to universal nuclear disarmament by providing leadership in creating a new international Treaty for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament is required of the US as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. While India is not similarly bound by the provisions of the NPT, its leaders have stated on numerous occasions they India would eliminate its nuclear arsenal if the NPT nuclear weapons states would lead the way.
The current predicament of the US-India deal further undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty would not exist if the US followed its own principle that no person or country stands above the law. To achieve this globally, we need a global standard for controlling all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons-capable materials. The US should be leading the way to achieve this global standard, rather than pursuing ad hoc arrangements that undermine non-proliferation efforts and the rule of law.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Jonathan Granoff is president of Global Security Institute.