UNITED NATIONS -- The Bush administration's decision to let India obtain nuclear technology from the United States is renewing long-held fears that it could result in further proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.
''It will allow India to increase its capacity to make nuclear weapons material,'' Zia Mian, professor of global security and environment at Princeton University, told OneWorld. ''[It] will increase the nuclear danger in South Asia.''
Last week, senior U.S. officials announced they finalized a deal with India over the supply of nuclear technology. In reaching the agreement, India assured the U.S. government that it would use the imported technology for civilian, not military purposes.
But critics of the accord say it's hard for them to believe that India, which possesses a significant amount of nuclear warheads, would live up to its promise.
''[It] may promote not only a possible arms race between India and Pakistan, but also [between] India and China, as well,'' said John Boroughs of the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy, reflecting on the deal between Washington and New Delhi.
Like many others, both Mian and Boroughs also think the agreement would undermine prospects for global treaties on nuclear restraint and disarmament.
''This is in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1172,'' said Mian.
The resolution calls upon all states to ''prevent the export of equipment, materials or technology that could in any way assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons.''
The resolution was adopted in 1998 with consensus soon after both India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices in defiance of international opinion against the spread of nuclear weapons.
Since India's partition in 1947 when the British ended their colonial rule of the country, India and Pakistan have gone to war with each other three times.
According to the Uranium Resource Center, India has 14 nuclear energy reactors in commercial operation and 9 under construction. Currently, its nuclear power supplies are estimated to account for about 3 percent of total electricity production.
For its part, India strongly denies that it intends to use the deal with the United States to expand its nuclear weapons program.
''We are not using it as an excuse to enhance our strategic capabilities,'' said MK Narayan, India's national security adviser, in a recent statement.
However, the deal, as it has been interpreted by Indian officials, does not cover the question of whether it has a right to carry out further nuclear tests.
Critics have described the U.S. acceptance of India's nuclear weapons program as amounting to ''a major concession'' for a country that has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In justifying the deal, U.S. officials have defended India's assertions that it will only use the technology transferred from Washington for ''peaceful'' nuclear purposes.
The agreement sends a message that ''if you behave responsibly and play by the rules you will not be penalized. You will be invited to participate [in the international system],'' said U.S. Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns.
''India will be able to tap into clean nuclear power and make it more energy independent,'' he added in a recent statement.
But many of those among the international civil society movement who support global efforts for increased reliance on clean energy refuse to accept the notion that nuclear energy is a safe alternative.
''It is perhaps the least talked about and most worrying irony of our time,'' David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation told OneWorld. ''The United States has a massive defense budget, but spends relatively little addressing the most immediate danger to humanity.''
Krieger's group, Greenpeace International, and many other environmental groups have repeatedly called for the United Nations, the United States, and other powerful nations to stop promoting nuclear technology as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Recently, some leading European politicians also raised serious questions about the UN's role in encouraging countries to acquire nuclear energy for non-military purposes.
Last year in April, former environment ministers from European countries, including Russia, sent a letter to the former UN chief urging him to reform the mandate of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with overseeing the development of nuclear energy capabilities worldwide.
''Nuclear power is no longer necessary,'' they said in the letter. ''We have now numerous renewable technologies available to guarantee the right to safe, clean, and cheap energy.''
But this line of reasoning has failed to win over many of the world's most powerful nations. In July last year, when leaders of the most industrialized countries, known as the Group of Eight, gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, they signed a joint statement saying that nuclear energy is one way to address climate change.
Many environmentalists rejected that statement and repeated calls for restraints on the use of nuclear technology, arguing that nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic mishaps related to natural disasters and unintentional human error. They also say it is hard to separate weapons manufacturing processes from those meant for generating energy for civilian purposes.
There are currently some 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and 12,000 of these are deployed. Of those, 3,500 nuclear weapons are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired in moments.
Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. More than 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. The UK, France, China, and Israel are estimated to have arsenals numbering a few hundred each.
India and Pakistan are thought to have arsenals under 100, and North Korea is believed to have up to 12 nuclear weapons. As many as 35 other countries have the technological capability to become nuclear weapons states, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Iran, and Egypt.
Nearly all countries in the world are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Only three countries have not signed the treaty: Israel, India, and Pakistan. A fourth country, North Korea, withdrew from the NPT in 2003. All of these countries have developed nuclear arsenals.
The NPT obligates the nuclear weapons states that are parties to the treaty to engage in good-faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. The International Court of Justice has interpreted this to mean that negotiations must be concluded ''leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.''
''As the world's only remaining superpower, the United States can lead the way in fulfilling this obligation,'' Krieger told OneWorld. ''[But] It has failed to do so.''
In his view, the U.S. missile defense program is largely responsible for provoking Russia and China, and has resulted in these countries improving their offensive nuclear capabilities. In addition, the United States has failed to provide legally binding security assurances that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons states.
''U.S. nuclear policy undermines the security of its people,'' Krieger said. ''The more the U.S. relies on nuclear weapons, the more other countries will do so.''
Mian appears to be in full agreement with Krieger, particularly in regards to South Asia and the Bush administration's deal with New Delhi.
''The U.S. sees strategic and economic benefits in the nuclear deal with India,'' he told OneWorld. ''But the people of India and Pakistan will pay the price. This means nuclear establishments in both countries will become more powerful and drain even greater resources away from social development.''
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