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US Groups Band Together to Stop Nuclear Transfer to India

Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - A diverse coalition of environmental and peace organizations in the United States is urging Congress to reject the Bush administration's move to send nuclear technologies to India.0118 07

"When Congress takes a close look at the Bush Administration's proposed agreement, it will find a dangerous, unprecedented deal," said John Isaacs of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control research and lobby group, which is part of the 23-member coalition.

Isaacs and other members of the new coalition see the proposed agreement as detrimental to U.S. national security because it could provoke certain nations to start nuclear weapons programs.

Those who joined the coalition's Campaign for Responsibility in Nuclear Trade this week said they believe that the proposed agreement would "embolden countries like Iran and North Korea" to develop nuclear weapons.

In their view, it would also destabilize South Asia and weaken international and U.S. laws, including the Hyde Act, which Congress passed in 2006 to provide a framework for the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement.

"The proposal undermines over 30 years of nonproliferation policy, will increase India's capability to produce nuclear weapons, and sends the wrong message to Pakistan during a time of crisis in that country," said Isaacs.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which is part of the campaign opposing the nuclear deal with India, agrees with Isaacs.

"[This] deal will worsen nuclear dangers by undermining the nuclear nonproliferation regime, increasing India's nuclear weapons capacity, provoking Pakistan and possibly China," he told OneWorld.

Krieger thinks that the deal would set "a terrible precedent by providing nuclear benefits to a country that has never joined the nonproliferation treaty and has developed a significant nuclear arsenal."

India is in possession of nuclear weapons and so is its rival and neighbor Pakistan. 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.

The proposed agreement with India over the supply of nuclear technology was first announced by senior U.S. officials in August 2007 after New Delhi assured the Bush administration 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," John Boroughs of the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy, told OneWorld in a recent interview.

Some experts see the Bush administration move as a clear divergence from international opinion on India's status as a nuclear armed nation. That, because a UN Security Council resolution requires that no country export "equipment, materials, or technology that could in any way assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons."

The 1998 resolution was adopted with consensus soon after both India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices in defiance of international opinion against the spread of nuclear weapons.

According to the Uranium Resource Center, India has 14 nuclear energy reactors in commercial operation and 9 under construction. Currently, the country's 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 statement last year in August.

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 see the U.S. acceptance of India's nuclear weapons program as a major concession because New Delhi has never agreed to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In addition to India and Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are the lone holdouts from that 1970 agreement, which commits non-nuclear-armed countries to staying that way. All four countries have developed nuclear arsenals.

"[It] is a proud announcement on the part of the two governments that nuclear double standards are alive and well," said Krieger. "Iraq was viciously attacked and its regime overthrown on the false representation that it had a nuclear weapons program. Iran was threatened for enriching uranium, which it is allowed to do under international law, and North Korea has been threatened and bullied.

"India, a known nuclear proliferator, on the other hand, is being rewarded for what the U.S. government sees as geopolitical advantage," he added. "It is reprehensible and arrogant behavior, consistent with the way in which the Bush administration has ignored and undermined international law for the past seven years."

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 and that it will enhance efforts for greater use of clean energy.

"India will be able to tap into clean nuclear power and make it more energy independent," said U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns in a statement last August.

But many critics who support policy initiatives 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," said Krieger. "The United States has a massive defense budget, but spends relatively little addressing the most immediate danger to humanity."

In the past two years, environmentalists and some politicians from across the world appreared to have raised concerns about the UN and U.S. projections for nuclear technology as an alternative to fossil fuels.

"Nuclear power is no longer necessary," former European environment ministers said in the letter to the UN secretary-general in June 2006. "We have now numerous renewable technologies available to guarantee the right to safe, clean, and cheap energy."

But this line of reasoning has so far failed to convince the power establishments in the industrialized countries, many of whom rely heavily on fossil fuels and nuclear technology for growing energy needs.

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.

Among those who who possess nuclear weapons are 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 members of the new coalition appear to have mixed feelings about whether their campaign can sway Congress.

"Hopefully, some member(s) of the Nuclear Suppliers Group will have the courage to say 'No' to this deal on principle and will block it from happening," said Krieger, referring to the informal 45-country body that sets guidelines for nuclear exports. "I don't think that the U.S. Congress can be counted on to do the right thing."

Isaacs, on the other hand, seemed quite optimistic about a Congressional response to the coalition's call.

"We feel confident that, under the Congressional microscope, the many flaws of this deal will be exposed, and it will ultimately be rejected for the sake of preserving national security and global stability," he said.

© 2008 One

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