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Think Again: U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

A nuclear deal announced in March would allow the United States to sell nuclear materials to India and, in return, bring parts of India’s nuclear program under international safeguards. But the pact undermines decades of nuclear nonproliferation work and gives too much freedom to a state with a questionable nuclear history.

The Deal Will Strengthen Only Indias Peaceful Nuclear Program

False. The proposed agreement provides India with nuclear materials and technology from the United States. In exchange, India would divide its civilian and military nuclear programs, place safeguards on its civilian nuclear facilities, and allow international inspections. But if the deal is approved in the U.S. Congress this week, India will have sole discretion over whether to classify new reactors as military or civilian, a decision that will affect which ones are subject to international scrutiny. Already, eight nuclear reactorsand all future military reactorswill remain off-limits to inspections.

In addition, India currently has a dwindling stockpile of uranium and does not produce enough fissile material to sustain and expand both its nuclear power and weapon programs. One of the most problematic consequences of the proposed deal is the risk that any nuclear fuel assistance from the United States and other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group will free up Indias existing uranium for weapons use. In a recent article for the prominent Indian Defence Review, a former top Indian intelligence official wrote that the assurance of fuel supply from the agreement would allow India to use its current stockpile to produce uranium and plutonium for its nuclear weapons program. A recent report for the Princeton University-administered International Panel on Fissile Materials, which provides research on nuclear weapons security, reached similar conclusions.

Supporters of the deal like to point out that several reactors will be taken out of the weapons-making business. But that reasoning ignores the fact that under the terms of the deal, India would be able to increase its weapons production capacity from its current level of seven bombs per year to perhaps as many as 50 nuclear weapons annually.

India Has a Responsible Nuclear Record

Debatable. India may have a good record on nuclear exports, but Indias history with respect to its own nuclear weapons program is far from stellar. Decades ago, India broke the terms of two nuclear contracts, one with the United States and one with Canada, in which a nuclear reactor and heavy water were provided under a peaceful-use requirement. India secretly shifted materials from these deals to its weapons programand it continues to do so. As a result, in 1974, India became the first country to misuse civilian nuclear facilities in order to develop a secret nuclear weapons program and test an atom bomb. It is one of only three countries (along with Israel and Pakistan) never to have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has represented the worlds first line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons for more than 35 years.

India also has a questionable record of procurement. The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based think tank that provides technical assessments related to nuclear proliferation, asserted in a March 2006 report that India currently engages in the illicit acquisition of uranium enrichment technology, circumventing other countries export-control laws and leaking sensitive nuclear information in the process. In addition, two Indian companies were sanctioned by the United States in 2005 for transferring missile and chemical weapons technology to Iran, and two nuclear scientists who had worked for Indias state-run nuclear utility were barred from doing business with the U.S. government after it was discovered that they had secretly aided Irans nuclear program.

Providing India with Nuclear Energy Will Help It to Become Energy Independent

Incorrect. Sponsors of the deal argue that, with Indias energy needs expected to double in the next two decades, nuclear energy will help replace the countrys voracious appetite for oil and coal and feed the countrys growing electrical grid. But, even if the deal passes in the U.S. Congress, nuclear power will only account for 12.5 percent of Indias electrical production by 2030, an ambitious and unrealistic target that doubles Indias previous estimates made before the announcement of the deal. And its not as though Indias thirst for oil will be supplanted by nuclear energy. The Indian economy, like the United States, uses oil mainly for transportation and manufacturingsectors where nuclear energy is not yet applicable. Hype that the agreement could help restrain oil prices is just thathype. U.S. President George W. Bush has declared that the deal will help the American consumer by reducing Indian oil consumption and keeping prices down, but a March Congressional Research Service report on the energy implications of the deal concluded that the reduction in Indias oil consumption . . . would have little or no impact on world oil markets.

Regardless of Indian investment in nuclear power or other energy alternatives for the next three to four decades, the country will continue to depend on coal. That means India should invest in technologies that limit greenhouse gas emissions, including nuclear energy. But building more reactors wont solve the emissions problem. India could reduce emissions more effectively simply by being more efficient. Even by the estimate of Indias own Bureau of Energy Efficiency, up to 20,000 megawatts per yearthe projected equivalent of the countrys nuclear-power capacity for the year 2020could be saved by increasing the efficiency of the production and use of energy forms already in existence. That would require much less capital and yield faster results for the same reduction in greenhouse gases.

India Will Promote U.S. Interests in the Region

Wishful thinking. Much of the Bush administrations motivation for the deal stems from its assumption that India will act as a counterweight to an emerging China, siding with the United States on critical issues like Iran and North Korea. Yet India is, and has always been, fiercely independent in its relationships with other countries, including China and Iran. Hoping that India will simply follow the United States lead is ill-advised. The volume of trade between China and India has increased exponentially over the last few years, and China could overtake the United States as Indias largest trading partner as early as next year. The countries even declared 2006 China-India Friendship Year, with the aim of strengthening economic, trade, political, and cultural exchanges between the two countries.

India also maintains close ties to Iran. Over U.S. opposition, Iran and India are considering a $7 billion dollar natural gas pipeline between the two countries. In January 2005, India signed a $40 billion, 25-year contract with Iran to import natural gas. And just this June, the Indian petroleum minister met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to reaffirm Indias interest in future energy projects. So, despite U.S. laws that impose penalties on companies or countries doing energy business with Iran, U.S. pressure has not dissuaded India from forging ahead. We are aware of U.S. concerns, Indias former petroleum minister said last year, [but] we trust the U.S. is aware of our energy requirements.

The Deal Will Strengthen Global Security

Thats short-sighted. American cooperation with the worlds largest democracy is essential, and the Bush administration should be commended for pursuing it. However, if the deal goes through as planned, long-term U.S. and international security will suffer, and U.S. congressional oversight will be reduced. The administration has created an unfortunate and unwise dichotomy in pitting U.S.-India cooperation against the preservation of the long-standing nuclear nonproliferation standard. It has insisted on making nuclear trade (rather than cooperation on education, health, science, international business, nonnuclear energy, and cultural exchanges) the cornerstone of U.S.-Indian ties. In so doing, the administration is jeopardizing the system that has minimized the spread of nuclear weapons and benefited U.S. (and Indian) security for decades.

The NPT is based on a central bargain: Existing weapon states agree to disarm gradually, and cooperate on nuclear energy issues with nonnuclear weapon states, who, in return, give up their right to have nuclear weapons. The deal now on the table breaks the fragile balance of the treatys bargain. It permits nuclear cooperation with Indiaa state in possession of nuclear weapons not recognized by the NPTwithout requiring India to accept nonproliferation conditions or make the concessions that apply to nearly all other states. This exceptionalism built into the deal would create a dangerous double-standard and reverse longstanding U.S. nonproliferation policy. It also infuriates neighboring Pakistan, which pressed the United States for a similar deal in March, only to receive the cold shoulder.

This proposed arrangement sets an unfortunate precedent. Some nonnuclear weapon countries are sure to be reluctant to undertake further obligations pursuant to the NPT. They may even begin to question their membership in the treaty. Pakistan is seeking an equivalent agreement from China and France, and Russia may seek to justify similar cooperation with Iran. In addition, introducing an exception to the NPT complicates ongoing negotiations with problem states like Iran and North Korea. Theres also the possibility that more Indian weapons could create pressures on Pakistan to match Indian production. That raises the risk of nuclear materials falling into the hands of jihadists operating in the region. And thats one risk that the United States shouldnt be willing to accept.

Leonard Weiss is a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and a former professor of applied mathematics and engineering. For over two decades he was Sen. John Glenn’s staff director at the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. He was the chief architect of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 and the Glenn Amendment of 1977.

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