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123 or 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... 0?

India and the New Nuclear Era

by BRUCE A. ROTH

India’s Prime Minister Singh has cut the sweetest deal for his country since it became an independent nation 60 years ago. The Hyde Act, along with the 123 Agreement, will open the U.S. nuclear trade to India and create up to 27,000 jobs and $100 billion in foreign direct investment. But Singh can’t celebrate yet; his coalition is about to disintegrate because opponents to the deal claim that it will compromise India’s sovereignty. Ironically, it is the U.S. President who should worry about the effect the deal will have on his party, U.S. Congress which should be showing stronger opposition to the deal, and U.S citizens who should be outraged.

Being one of only four nations that have steadfastly refused to abide by the hallmark Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), India’s nuclear program has long been controversial. India broke the terms of two nuclear contracts, one with Canada and the other with the U.S., by misusing civilian nuclear facilities to secretly build and test a nuclear weapon in 1974, resulting in a U.S. ban on nuclear exports to India. And, India continues to secretly shift materials from these deals to its weapons program. India’s second test in 1998 incited its arch rival, Pakistan, to follow suit in a show of force. These tests violated a global norm against testing and they precipitated recrimination and additional punitive sanctions from several nations.

Only eight years later, North Korea, another non-NPT nation, tested a nuclear weapon. Iran has been busy developing a nuclear program that can easily be used to make nuclear weapons, Russia is improving its nuclear arsenal, and China is flexing its economic and military biceps. Conveniently, India happens to be strategically situated in that neighborhood, making it vital to U.S. interests. The U.S. is hoping that India will be a counterweight to China and promote U.S. interests on critical issues such as North Korea and Iran, but that may just be delusional thinking. India is fiercely independent in its relationships with other nations, China could overtake the U.S. as India’s largest trading partner, and India maintains close ties to Iran. U.S. laws that impose penalties on countries doing energy business with Iran along with outright U.S. pressure have not dissuaded India from doing so.

Although India remains intransigent in its nuclear weapons posture and trading relations with Iran, the Bush administration and Congress have decided to provide India with nuclear assistance. While India might appear to be a trustworthy and stable democracy when viewed in the present regional context, more factors should be considered in this grave decision. Proponents of 123 often claim that India has an impeccable history of nonproliferation. However, India has unwittingly disclosed sensitive information about uranium enrichment while soliciting bids. It has an illicit program for procuring its own nuclear supplies, two Indian companies transferred missile and chemical weapons technology to Iran in 2005, and two nuclear scientists employed by India’s state-run nuclear facility secretly aided Iran’s nuclear program. India may not be determined to proliferate to other countries, as Pakistan or North Korea have, but India isn’t determined to prevent it either. Even if these events had not occurred, the simple reality is that building more nuclear weapons for India’s own arsenal is proliferation nonetheless.

There are several additional factors worthy of consideration. India shares a disputed border and an inflammatory relationship with two contentious nuclear states, Pakistan and China. Pakistan is potentially at risk of being overrun by al Qaeda, which would put its nuclear weapons in the hands of the world’s number one terrorist. India’s current administration could be voted out by the strongly nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responsible for the 1998 test. And, although India is a democracy, a lack of conditions that contribute to long term domestic stability, such as education, economic opportunity, and social justice may explain why India has seen widespread communal rioting and religious violence for many years. For example, much of its teeming population suffers from widespread poverty and illiteracy, faces a diminishing supply of unsafe drinking water, is plagued by drug resistant malaria born by pesticide resistant mosquitoes, lives in squalid conditions with inadequate sanitation, and is trapped in an anachronistic caste system. In sum, India’s track record of breaking nuclear contracts along with these additional factors do not paint a clear picture of a nation that we should be enabling to produce more of the world’s most terrible weapons.

As a result of India’s amazing metamorphosis from an untrustworthy nation deserving sanctions to a trustworthy and stable nonproliferator, the Bush administration became India’s champion, and in 2006 the U.S. Congress approved the Hyde Act which removed the nuclear trade barriers with India. This deal will have many beneficiaries. India will be able to use its own limited uranium supply to build seven times as many nuclear weapons rather than create economic opportunity for its poor, grow food for its hungry, or build infrastructure. The deal will also benefit America by possibly allowing the U.S. to expand its influence in the region through the medium of India, major U.S. corporations can begin to stake their claim in the multibillion dollar India Uranium Rush, and Americans will benefit from opening U.S. markets to Indian mangoes, which have been closed for 17 years because of pests and diseases. However, before the food can enter the U.S., it will have to be irradiated, which won’t be hard for India to do anymore. U.S. citizens and the rest of the world should rightly feel "sold out"-and not just because the U.S. subsidized India’s mango crop in 2004 to the tune of $900,000!

In its subsequent negotiations over nuclear trade, the Bush administration then over-stepped Congressional limits by capitulating to almost all of India’s demands in the 123 agreement. This agreement is in contravention of both the letter and spirit of the Hyde Act. The U.S. has given unprecedented preferential treatment to India, offering it terms not found in any other U.S. peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement-not even those it has made with 180 or so other nations, all of which have assumed the full obligations and responsibilities of the NPT.

In 2004 the U.N. General Assembly voted to ratify the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FissBan), which would ban the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. However, U.S. negotiators caved in to India’s refusal to halt its production of weapons grade fissile material and granted India advance long term consent to do so-in spite of provisions in the Hyde Act to the contrary. India did agree to allow partial safeguards on eight additional civilian nuclear reactors by 2014 (India gets to decide which reactors are civilian), but its military reactor installations won’t have to fret about pesky IAEA inspectors or full scope safeguards. India will be able to test another nuclear weapon with some impunity because 123 does not give the U.S. a clear and unambiguous right to require the return of its fuel and equipment or to cancel the agreement for that reason. The agreement does not even mention nuclear testing in its "termination and cessation" clause. In fact, if India’s supply of uranium does get shut off because of a nuclear test or safeguards violation, the Bush administration has committed the U.S. to help find other nations that will restore India’s supply.

The U.S. is setting a terrible example, the Hyde Act sets a dangerous precedent, and if approved, 123 will formalize both. This deal will permit India to remain outside the nonproliferation mainstream. Consider these potential consequences: North Korea will regard U.N Security Council Resolutions and sanctions with the same deference that Iran does, Pakistan and China will participate in the new arms race, Pakistan is seeking a similar nuclear deal from China and France, some nations will question their membership in the NPT, and Russia might even seek to justify a comparable deal with Iran. Not surprisingly, the governments of the U.K., Australia, Canada, Russia, and undoubtedly other nations that place their own short term parochial interests over the long term interests of the world are lining up behind the U.S. to sell uranium and nuclear technology to India. Have we not learned from past mistakes that expediency is often very costly in the long run or from a wider perspective?

Overall, the deal is great for India, U.S. political interests, and the corporations that will get a slice of the action, but it’s bad for everyone else on the planet. But there is a silver lining in this dark cloud-before long, we could have a nuclear winter to offset global warming.

World leaders should insist that New Delhi meet the nonproliferation standards of the NPT before lifting restrictions on civilian nuclear trade. Such being the case, there would be no rational argument for India remaining a non-NPT state. I am not at all opposed to India benefiting from the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which it can by merely signing the NPT; however, I am fully opposed to doing so at the expense of nonproliferation, disarmament, and the NPT, which has served its member States well for thirty-seven years.

The NPT’s structural integrity was weakened at the 2005 NPT Review Conference, and it languishes in a compromised state. Once the U.S. opens Pandora’s Nuclear Box, there may be no hope for the elimination of these weaponsor for mankind.

After all, one can have too much of a good thing-even mangoes.

BRUCE A. ROTH is the author of No Time To Kill, a layman’s guide to WMDs, terrorism,and genocide. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at: bruce@daisyalliance.org