Put the brakes

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, August 26, 2008

By Staff
on India’s nukes
After being on life support for nearly a year, the U.S.-India nuclear deal is back in a big way. With time running out before the U.S. Congress is set to adjourn on Sept. 26, India and the United States are racing to finalize the deal as quickly as possible. This rush to completion, however, could have disastrous consequences. The deal violates U.S. law, hurts American businesses and undermines U.S. nonproliferation objectives.
Thanks to some crafty political maneuvering in July, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh survived a razor-thin vote and is now pushing ahead with the deal, which would allow for the transfer of nuclear technology and fuel to New Delhi even though it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Having already secured approval from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the next hurdle for Singh is the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a coalition of 45 countries that oversees the trade of nuclear technology and material. With the clock ticking as of Thursday, the Suppliers Group must decide whether to exempt India from international rules that have prevented it from engaging in nuclear trade since its abuse of past nuclear imports to conduct its first nuclear test in 1974.
If the deal survives the Suppliers Group, U.S. law still requires congressional approval. The Bush administration hopes to submit the agreement to Congress by early September.
In 2006, Congress passed legislation that permitted the U.S.-India nuclear deal to go forward, but subjected it to some important conditions. At a February 2008 hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged that the United States would not support an exemption for India at the Suppliers Group that did not include the conditions passed in 2006.
Unfortunately, in direct defiance of Congress, India has repeatedly refused to accept even the most minimal restrictions on the deal. The Bush administration now has all but surrendered to India’s demands, calling for a “clean exemption” at the Suppliers Group that would ignore most of the conditions passed by Congress in 2006, including a critical provision that would cut off nuclear trade if India were to conduct a nuclear test.
In addition to violating the clear intent of Congress, a speedy decision at the Nuclear Suppliers Group that does not contain any conditions would allow other nuclear suppliers such as France and Russia to profit from the nuclear deal immediately, while U.S. companies would be left out until Congress approves the agreement. The time between an exemption and congressional action could be considerable, as there does not appear to be enough time left on the legislative calendar for Congress to take up the agreement before it adjourns for the year.
Finally, the nuclear deal promises to give serious damage to international efforts to curb the spread of dangerous nuclear weapons technologies.
Though it is far from perfect, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been the world’s best line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide for the past 40 years. Despite the fact that India is not a party to this global compact, refuses to take on a legal commitment against future nuclear tests, has not stopped producing nuclear weapons-usable material, and will not allow permanent international inspections over all its nuclear facilities, the United States intends to reward India with privileges that not even most countries in good standing under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty enjoy.
Extending special rights to India without simultaneously requiring it to make meaningful commitments toward disarmament would set a risky double standard that would shatter the delicate bargain upon which the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is based.
Moreover, by increasing India’s capability to produce nuclear weapons, the deal will further undermine U.S. national security interests by worsening an already perilous nuclear arms race in South Asia because Pakistan is likely to respond by expanding its own nuclear capability.
Given the many outstanding questions and contradictions that have yet to be resolved, the Suppliers Group and Congress must not be bullied into making a hasty decision on the U.S-India nuclear deal.