Foreign Policy Blogs

Harsh Words of the US-India Nuclear Deal


This week saw new developments in the U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation accord.  In case you’re unfamiliar, this deal would allow the US to ship atomic fuel to India, for use in its civil nuclear energy program, in return for international inspections of India's civilian reactors, to make sure they don't use this technology to make nuclear weapons.

As the AP exlpains, “India has refused to sign nonproliferation agreements and has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974. But on Saturday, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that supply nuclear material and technology agreed to lift the ban on civilian nuclear trade with India after contentious talks and some concessions to countries fearful it could set a dangerous precedent.”

Today, the AP reports that Condoleezza Rice and India's defense minister put the finishing touches on the deal, and the Bush administration hopes to formally send Congress the deal by the end of the day.

Yet,  “Some in Congress are vowing a careful review of U.S.-Indian nuclear negotiations, which could doom the plan's passage this year. That would leave it in the hands of a new Congress and president, and it is unclear whether it would remain a priority.”

This would be a bad result for the Bush administration, as it considers this deal one of its top foreign policy goals.

News of the developments drew harsh words from outside observers.  Among the variety of worries expressed about how the deal has transpired and its consecuences for arms control overall, is that it sets a bad example for other potential nuclear powers (for example, Iran, whose nuclear program the administration and the international community is trying so hard to stop).

For example, Mira Kamdar opines in the Washington Post under the headline “Risking Armageddon for Cold, Hard Cash”:

“The deal will tell other would-be nuclear powers–and nuclear rogues–that the old barriers to nonproliferation need not be taken seriously. They certainly have not been taken seriously by the United States. Other, less high-minded powers will surely follow the short-sighted example being set by Delhi and Washington.”   

Among the consequences of the deal, Kamdar argues, are the following:

“The historic deal will allow U.S. nuclear companies to again do business in India, something that has been barred since 1974, when New Delhi tested its first atomic bomb. (India tested nuclear bombs again in 1998, spurring Pakistan to follow suit with its own tests days later.) The pact will also lift restrictions on other countries’ sales of nuclear technology and fuel to India, while asking virtually nothing from India in return. All of that will undermine the very international system that India so ardently seeks to join.”  

Kamdar also argues the deal sets a bad example for US expectations from rising economic and military powers in Asia, namely, China: 

“Meanwhile, China cannot help noticing that the United States has engaged in bizarre doublespeak over what it expects of rising Asian powers. The Bush administration has told China that it must behave as a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system — meaning that China should expect no exceptions to global rules as it struggles to meet the challenges posed by its booming economy.

That, of course, is the precise context in which the Bush administration has lobbied for the nuclear deal with India. The White House has called upon China “to embrace energy security and nonproliferation principles that are in accordance with the international norms,” even as it pleads to exempt India from these very norms.”

But Kamdar concludes that the “real tragedy” about the US deal with India is this:

“A shocking 42 percent of Indians live below the World Bank's new poverty threshold of $1.25 per day. Even if India managed to match China reactor for reactor and missile for missile — a long shot at best — Delhi could do so only at the expense of precisely the investments in human and physical infrastructure that could make India into a truly great power… India's democracy has already paid a crippling price, and now the planet may too.”

An editorial in the New York Times took aim at President Bush for being so desperate for a foreign policy success that his administration “bullied and wheedled international approval of the president's ill-conceived nuclear deal with India.”

The authors issue a warning to the US Congress to “limit the damage from this damaging deal and maintain a few shreds of American credibility when it comes to restraining the spread of nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers should hold off considering the deal at least until the new Congress takes office in January. And they must insist that at a minimum, the restrictions already written into American law are strictly adhered to.”



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.