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India Wants In on Control Regimes: The Making of A Faustian Bargain?

India Wants In on Control Regimes:  The Making of A Faustian Bargain?


After pledging $1 million to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Nuclear Security Fund in Seoul, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his case for India’s admission into four key export control regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group.  To paraphrase Yogi Berra, its deja vu all over again.  Delhi’s pursuit of membership in these control regimes is not new: the government argues,as PM Singh did today in Seoul, that India has “already adhered to the guidelines of the NSG and MTCR.”  Singh also emphasized in his speech that India “has never been a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies and we are determined to further strengthen our export control systems to keep them on par with the highest international standards.”  Excellent.

But, here’s the rub:  India continues to be one of three countries NOT in the Nonproliferation Treaty, the other two being Pakistan and Israel.  According to Delhi’s longstanding views,  the existing nuclear nonproliferation regime perpetuates an unjust distinction between the five states that are permitted by the Treaty on the NPT to possess nuclear weapons, while requiring all other state parties to the treaty to remain non-nuclear weapon states. India has also been highly critical of the pace of the nuclear weapon states’ disarmament progress, arguing that they have not fulfilled their commitments under Article VI of the NPT.  So, what did Delhi do?  Built their own nukes.  Two wrongs apparently make it right.  But, I digress.

With regard to the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation, the Bush Administration negotiated an agreement which craftily edged around the fact that India was not a party to the NPT, creating an exception to the longstanding rule.  Unsurprisingly, nonproliferation advocates were unhappy, to say the least.  The Administration, they have said, gave away a rather useful stick in getting other countries to toe the line on joining the NPT.  It created a gaping inconsistency in how the U.S. pursues its nonproliferation agenda.  India, at the time, argued that it “aligned” itself with the NPT and the other control regimes.  PM Singh reiterated that position in Seoul today.  However, I’m going to call BS on that one.  Aligning oneself with a key treaty is different than actually joining the club.  Why?  Because a treaty is a commitment, a measure of comity with other countries that is far less mutable than alignment.  It represents the fact that a country has invested political capital in something that other countries have also committed to follow.  Its less easy to undo.

But, there’s more,  Writing in CQ Weekly (Courting A Reluctant Ally, March 26th), Jonathan Broder details the uneasy alliance between India and the U.S. at a time when the latter needs the former to be a key strategic ally in South Asia.  India has balked at going along with a whole raft of U.S. foreign policy priorities, including sanctions on Iran, a push for regime change in Libya and Syria following brutal crackdowns in both countries, and efforts to contain China.  This despite the fact that two-way trade and investment reached $100 billion last year alone.  Washington is also hoping that India will play a greater role in Afghanistan as it looks to withdraw.

But, India continues to bristle at the notion of a closer relationship with Washington for a host of reasons, both historical and otherwise.  So, what’s an Administration to do?  Do like they did with the 123 agreement and press for India’s admission into the four control regimes maybe?

I can’t help but think that an Administration desperate enough to shake some things loose with a recalcitrant New Delhi might be prepared to offer such a concession in exchange for a stronger strategic commitment.  If Delhi plays its card right, such a Faustian bargain could be made, despite the wonderful words and grand gestures made in Seoul with week.  Talk about cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.


P.S.  An interesting little coda on Seoul via Dan Froomkin at the HuffPo.



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.

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