India-US Nuclear Cooperation Deal: It’s baaaaack…

The supposedly dead US-India Nuclear Cooperation Deal resurrected itself during the first week of July. It had seemed all but certain that the deal would die in the Indian Parliament, due to the Communist Party’s resistance to the agreement. However, Prime Minister Singh changed his strategy and instead courted the Samajwadi Party to support the deal, thus keeping his majority – and allowing the agreement to pass the Indian Parliament.

The agreement, signed in 2005 and passed by the US Congress under the Hyde Act in 2006, allows for the United States to transfer nuclear technology and fuel to India, reversing decades of past policy. With the passage in the Indian Parliament, the deal now moves to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will sign off on safeguards for some of India’s nuclear facilities in August. Next, the deal must be approved by the 45 member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an organization which supervises any direct transfer of nuclear fuel or technology between states. After possible approval from both the IAEA and the NSG, the agreement would come back to the US Congress for final approval. If the deal makes it to Congress, there is no guarantee that it would be passed in a floor vote because election season is fast approaching and there is already much on the agenda for Congress.

While President Bush and Prime Minister Singh tout the deal as a breakthrough for helping India meet surmounting energy demands, what will the deal mean for nuclear nonproliferation and the grand bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)? The agreement would give India nuclear weapons status, and essentially rewards them for detonating nuclear devices in 1998. In addition, the agreement does not require India to sign the 1968 NPT, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), cease production of nuclear weapons, or require that all of their facilities be under IAEA safeguards. The agreement also fails to include language stipulating that the deal would become null and void if India tests a nuclear weapon.

Therefore, in terms of nonproliferation and getting to zero, the agreement falls short; it does not limit India’s nuclear weapons capabilities, and may even enhance their weapons program because it will free up fuel for weapons – fuel that otherwise would have gone toward India’s nuclear energy program.

Rather than addressing the negative security ramifications of the agreement, the United States is framing the deal as the best option for strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries. President Bush, speaking at the G-8 Summit said that:

I think it’s very important that the United States continues to work with our friend to develop not only a new strategic relationship, but a relationship that addresses some of the world’s problems. We talked about the India-US nuclear deal – how important that is for our respective countries.

While trying to sure up strategic ties to the United States, India recently issued a declaration during a conference in New Delhi last month entitled, Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons. Prime Minister Singh called for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and announced that he had submitted a Working Paper on Nuclear Disarmament to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. In particular, he outlined six measures to work toward eventual nuclear disarmament. However, President Bush did not express support for the idea during his speech at the G-8, which further weakens India’s position on disarmament.

If the United States is serious about strengthening the nonproliferation regime, then it should understand that the current agreement with India runs counter to this goal. India’s attempt to move toward global disarmament is to be commended, but it needs to be started within the current nonproliferation structure, which the US-India Agreement weakens. While the agreement may be labeled as a mechanism to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, there must be better ways to do this – ways that do not undermine previous and existing US efforts to support the NPT.

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