- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

NEW DELHI — India’s prime minister, returning home from a pomp-filled visit to Washington, has been trying hard to blunt national criticism of an agreement he signed with President Bush to accept international monitoring of civilian nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of a U.S.-sponsored ban on nuclear commerce with New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s red-carpet welcome in Washington — including the first White House banquet of President Bush’s second term and an address to a joint session of Congress — reflects the ongoing courtship between the world’s most powerful and most populous democracies.

The courtship is also symbolized by a new international poll that shows more people in India have a positive view of the United States than in any other nation surveyed. The poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project reveals that India — the only established democracy in a vast region stretching from Jordan to China — bucks the trend of growing anti-Americanism in the world.

The nuclear deal was the high point of Mr. Singh’s visit. The deal opens the way to tens of billions of dollars worth of Indian contracts for U.S. nuclear-power technology and conventional weapons. In fact, the Pentagon expects India to express its thanks for the deal by placing early arms orders worth $5 billion.

In recent years, U.S.-Indian relations have been positively transformed. The very subject that bedeviled bilateral ties in the past — the nuclear issue — paradoxically acted as a catalyst, with India’s 1998 nuclear tests serving as the defining event that elevated U.S.-Indian relations and promoted closer engagement.

This was dramatically highlighted when Mr. Bush, reversing a punitive policy approach dating back to the 1970s when New Delhi conducted its first nuclear test, hailed India as a “responsible state with advanced nuclear technology” that “should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states.” In an agreement with Mr. Singh, Mr. Bush pledged he “will work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India” — a promise that must win approval of Congress and America’s allies. In return, Mr. Singh agreed to international oversight of India’s civilian nuclear program and to several other legally binding conditions.

Eager to boost economic growth, India wants to import nuclear reactors and fuel for generating electricity. This fits with the Bush administration’s efforts to build a post-Kyoto consensus on climate change by touting commercial nuclear power as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, especially for large, rapidly developing nations like China and India.

The nuclear deal came barely three weeks after the United States and India initialed a landmark agreement setting out a framework for defense cooperation. As part of “an expanded and deeper U.S.-India strategic relationship,” the accord calls for greater military exercises and exchanges, collaboration on “multinational operations when it is in their common interest,” and defense trade.

The storm of protests that greeted the nuclear deal in India, and the concern voiced by U.S. nonproliferation zealots that the deal legitimizes the Indian nuclear arsenal, help underscore the challenges for both sides to translate their good intentions into policy. But while the nonproliferation implications of the deal have received wide attention, little notice has been taken of the concerns in India that the agreement involves an unequal bargain that in effect would constrict India’s nuclear security options.

It was only seven years ago that India declared itself a nuclear-weapons state and began establishing a nuclear command and control system. Although China has always been its primary focus, India’s still-nascent nuclear military program still lacks the missile reach to strike deep into the Chinese heartland. The protests over the deal in India, spearheaded by the main opposition and the leftist partners of the coalition in power, center on the balance of obligations.

While Mr. Bush has made only a promise, which he may or may not be able to fulfill, the deal sets out a clear road map for India to traverse. This includes bringing civil nuclear facilities and materials under international monitoring, allowing foreign inspectors unhindered access, and refraining from further testing.

By agreeing to separate its symbiotically linked civilian and military nuclear programs, India will raise the costs of its declared policy to build a “credible minimum deterrent.” The deal strikes the weak spot of India’s nuclear military capability — its umbilical ties with the civilian program. India’s weapons program is unique in that it flows out of the civilian nuclear program and continues to draw sustenance from it.

China’s welcome and Pakistan’s non-protest indicate their glee over a deal that employs the lure of commercial nuclear power assistance to help constrain the flexibility and growth of India’s nuclear military capability.

Mr. Singh has claimed India will assume the same duties and rights as the other nuclear powers, “no more and no less.” The truth, however, is different.

Mr. Bush has not recognized India as a nuclear-weapons state, nor can India ever hope to gain the rights of a nuclear power under international law. The 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes only those nuclear powers that tested a nuclear device before Jan. 1, 1967. India, however, has agreed to take on — under U.S. guardianship — obligations that the other nuclear powers have not accepted.

First, India is to begin “identifying and separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs in a phased manner” and then declare the civilian part in full to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In contrast, China will remain free from any obligation to carry out civil-military segregation even though its civilian program — like that in the other weapons states — is only an offshoot of the larger, more established nuclear military program.

Second, India has agreed to “voluntarily” place all its civil nuclear sites under IAEA inspections. The other nuclear powers have not done that in actual practice, because in the majority of cases there is not even the pretense of civil-military separation.

The five NPT-recognized nuclear powers, under voluntary accords, offer nuclear materials and facilities for IAEA inspections in name only. The IAEA, in return, carries out token inspections or, often, no inspections to conserve resources for inspections in the nonnuclear states. Currently, out of the hundreds of facilities in nuclear-weapons states, the IAEA inspects only 11 and none in Russia.

India, with no legal rights as a nuclear power, will have to accept, on its civilian program, rigorous inspections geared toward nonproliferation.

Third, India has pledged “adherence,” through national legislation, to the rules of the very cartels that have traditionally targeted it and continue to exclude it — the U.S.-led Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and Missile Technology Control Regime. Mr. Bush has promised to “work with friends and allies to adjust” the cartels’ export controls, not to include India in these regimes. It will be the first nuclear power to adhere to the cartels’ rules without being granted admission.

Mr. Bush did not back even India’s desire to join the Generation IV International Forum (which is to design the next-generation commercial nuclear power reactors) or the nuclear-fusion consortium that is to build and run the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. The ITER consortium comprises the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and the European Union. Although U.S. support holds the key to India’s entry to both the initiatives, Mr. Bush parried such a commitment by merely agreeing to “consult with” the other participating states on whether India could be included. On supporting India’s bid for a U.N. Security Council permanent seat, Mr. Bush delivered a firm “no.”

For Mr. Bush, the deal is an astute move that can rake up lucrative business contracts, secure a firm U.S. strategic foothold in India, and help bring a majority of Indian nuclear installations under international monitoring. However, is it in U.S. interest to limit India’s nuclear-deterrent capability against China, an opaque, rising empire of joint concern?

Mr. Bush faces an uphill task persuading both Congress and America’s partners in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (including China) to exempt India from nuclear export controls. Since it is far from certain that the deal will take off, New Delhi ought to wait until Mr. Bush has delivered his part of the bargain before it meets its obligations.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is a regular contributor to The Washington Times.

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