- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In July 2005, President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the outlines of a groundbreaking agreement that would bring India out of its nuclear isolation, enhance its participation in the global nonproliferation effort, and cement the emerging partnership between the world’s two largest democracies. After a three-year ride punctuated by great controversy in both Delhi and Washington, the IAEA and the NSG have now signed off on implementing this agreement, and the Bush administration has submitted to Congress the materials required for the final approval of the U.S.-India bilateral cooperation agreement.

There are three main arguments for the agreement: the geostrategic significance of our emerging relationship with India; India’s massive future energy needs; and India’s excellent record in safeguarding nuclear technology, which offers the hope of bringing India fully into global nonproliferation efforts.

Strategic significance of India: With its growing economy and powerful military position, India has become a global partner for the United States and is shaping the future of Asia. Indian and U.S. interests converge on issues vital to us. India has taken a strong stand against international terrorism. It is one of the largest economic contributors to reconstruction in Afghanistan. It is the primary resident naval force in the Indian Ocean, and works with us to maintain the security of the sea lanes through which most of the world’s oil trade travels. With increasingly vibrant relations with Japan and Southeast Asia, and a pattern of engagement and rivalry with China, India will be one of the major forces shaping the future of Asia, a region that is pivotal for U.S. security.

These common interests provide a solid foundation for a long-term partnership based on both democratic values and geopolitical interests. But despite the tremendous gains in U.S.-India relations in the past two decades, our inability to work even with the safeguarded civilian parts of India’s nuclear program have impeded the kind of cooperation we would like. This agreement has transformed the landscape, opening the possibility of a real collaboration in shaping a global and regional balance of power that protects both U.S. and Indian interests.

Energy and the environment: India’s energy demand is expected to grow 4.6 percent per year for the next two decades. The whole world has an interest in helping India deal with this relentless expansion. Nuclear energy currently supplies only about 3 percent of India’s overall power supply. But with an economy growing at 7 percent to 9 percent per year, every potential source of power is crucial. India has ambitious plans to expand civil nuclear power. Every nuclear power plant it introduces will take some pressure off the financial and environmental costs of conventional generation. We need this agreement, for our sake and for the sake of the planet.

India’s nonproliferation record: This agreement represents a major change in decades of nonproliferation policy. India’s steadfast refusal to transfer nuclear technology to others is what makes this possible.

The most dangerous proliferation challenges we now face come from the countries that are seeking to overturn the global order, such as North Korea and Iran, both of whom were NPT signatories. As we confront these challenges, we need India’s active help. But we cannot expect to get it if the nuclear system still keeps India in isolation. Eligibility for civilian nuclear cooperation, in other words, is an essential first step toward bringing India fully into the global effort to prevent onward transmission of nuclear weapons and related know-how. As part of the deliberations in the NSG, India signaled its intention to make good on this hope. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a formal statement on Sept. 5 reiterating India’s commitment to a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. He pledged to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime, and undertook to work toward a multilateral Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Implementing this agreement will give new energy to these critical efforts.

In reality, the critical decisions have already been taken. When it passed the Hyde Act in December 2006, Congress put its stamp on this change in course. By aligning its export controls with the NSG’s norms, India began joining the world’s nonproliferation system. The bilateral cooperation agreement negotiated last year with the United States and the safeguards agreement just concluded with the IAEA set forth the ground rules. Finally, in the waiver it issued in early September, the NSG made space for India in its vital work. The NSG decision also freed India to carry out civilian nuclear commerce with NSG members. It is only U.S. suppliers who need the legislation now before the Congress in order to participate.

There is plenty of work ahead — especially in making the potential nonproliferation benefits real. But we are likely to look back on this as the time when we put in place the new U.S. strategic posture in Asia.

• Teresita C. Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is a retired U.S. diplomat with long experience in South Asia.

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