Proposed nuclear partnership with India to undergo scrutiny

by Nadezhda Pitulova

July 29, 2005 Washington - Analysts have raised global security issues and questions about U.S. law after President Bush announced the country will offer civilian nuclear technology assistance to India.

After President Bush's July 18 statement offering civilian nuclear technology to the world's second-largest democracy during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's two-day visit here, analysts began discussing the legitimacy of the nuclear program between two countries.

"He kicked to the side decades of non-proliferation policy and international agreements," Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center, said in a report released Monday about President Bush's announcement.

After facing a difficult relationship for more than half a century, the two countries that include 20 percent of the world's population are now entering a new stage of civilian nuclear collaboration.

"It opens new doorways for a cleaner and more secure global energy future," the U.S. State Department said in a July 22 fact sheet.

According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which attempts to prevent use of nuclear weapons and to promote peaceful exploitation of nuclear energy, all but five countries – the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China – are restricted from possessing nuclear weapons. Other countries may use nuclear power for civilian uses, but only if they agree not to use it for military purposes.

The treaty has been signed by 189 countries since 1964. However, two states that are confirmed to possess nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan, declined to sign the agreement.

Israel, another country that refused to sign the treaty, is also believed to possess nuclear weapons.

India conducted its first nuclear weapons test, Smiling Buddha, under Indira Ghandi's control in 1980. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee completed the second set of tests in 1998, after Pakistan tested its own nuclear missile.

Gautam Adhikari, former executive director of the Times of India and an American Enterprise Institute fellow, stated in a report: "The U.S. needs assurance that nuclear weapons will not pose a security threat to the region or to the rest of the world."

Walter Andersen, associate director of South Asia Studies and a professor of South Asian studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, agreed that it can be dangerous to sell nuclear technology to a country that hasn't signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"It is a risk. But then foreign policy is that way," he said.

In an interview Tuesday, Andersen said, however, that the Bush administration works with countries it considers a threat, "I personally agree with what the administration has done," he said.

For example, Andersen said, "If Russia becomes more of the nuclear issue, we can take steps on bilateral issues with it."

Giving India an exception could prompt other countries to be more selective about which international agreements to honor, Robert Einhorn, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at a press conference at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday.

China and Russia are particularly likely to do so, he said. "They will see what we are doing in this case as license to go out and be more selective themselves," Einhorn said.

In response, a spokesman for the Embassy of China, Maoming Chu, said in an interview Monday that the Chinese government hopes "the relevant cooperation between the U.S. and India will help [in] maintaining peace and stability in Asia."

Andersen said India has been a responsible nuclear technology state.

"It hasn't exported any of the items of the nuclear technology," he said.

Singh said in his speech to a joint meeting of Congress July 19 that India "has never been and will never be a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies."

Einhorn wondered why the deal was put together so hastily, considering that U.S. negotiations on nuclear cooperation with India were supposed to start in 2006.

"I don't know why there's a big rush," he said, adding, "perhaps there's a private understanding between the United States and India. I don't know, but I hope there was something like that."

According to U.S. law, the country cannot export nuclear technology to countries that are not parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Congress will have to adjust U.S. laws before the U.S.-India deal can go through.

"We are not going to do anything unless the U.S law is changed, and that's what they are working on now, to permit India to be an exception," Andersen said.

Andy Fisher, press secretary for the Senate of Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview Wednesday that the committee has begun a review of laws that would need to be considered or reconsidered to make the cooperation between two countries possible.

Source: Scripps Howard Foundation