(op-ed with Sumit Ganguly), The Wall Street Journal. March 4, 2006.
President Bush should be glowing with pride. He will be returning from his trip to the Indian subcontinent having secured an agreement that promises a partnership on civil nuclear energy between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest. Those who have followed this often-arcane debate will be aware that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh struggled against significant opposition — including India’s vociferous communists, who support his coalition government, and its nuclear scientists, who jealously guard their sense of sovereignty — to pull this off. But handshakes in New Delhi are only the first step toward a new and deeper U.S.-India relationship. Now the scene shifts to Washington, where Congress has its work cut out for it.
To make the civil nuclear cooperation proposal a reality, Congress must pass new legislation to work around nonproliferation commitments, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Bipartisan agreement on the merits of a broader relationship with India have been tempered by increasingly shrill opposition from nonproliferation purists. Fixating on narrow objectives in this way, however, loses the forest for the trees. In fact, civil nuclear cooperation with India will advance the long-term strategic goals of the U.S. rather than threaten the global order. It offers an opportunity to redress inequities within the global nuclear regime, constructively confront the long-term challenge of energy security and sustainability, and safeguard India’s nuclear facilities. Most importantly, cooperation on such a crucial national security matter will pave the way for a robust strategic relationship with India as it rises to become a global power. The agreement offers an unprecedented opportunity to get on the right side of history.
The nonproliferation lobby has decried what it sees as the proposal’s impact: a looming disintegration of the only global framework to prevent the unregulated spread of nuclear technology, and by implication nuclear weapons. However, those invoking the imminent demise of the NPT need a quick refresher course on India’s role in the history of that fraught treaty. From the very outset, even while it was under discussion from 1962-68, India objected to its inequitable provisions, provisions that create a two-tier order of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” Yet, despite opting out of the treaty, India has repeatedly resisted the temptation to breach its key provision: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons technology. It is a matter of public record that India refused requests from both Libya and Iran to sell them nuclear technology for oil.
Similarly, those who argue that the U.S.-India nuclear deal will further Iran’s and North Korea’s quest for nuclear weapons are equally wrong. These two states, signatories to the NPT, have nonetheless subverted its provisions. Pakistan, which like India declined to join the NPT, should not be considered in the same breath. As is now well known, Pakistan’s nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan ran a global nuclear arms bazaar with impunity. By contrast, to prevent such “nuclear entrepreneurship,” India instituted robust export controls, further tightened during the 14 rounds of negotiation between former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.
Cooperation on civil nuclear energy also reflects the recognition of an imminent global energy crisis. Alternatives to fossil fuels must be established to ensure energy independence — as much for geopolitical as for environmental reasons. Without a changed balance of energy sources, the rapid industrialization of China and India brings with it the prospects of greenhouse gas emissions on a scale as yet unseen. Although not a panacea, nuclear power is clean by this yardstick, and it is high time we expanded its role.
Of course, nuclear energy facilities must be safeguarded to prevent radiation leaks, or worse, future Chernobyls — and cooperation with India will ensure the much-needed upgrading of its older plants. Further, the nuclear plants India has designated as civilian — 14 of its 22 — will be brought under the inspection regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That’s 14 more than would be open to international scrutiny without the deal.
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As Congress considers the agreement, it should not allow arcana about the nuclear nonproliferation regime and its alleged virtues to obscure the central strategic goal. Rapid economic growth is propelling a radical power realignment in Asia. Foremost, of course, is China’s rise; but few now doubt that India will emerge as a global power within several decades. India’s longstanding preference for policy independence will only be further reinforced by its growing clout. Its depth of knowledge has been demonstrated in the country’s emergence as a global information technology powerhouse, and biotech is the next phase. India’s nuclear program was developed mostly indigenously; should the proposed nuclear deal fail in the U.S., India will continue to chart its own course and make its own decisions. It may take longer, but the trajectory will not change.
As policymakers in Washington think about shifting balances of power, they must carefully consider a future in which we no longer have unquestioned power over scientific innovation and economic flows — for better or for worse. The past has shown that India has the wherewithal to go its own way. The question we must ask now is: Are we better off if that way is in cooperation with the U.S., or without it?
Ms. Ayres is deputy director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Ganguly holds the Robindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations and is also Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.