Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bush in India - The pitfall of adopting an ad hoc nuclear policy

President Bush has arrived in India and top of the agenda was the matter of India’s nuclear power. When India’s PM Singh visited Washington last July he was promised that America would share civilian nuclear technology with them. In exchange, India would not export weapons technology and would continue to observe a moratorium on testing. India would also separate civilian and military programmes with the former being subject to an inspection regime.

From this background Bush travelled to India and has made a more concrete agreement. This is a momentous agreement: “The agreement, reversing three decades of U.S. policy, would acknowledge India's status as a nuclear military power while clearing the way for cooperation on civilian nuclear energy. Sealing the deal, which requires congressional approval, would remove a major obstacle to closer ties between the two countries.”

The key matter here is that this deal was done despite the fact that under American and international law the sharing of civilian nuclear technology can only be exchanged with countries that have “renounced nuclear weapons and joined the NPT”. India has never been party to the NPT and it tested weapons in 1998.

IF India were perceived by the US as a threat or enemy the posture of the US would surely be very different. It has gone further than even Iran and North Korea. Unlike Iran, it already has a military nuclear program. Unlike North Korea it has never signed the NPT and has tested nuclear weapons. India too remains in a heightened state of tension with Pakistan, also a nuclear power, over Kashmir. And unlike Iran and North Korea, US is in a very tight balancing act trying to be allies with both Pakistan and India. This position would be impossible to sustain if relations between the two deteriorated into conflict. Yet, for all this India is not seen as a threat (ie: threat as defined in terms of US interests).

The precedent of Bush’s deal with India on nuclear technology is poor. The bad reasons for being buddy-buddy with India are to cash in on its economic growth and potential, and that US can’t do anything to stop India’s military nuclear program. The only good reason is that it is a democracy. But again, India has long been a democracy and US interest in it now is hardly a reaction to India’s domestic political processes.

From this Iran and North Korea may gain some insights and lessons. Firstly, is the reinforcement of the notion that it is better to deal with US when you have nuclear weapons than when you don't. Second, there is no need to join the NPT as India didn't need to and has now become a recognised and accepted nuclear power. Also US pays no heed to it when it doesn't suit them to either. In fact it begs the questions of who exactly is paying any attention any more to the NPT. Thirdly, if you can couple your nuclear program with economic growth or promises of market opening US is more likely to become your ally than your enemy.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui