Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The US-India Nuclear Deal

On Friday, the United States and India will sign a very controversial agreement concerning India's nuclear program. The agreement "will provide India with access to U.S. nuclear fuel, reactors and technology, overturning a ban on such trade instituted after India first conducted a nuclear test in 1974." In exchange, India will agree to submit its nuclear facilities to oversight and inspections to ensure its security and stability.

The deal is controversial because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its development and testing of a nuclear weapon is thus outside of the global non-proliferation regime, meaning that India is not supposed to be able to receive nuclear fuel and technology from NPT members. However, having a nuclear program as large and sophisticated as India's outside of any inspection or control regime was seen as problematic; thus the decision to make a deal that goes against the spirit and the law of the NPT.

The agreement constitutes, to some degree, a moral hazard. It sends a signal to other states that while the international community threatens to punish them if they proliferate, once nukes are a fait accompli, the international community will lift the sanctions in order to get the nuclear program under inspections. Thus, the disincentives for proliferation are moderated. The deal will, its critics argue, encourage more states to proliferate.

I don't buy this argument. The NPT has functioned better as a reward to states that do not want to proliferate than as a way of preventing the states that do want to proliferate from doing so. True, the NPT has made it more difficult for states to proliferate, but determined states (South Africa, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Iran) have managed to do so. These states have powerful security reasons to proliferate, and neither the threat of sanctions nor the incentives offered by the NPT are likely to overcome those reasons. So, the US deal with India is not likely to have any effect on the decisions of these states to proliferate.

Furthermore, other states aren't likely to develop nuclear weapons solely because India avoided punishment. Just look at the states of the Middle East that have, despite Israel's NW status, avoided proliferating. Their decisions not to proliferate are not based on fears of violating the NPT. Thus, the India deal is not likely to change their rationales either.

Ultimately, I don't see the deal as doing too much to undermine the global non-proliferation regime. States that want to proliferate will find ways to do so and the NPT does make it much more difficult for that to happen. But it is more important that India's nuclear program -- its fuel and materiel, its security systems -- come under international scrutiny than it is to make a point about the inviolate nature of the NPT.


Simmons said...

How about how this deal affects our relations with Pakistan? Though I disagree with your argument, I do find it legitimate - however, I find no answer to my question above.

Seth Weinberger said...

Simmon: An excellent question. The deal may exacerbate the growing tensions between the US and Pakistan. Pakistan would certainly like to get access to the kind of technology and nuclear fuel that India is getting. Ultimately, I'd like to see Pakistan get a similar deal to this one; in fact, given the unstable nature of Pakistan's government and the questionable nature of the ISI, it may be even more important to get international inspections over Pakistan's nuclear program. However, there are several obstacles to Pakistan getting a similar deal. First, Pakistan does not have the history of voluntarily imposing safeguards that does India. India has long adhered to a voluntary test ban, which Pakistan has not, nor has Pakistan adopted a no-first-use doctrine, which India has done. In short, while both states may be outside of the NPT, India's behavior has been much more in line with international norms and standards, which perhaps made it more palatable to make the deal.

Second, Pakistan does not have the peaceful nuclear energy program that does India. The deal with India covers its peaceful energy program, not its weapons program. Assuming Pakistan would not be willing to subject its weapons program to international inspections, there's much less room for compromise there.

In short, while Pakistan may want a similar deal, and while it may be in the US's interests to make a similar deal, I don't see one coming. In the short run, this may alienate Pakistan as it looks like favoritism towards India. I doubt that it will have any serious long-term ramifications, as Pakistan needs the US to help stabilize itself against Islamic radicals.

MDC said...

From Pakistan's point of view, they are really getting the short end of the stick here. By having access to international fuel markets, the burden is lifted on India's limited domestic reserves of uranium. This will allow India to free up its indigenous supplies for use in its weapons program at a time when it can legally purchase reactor-grade fuel abroad. India's defense planners have long sought a larger arsenal, and now they will be able to do so as a result of the deal being implemented. (This would have happened without Congress' approval, since the NSG clearance was granted 3-4 weeks before.)

Though I disagree with aspects of the deal and the more strained arguments put forward by the administration and the deal's supporters (chiefly that it's a net positive for nonproliferation) the upside is that by bringing India's civil nuclear program online with bilateral and international fuel and reactor license agreements, their incentive to break their self-imposed testing moratorium is reduced for fear of losing hard-sought foreign assistance. Even though that didn't stop India in 1974, international nonproliferation norms have hardened and India has become much more connected with the outside world.

Dr. Amit K. Maitra said...

Seth: You make excellent points. Yours is the kind of commentary that expresses faithfully the rational and pragmatic choices we have to consider to come to grips with the content of this U.S. - India N Deal. As of today, the NPT signatories include all nations except Israel, India, and Pakistan. North Korea signed the treaty only to withdraw from it later to conduct a nuclear test. Negotiations are on to bring Pyongyang back into the treaty. Of the three non-signatories, Israel is not interested in civil nuclear commerce. That leaves only India and Pakistan. Pakistan, through A.Q. Khan’s notorious activities, stole nuclear technology and has engaged in terrible WMD proliferation. India has built a large nuclear infrastructure based on its indigenous expertise. It has designed its own reactors, including a fast breeder reactor, and is conducting research on conversion of thorium into uranium 233. While the United States orchestrated the restrictions on international commerce since 1974, it has come to terms with the reality that those restrictions are progressively losing relevance and impact as far as India is concerned. Thus, the current U.S. government has decided to treat India as an exceptional case. In doing so, the U.S. government points out that India has maintained an impeccable record on non-proliferation since it conducted its first nuclear test. Whenever foreign states such as Libya and Iran approached New Delhi for nuclear capability barters, Indian leaders from Indira Gandhi to everyone else who followed her have unequivocally, categorically, and resolutely refused to engage in such trades. That history and political culture and tradition encouraged the founders of the NSG to believe that there is a rock-solid and business-wise case to bring India into the non-proliferation regime. They cannot simply incorporate India into the NPT because the treaty would unravel if any attempt is made to amend it.

India shares its borders with two nuclear weapon powers (Pakistan and China) that have been engaging in nuclear proliferation. The non-proliferation community was impotent and failed to take action when that proliferation occurred in the 80s and 90s. Pakistan officially claims that its arsenal is deterrence against India. Under these circumstances, India has very little choice. For its own national security and national interest concerns, it cannot join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. Given such constraints, the founders of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) devised a very practical and sophisticated policy approach by making India a stakeholder in the non-proliferation regime; in this way, they are giving India its due recognition for its advanced nuclear technology and its non-proliferation record and paving the way for further promotion of non-proliferation. India will institutionalize rigorous export controls, place fourteen nuclear power reactors under international safeguards, and actively participate with the U.S. and other NSG countries in reducing WMD proliferations worldwide. Many U.S. foreign policy experts, including several ambassadors, agree that bringing India into the nuclear non-proliferation regime is entirely consistent with the U.S. and other NGS countries’ devotion to the NPT.

In March 2006, President George Bush said: "Pakistan is a different country, with different needs and a different history. All other countries are members of the NPT and if any of them were to breach the treaty, it would not amount to following the Indian example but that of North Korea.” Understanding and appreciation of India’s particular set of circumstances have moved the founders of the NSG to approve the waiver and frame a new creative approach to nuclear technology sharing and managing a more proliferation-proof fuel cycle that, in turn, would multiply the benefits of a cooler climate.

The issue that the NSG had to critically review was whether the benefits of bringing India as a stakeholder in the non-proliferation regime through the waiver would outweigh any perceived damage to the NPT. The NSG is on target - it is about to achieve its cherished goal of making the non-proliferation regime totally international by bringing India into it. Failure to see this unfolding drama is short-sighted and unfortunate. As President George W. Bush took office eight years ago, he was very conscious of the fact that, for 34 years, the biggest impediment to a close U.S. – India relationship was the continuing disagreement about India’s nuclear capability and its status in the international non-proliferation order. In fact, even before he entered the White House oval office, President Bush made up his mind to put in place the building blocks for a new relationship with India. He decided that India and the United States should have a new and strong relationship, akin to an alliance. His success brings to mind Allison Graham’s seminal article on the Cuban Missile Crisis (Graham Allison, Essence of Decision: The Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971)), which espoused the notion that statesmanship requires visionary leaders to make tough choices and demonstrate political will. Henry Kissinger put it in more practical terms: “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh demonstrated that visionary leadership.