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Risking Armageddon for Cold, Hard Cash

More ominously, the deal will tell other would-be nuclear powers -- and nuclear rogues -- that the old barriers to nonproliferation need not be taken seriously. They certainly have not been taken seriously by the United States. Other, less high-minded powers will surely follow the short-sighted example being set by Delhi and Washington. Vladimir Putin's Russia has emphatically signaled that it has had enough of global norms that it considers unfair and is keen to return to old-fashioned realpolitik. The prospect of meaningful steps toward disarmament by the existing nuclear powers is slim and dwindling.

More ominously, Pakistan is outraged that India has been offered a deal that it will not get. India's nemesis and neighbor is undergoing an alarming transition. The United States had relied on Gen. Pervez Musharraf's dictatorship to keep the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in check, but Pakistan is now run by a weak, squabbling civilian government ill-equipped to defeat the Islamist terrorist groups only too eager to get their hands on a loose Pakistani nuke.

Meanwhile, China cannot help noticing that the United States has engaged in bizarre doublespeak over what it expects of rising Asian powers. The Bush administration has told China that it must behave as a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system -- meaning that China should expect no exceptions to global rules as it struggles to meet the challenges posed by its booming economy. That, of course, is the precise context in which the Bush administration has lobbied for the nuclear deal with India. The White House has called upon China "to embrace energy security and nonproliferation principles that are in accordance with the international norms," even as it pleads to exempt India from these very norms.

In any case, the nuclear deal will not magically transform India into China's economic or military equal. A shocking 42 percent of Indians live below the World Bank's new poverty threshold of $1.25 per day. Even if India managed to match China reactor for reactor and missile for missile -- a long shot at best -- Delhi could do so only at the expense of precisely the investments in human and physical infrastructure that could make India into a truly great power, prosperous and secure. This is the real tragedy of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. It's not too late to stop it.

Mira Kamdar is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and the author of "Planet India: The Turbulent Rise of the Largest Democracy and the Future of Our World."

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