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A Good Deal for India, and the World

By Apoorva Shah
Thursday, September 11, 2008 10:11 AM

During the last month, while the Indian government presented its case for civilian nuclear energy before the international community and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) debated whether to grant India a nuclear trade waiver, Iranian and Nigerian officials agreed to a nuclear deal of their own. This is just the latest way Iran, a signee of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has flouted international organizations, regulations and treaties.

Yet it is India that Mira Kamdar chose to criticize in Sunday's Outlook section for undermining the international system and threatening global stability. Kamdar called the pending U.S.-India Nuclear Deal "foolish" and "risky" - one that asks for "virtually nothing from India in return."

That is simply not the case. According to the deal, 90 percent of Indian nuclear reactors, in addition to all indigenous and imported nuclear fuel, will become safeguarded under the IAEA in the long run. India has also committed to building a facility that will reprocess all spent nuclear fuel for re-use in the safeguarded reactors. During the NSG session, the Indians reiterated their commitment to non-proliferation and the unilateral test ban. Furthermore, chiding the country for failing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty is unjustifiable, as the NPT cannot be amended to accept India as a nuclear weapons state. Any more concessions from India, and the deal would have failed, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Opponents of the deal are quick to blame and criticize, but they fall short on realistic alternatives and solutions. This deal is not a precursor to a weapons race. As the former chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission asserts in the Wall Street Journal Asia, if India truly wanted to grow its weapons program, it would need only a "small fraction" of its existing stocks to proliferate its nuclear arsenal.

Rather, this deal is about energy and economics. Kamdar herself mentions that "tens of thousands of jobs" will be created in the U.S. and India. The deal also will allow India to take a step towards the clean energy it needs as millions of new families enter its burgeoning middle class each year. It won't "magically transform" India into China's equal, as Kamdar dramatically reminds us. Nor will it resolve India's poverty. But nowhere has the estimated cost of this deal been placed so high as to replace the country's investments in human and physical infrastructure. And it will allow a vibrant and pluralistic democracy (in a region that certainly lacks it share), to strengthen its alliance with America and bolster an increasingly mature and robust economy.

At other points in her piece, Kamdar accuses the United States of engaging in "bizarre doublespeak" with rising Asian powers and of telling "nuclear rogues" that barriers to non-proliferation "need not be taken seriously." In fact, the U.S. does the opposite. If anything, the passage of this deal shows that embracing reform and practicing liberal democracy has clear and positive ramifications. That is exactly why Pakistan and Russia will have to wait before they get a deal of their own from the U.S. In today's global arena, it is not realistic to conclude that non-proliferation means simply preserving the status quo. Are we really worried about liberal, democratic states getting nuclear technology? What about Germany? Brazil? These turnkey states already have the capability and technology to build nuclear weapons but have chosen not to. Clearly, the issue at hand is about preventing revisionist bullies from letting the technology get into wrong hands. Of course there are some relatively democratic states that could fall back into non-democratic hands. But nuclear technology is not for them either. It is for consolidated, institutionalized democracies -- just as India has proven itself to be -- not fair-weather ones.

Yet, through Kamdar's critique, an important issue surfaces. Perhaps it is time to revise the existing nuclear regulation system so that India no longer has to be the "exception." The Non Proliferation Treaty, Nuclear Suppliers Group and International Atomic Energy Agency have all failed to prevent the Iranian and North Korean weapons programs. And when a country like India has tried its best to take the right steps through such organizations, it is blamed for risking "Armageddon." The system is not sustainable and, if nothing is done, we will inevitably have this debate again. In the halls of our international organizations and in this country's presidential campaign, the time is right for a discussion. It's not too late to start one.

Apoorva Shah is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

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