The U.S. and India: Sharing Nuclear Technology?

Stephen Cohen
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Program, Brookings Institution
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; 2:30 PM

President Bush agreed yesterday to share nuclear technology and information with India during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the White House. While this agreement is still subject to the consent of Congress, this marks a departure from long-standing U.S. policy against helping developing nations develop nuclear weapons. India, which has not signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has in recent years been seeking further nuclear capabilities. Proponents say this would cement India's status as an emerging power and provide balance with other regional powers, most notably China.

Read the latest: U.S., India May Share Nuclear Technology.

Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at The Brookings Institution and author of "India: Emerging Power," was online Tuesday, July 19, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss President Bush's agreement to share nuclear technology with India.

A transcript follows.


Philadelphia, Pa.: First, and obviously, how is Pakistan taking to this? Second, and also very importantly, aren't we sending mixed signals to China: please be our friend, but, just in case, we want to be able to destroy you if need be? Will the negative reactions outweigh potential benefits of this move?

Stephen Cohen: You are right to ask these tough questions--politics, especially international politics, is inherently tough,otherwise these issues would be taken care of by normal diplomacy.

Pakistan will regard the recent U.S.-India agreement as further evidence of a) India's attempt to become South Asia's dominant power, and b) that the Americans are willing, at least to some degree, to help India do this. Pakistan will in turn try to improve its relations with China and even Russia, while using the Americans to constrain India as best as it can. The real question is whether this move will make it easier for India to ignore Kashmir.

Some Chinese will regard this agreement as evidence that India is lining up to contain China, others will recognize that India may be trying to "free ride" on American power, and that India and China can work out a strategic accommodation in the long run, both concerned about American strategic dominance. As they say, "time will tell," in that the calculations are subtle and complicated, but I am personally convinced that if India exercises restraint, they have promised not to test nuclear weapons which would enable them to develop a second generation device--then this will not be seen as an anti-China development. Big questions remain: will a more powerful India be more accommodating or less.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: How does this new nuclear deal affect India's aspirations to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council? With the epicenter of the world's security concerns narrowing in on Afghanistan/Pakistan, it is a parody that India, an emerging power has no say in the world body, whereas states which are becoming more irrelevant by the day in world matters (France) still do. It was pleasantly surprising to see Dr. Singh broach the issue of U.N. security council membership in his address to the joint session of Congress this morning and receive an ovation.

Stephen Cohen: Not related. The nuclear agreement was reached independently of India's U.N. aspirations--which were not fully supported by the U.S.

From an American perspective the "epicenter" is Iraq, and India's refusal to join the coalition (probably wise, in my opinion), did hurt it with the Bush administration.

My personal view is that India should be a UNSC member, but that this is not going to happen, regardless of American policy, because the Chinese would certainly veto it, and I wonder about the other UNSC members. The more members of the SC there are, the harder it will be to get anything done.

A tough question; from an American policy perspective, would India side with the U.S. or against it? its voting record in the General Assembly is not at all congruent with America's.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the U.S. Congress will pass the law allowing U.S. Nuclear Technology/Materials to go to India? I am wondering since Pakistan would also lobby in Congress to make sure it is not passed.

Stephen Cohen: Answered this earlier, I think it is likely to pass. Pakistan itself might benefit if it can demonstrate that it has really cleaned up its nuclear act and is behaving like a responsible nuclear weapon state. This would have to include full transparency regarding Dr. AQ Khan.


Franklin Lakes, N.J.: The latest announcement to offer India civilian nuclear technology give the emerging economic power an entry into a select club of nuclear powers without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty provided the U.S. Congress approves-- India has made a compelling case that it needs civil nuclear energy to fuel economic growth. However, do you think there will be pressure to offer Pakistan some incentives as well? What are the longer term implications of this significant announcement? Does this herald a new opening in U.S.-India relations without equating India with Pakistan in all geo-political matters?

Stephen Cohen: No pressure on behalf of Pakistan unless Islamabad really is more forthcoming on its nuclear program. it also needs civilian nuclear energy, but the Chinese are building power plants there.


Washington, D.C. : What exactly are "civilian technologies"? Also are the safeguards being exported as well? What is India doing to prevent another Chernobyl ..? And finally what about the terrorists ... more targets in India for them ??

Stephen Cohen: they are technologies pertaining to the production of electricity via a nuclear reactor. the really sensitive part of this is the fuel (usually Uranium, sometimes plutonium), and what is done with the waste material (which can contain Pu that can be separated into bomb-grade material). That's how India got the material for its bombs. This will all have to be carefully safeguarded, under international auspices, as will the entire Indian civilian nuclear program.

Since the military program was hidden within the civilian program, it will be very expensive and difficult for India to divide the two. So, I don't see things moving very quickly, except in the case of U.S. supplies of uranium for the one U.S.-built reactor (Tarapur) and the provision of safety equipment for all of the civilian reactors and storage facilities in India. Since, as I noted, civil and military programs are mixed up, this may run into problems.


Falls Church, Va.: Has Washington finally decoupled it's relations with India from those with Pakistan?

Stephen Cohen: Formally, yes, but practically they cannot be decoupled in part because both India and Pakistan use the U.S. to try to pressure the other side. India did this brilliantly in the Kargil crisis, and again in the 2001-2002 crisis; besides, most Indian officials are obsessed with Pakistan.

Finally, if there is another S. Asian crisis, the the U.S. will get involved--it cannot stand by and see two nuclear weapon states threatening each other with total destruction. Paradoxically, by testing in 1998 India ensured that the U.S. would equate India and Pakistan, at least in the nuclear arena.


Madison, Wis.: India has a billion people, at the rate they are educating their people - mind you many of them work in our American nuclear/science labs-do you honestly think this nuke technology agreement is that big of a deal? Or is it a fait accompli?

Also what's the rationale behind the U.S. not backing India's admission to the United Nations Security Council at this time?

Stephen Cohen: The nuclear agreement is a big deal, less so for the technology but more because it has been an obsession in India (that the U.S. is denying technology, India's birthright) and in the U.S. (our nuclear ayatollahs can't understand India's position, and treated it like Botswana for many years).

U.N. question answered elsewhere.


Falls Church, Va.: There has been a patter in Washington of Republican administrations being more favorable to India than Democratic ones. Will these drastically upgraded relations continue into a future Democratic administration, and is this the beginning of a long-term relationship?

Stephen Cohen: Not true, most Republican administrations were hostile to India, and I would add, most Indians of earlier years preferred the Democrats. I was part of the group in the Reagan administration that tried for an opening to India when Rajiv was PM, that may have been the turning point as far as R. administrations were concerned.


San Mateo, Calif.: Four countries (India, Japan, Germany and Brazil) are pushing a resolution through U.N. to expand the permanent seat membership from the current 5 to 9. India is the largest Democrat country that meets U.S policy of spreading democracy. China, a permanent member and Communist country does not fit U.S. policy. So, what possible reason does U.S. have against India becoming a permanent member?

Stephen Cohen: The four have backed off from pushing this resolution, in part because China would certainly veto Japan, and probably India. See an earlier reply about India's credentials and its history with the U.N. Indeed, India is not terribly eager to see the U.N. engaged in Kashmir--it is actually hostile, despite several early U.N. resolutions on the subject. I've written for many years that if India settled its disputes with Pakistan and China then a UNSC seat would be an easy thing.


New York, N.Y.: Is the agreement likely to be ratified by Congress and Nuclear Suppliers group? Or is this an astute political move by the Bush White House to win favors from India, and know fully well that this agreement will never fly?

Stephen Cohen: You're too cynical. I think it will be ratified, although there will be an extended debate. India can help its own case by further agreements with Pakistan and further nuclear transparency, and by stating that is nuclear ambitions as a military power are not open-ended. Does it really need a missile that will hit Los Angeles?


Champaign, Ill.: India has not signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But why worry about India like Iran and N. Korea? Since the 1950's, no two democracies ever have threatened each other, let alone warred.

Stephen Cohen: I have to take a question from Champaign Ill out of order!

Democracies may not go to war, but they can certainly be unfriendly rivals. Compare U.S. and France, with U.S. and Britain or Canada. Will India want to be an Asian France, critical of the U.S., but free-riding on its technology and markets? See my web-ed on the Brookings home site for an analysis of the debate in India.


Santa Clara, Calif. Does this agreement to share civilian nuclear technology truly herald the beginning of a new era of Indo-U.S. relationship or is it more like a small carrot for obtaining a foothold in South Asia? (I am not dismissing the current U.S. foothold in Pakistan but that is more of a liability these days).

Stephen Cohen: It represents the end of an era of mutual suspicion on both sides, my judgment is that economic ties will be more important in the future, despite such issues as outsourcing.


Franklin Lakes, N.J.: Don't you think a tilt toward India geo-politically makes sense in terms of both principle (shared values and democratic systems) and pragmatism (containing China)?

Stephen Cohen: I've discussed this fully in my book, "India:Emerging Power," and I think that it does make sense on many grounds. But a tilt towards India does not rule out better relations with, say, Pakistan, or normal relations with China. Skillful diplomacy, economic interdependence, and the fear of military clashes between nuclear powers provide both incentives to cooperate and disincentives to play crude balance of power politics and utter military threats.


Boston, Mass.: Many in India feel uncomfortable entering into a close relationship with the U.S. - which is seen as an unreliable partner in much of the third world, but especially in South Asia, given the experience of Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 80's and 90's. Do you think India is right in throwing caution to the winds, and making its traditional friends (Russia, say) uncomfortable with such a move?

Stephen Cohen: India is not throwing caution to the winds, let me refer you to my just-published Brookings web-Ed, which sets out four different Indian positions on cooperation with the U.S.: the Enthusiasts, the Free Riders, the Doubters, and the Hostiles.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you think, the main reason behind U.S. courting India these days, is to get India as as ally in the fight Islamic Fundamentalism?

Stephen Cohen: Shared concern about Islamic extremism is one important, and new link, although it was grossly underappreciated by the U.S. until 9/11. We still don't appreciate the Mumbai bombings. (on the other hand, Indian strategists tend to ignore Kashmir and anti-Muslim pogroms as factors in generating hatred and terrorism--there are other causes, notably Pakistan's support for some of the bad guys, but Indian policy in Kashmir, and at places like Ayodha, has not been positive). For my longer views, check out my India book.


Redwood City, Calif.: How much of this (the 10 year defense agreement and the nuclear pact) is symbolic? Do you foresee any significant material/technology transfer from U.S. to India?

Stephen Cohen: A lot, but sometimes symbols are important. There will be continued mil-mil cooperation, and our two militaries will learn more about each other; the purchase of advanced U.S. technology is more problematic, as the entire Indian defense establishment is built on Soviet platforms; it may be hard to work in American technology, but the Israelis seem to have had some success. It will also have to be done in the private sector, as India's state defense industries are really quite uneven.


Irving, Tex.: Two questions:

First, Is this agreement as significant as is being made out in the press?


What is the likelihood of the U.S. Congress's approval(or rejection) for this move?

Stephen Cohen: Easy to answer. this is not "historical," but it is important, as it represent major concessions by the U.S. (long overdue in my mind), and requires India to behave responsibly regarding nuclear matters . If it does, then Congress will conclude that non-proliferation is best served by having New Delhi in the tent, than outside of it. I'd predict passage (U.S. law has to be modified), but a very interesting debate beforehand.


Kansas City, Kan.: How come there is so little defence military and economic cooperation between two of the world's biggest democracies? I think it should be at the same level as the U.S. and U.K. While other autocratic countries get benefit of being part of the war on terror, India gets short changed all the time and almost never gets mentioned in the U.S. news except for all the wrong reasons.

Stephen Cohen: A lot of the resistance has always been on the Indian side, Nehru feared close contact with the U.S. military, worried about his own generals being wooed away, as they were in Pakistan. I think this was a misreading, but it was a widely held view for several decades--contempt and fear of the U.S.

. India's resistance to allowing scholars to work in India, especially after 1971, ruined American scholarship on India. The India book has a chapter on this.

On the American side we were historically closer to China, and I had fits trying to explain India to the U.S. military in the mid 80's. Now they really like working with India.


Orange County, Calif.: Dear Sir,

Considering the fact that India's emergence is as a result of open access to Western markets, it is natural for India to be allied with U.S. However, U.S. should support India's claim for a U.N. Security Council seat. How does one justify the presence of U.K., a minor power at best?

Please comment on future of relations with India.

Stephen Cohen: The U.K. was a critical partner in WW II, as was China, the U.N. was to be a coalition of the victors; as noted in another answer, India was a founding member of the U.N., but the Brits and the Americans did not quite trust Nehru's Congress, which was not supportive of the Allies in WW II.


Edison, N.J.: I do not understand one thing. Why is Pakistan always considered an "equal" to India by the U.S. policy makers? In reality we all know that these two countries are not equal in any form. So, why does the U.S. has to give something same to Pakistan what it gives to India? When will the policy makers understand the distinction between the two countries?

Stephen Cohen: Myth. It is not considered "equal," our diplomats and strategists are not that stupid. This is largely an Indian invention, but India itself keeps on raising the Pakistan issue, and all but one of its wars have been with Pakistan.


Washington, D.C.: I applaud President Bush's decision to share nuclear technology with India. India has long been a stalwart for democracy and has maintained neutrality during the Cold War. India has also demonstrated over the decades that it is a responsible, mature and stable democracy. Past U.S. administrations have not recognized nor respected India as a nation to be treated for its deep values it has maintained in the international arena. President Bush's decision is a step in the right decision in his efforts support democracy and align democratic superpowers against tyranny and chaos. A strong India in that region would, indeed, be a deterrent against threats to peace.

Stephen Cohen: I agree entirely, but will a stronger India feel the urge to start throwing its weigh around? This what India's neighbors fear (and not only Pakistan).


Seattle, Wash.: Lately almost all the terrorist acts worldwide seam to have Pakistani connection, we are after Al Qaeda but are ignoring and letting other major terrorist outfits stay in Pakistan even though they are connected. Their leaders are roaming around in Pakistan without checks. What do think of the U.S. policy on this?

Stephen Cohen: I think Washington has been too easy on Musharraf, see my testimony before Congress recently, on the Brookings Web site.


San Jose, Calif.: Why would the U.S. say no to the request to expand the Security Council given that all four nations are "friendly - democratic" nations? In particular why deny India and Germany their chance?

Stephen Cohen: Ask the Chinese about Japan, or India, and ask the Italians about Germany. Other countries have their views, and the U.S. cannot simply make a wish and have it come true.


Washington, D.C.: What in your view is the likely scenario for Indo-U.S. relations over the next 10-15 years? What might be some of the key hurdles along the way? Will the outsourcing issue come in the way (even if only as a key hurdle?)

Stephen Cohen: Steadily better, unless/until there is another India-Pakistan crisis, or the U.S. again asks India for help (as it did in Iraq) and the Indians again say "no."


Knoxville, Tenn.: What really is the big deal about civilian reactor or technologies? The Indians already have both nuke weapons and power plants. What's so significant about the Americans selling them another reactor?

Stephen Cohen: They have a lot of obsolete nuclear technology ,and really need a lot more nuclear power plants--which they cannot build alone. The U.S. may not sell this, but it can encourage other nuclear technology states to do so.


Washington, D.C.: Stephen,

Do you think it's high time that we start seeing India and Pakistan from a different prism rather then clubbing them together in every diplomatic moves. India is definitely bigger both population and area wise. It's by merit of zero tolerance for nuclear proliferation that India won the transfer of technology for civilian purposes. What do you think?

Stephen Cohen: see my other answers, or my book. I don't club them together except where they insist upon it (which is quite often), or where they might cooperate, or where they might go to war with each other.


Springfield, Va.: Is it possible that we will ever be able to do away with nuclear power/war/technology? it seems more damaging in many respects, financially-the money funding nuclear war programs could be going elsewhere, internationally-the threat of nuclear war would be less, thus saving many lives in catastrophic wars such as Iraq because there were assumed WMD there. Is this wishful thinking? Are there benefits to nuclear development?

Stephen Cohen: It's wishful thinking. We can't reinvent physics, but we can do a better job of ensuring that the atom is used for peaceful purposes only. India is part of the problem, I hope it will be more a part of the solution than it has been in the past.


Peshawar, Pakistan: Greetings: We in Pakistan are concerned with the huge buildup of the Indian military in recent years as well their foul human rights record in Kashmir and its increasingly arrogant attitude towards all its neighbors. The U.S. seems to only see an elected government and economy growth. Is that a wise choice? The Indians are no angels.

Stephen Cohen: Greetings from Washington! I don't know of any country that is angelic (except, perhaps, the Scandanavians, who used to rape, pillage, and loot, but have now reformed). India's record is pretty good on many counts, and the fact that it retains a democracy (albeit imperfect) is important. it has behaved badly in Kashmir, but on the whole it is a stable, and reasonably progressive state. My last book was on Pakistan, "the Idea of Pakistan," I make some comparisons there with your country.


Tysons Corner, Va.: Stephen, When you say India has to resolve the disputes with China and Pakistan to get an U.N. seat, you disregard the main fact that India deserves U.N. seat because of its population, emerging status (both militarily and economically), being a democratic free nation. You also said in one of your early replies - that India did not support World War II. What about Japan on whose side was she? Don't you think it's too far in the history to be taken into account for deciding whether India should be a permanent member now?

Stephen Cohen: that's your judgment, and you are entitled to it, but that is not the judgment of China (and probably France).

As for Japan, it has been a U.S.-ally, a true democracy, and at peace with its neighbors, and it has given billions to others for economic aid. None of this counts with Beijing. I'm trying to explain the real world to you--

Finally, as far as the "democracy" argument goes, India has hung out with some of the world's least democratic regimes and leaders--it never used the "world's largest democracy" terminology with the Soviets, with Yassar Arafat, or now with the Chinese. That's a phrase used only with the Americans, different strokes for different folks, how do you explain that? is India hypocritical or being realistic?


Washington, D.C.: Exactly what law needs to be passed or amended by Congress to make this happen? It's not like Congress just approves the deal, correct?

Stephen Cohen: the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act. It can be amended to allow the president to make exceptions, as he will probably do for India.


Washington, D.C.: With the earlier failure of the U.N. conference on Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York, and now these developments with India, is it fair to say that the NPT is no longer the deterrent it used to be?

Stephen Cohen: You're right, the NPT is weak, but it is important to ensure that the new relationship with India strengthens it as much as possible. India can be held to a very high standard, I think that it will be willing to do so.


Cary, N.C: The U.S has long complained about slow progress in India's economic liberalization programme. The Indian PM made a very pertinent point about how consensus is required in a true democracy.

The PM's quote:

"We are often criticised for being too slow in making changes in policy, but democracy means having to build a consensus in favour of change. As elected representatives, you are all familiar with this problem. We have to assuage the doubts and calm the fears that often arise when people face the impact of change. Many of the fears we have to address are exaggerated, but they must be addressed. This is necessary to ensure sustainability. India's economic reforms must be seen in this light: they may appear slow, but I assure you they are durable and irreversible."

Your opinion?

Stephen Cohen: He's the expert, a man that I greatly admire--in part because he was not afraid to change his mind (on economic reform) in the past. he was addressing an Indian audience in those words, as well as explaining his difficulty in moving quickly to an American audience.


Gwalior, India: Does the nuclear cooperation agreement allow India to produce as much fissile material as it wants for military purposes and does it also restrict the number of military nuclear reactors that India can have?? This is significant as it will constrain and restrict India's ability to counter China in the future.

Stephen Cohen: I really don't know the answer to each, I suspect that this is going to have to be hammered out over the next few years.


Bethesda, Md.: Dear Mr.Cohen, I agree that the U.S. for most part treated India like Botswana. I am sure you are seeing lot of Indian doctors and hi tech professionals that immigrated here in 70's and 80's are contributing a lot to both parties and more vocal. The IT boom is bringing at 100k Indians each year for last 10 yrs and 70k students come to U.S. to study. I assume there are 2 million Indian Americans in U.S. today. If the same immigration wave continues, I am sure there would be 4-5 million Indians in U.S. who will be strong force a'la Jewish Lobby. What do you think the political and economic implications for India in 10 years?

Stephen Cohen: You are largely correct, except that the Indian American community has not been as effective as American Jews.

It has not invested at all in public institutions, there are very few, if any gifts to American universities or think tanks, and my guess is that Indian-American charitable giving is less than that of any other community, if one corrects for total wealth.

Just showing up every election and spreading a few thousand dollars around buys photo ops, but not influence. AIPAC, for example, made its reputation by providing Congress and the public with authoritative and unbiased info about the middle East. Where is the India Center that can do that?

Attempts to start one in the D.C. area have routinely failed, yet we have about six middle East centers, and a number of China centers, plus Japan Centers. if I said anything else it would look like special pleading, but these are the facts.

However, I greatly admire and respect those Indian-Americans who have given to charities, established schools, hospitals, etc. back in India. They are really repaying a debt to their original motherland. What are they doing regarding their present one?


Newark, Del.: What are the U.S.'s objections to allowing India on the U.N. Security Council? I thought I read that the U.S. was opposed to India becoming a permanent member. Is that more because Washington is against the current U.N. recommended changes to the U.N., including expansion of permanent members to the council? I would think that putting them on equal footing with China in that regard would be of strategic interest.

Further, I am surprised to say the least that the U.S. isn't pushing harder to make India a part of the NPT. I would think that would be a necessity. How opposed is India to joining the treaty? Is that a big deal breaker as far as India is concerned?

Stephen Cohen: U.S. has not opposed India. the UNSC operates on a veto system, all countries are equal. India can't join the NPT because it tested a nuclear device AFTER the treaty was signed. It can fulfill the obligations of membership in the NPT if it wants, which is the goal of the present agreement, I believe.


Charlotte, N.C.: This is the first time such a forthright declaration of common strategic interests has been made by the U.S. and India. Will the words translate to action?

Stephen Cohen: The joint declaration actually avoided discussing a lot of issues--Iraq, Kashmir, China--there's plenty of negotiating ahead before we see any action, although I think that the statements on agriculture, joint economic cooperation, etc. may be very productive.


Falls Church, Va.: What sort of traction (support) does this emerging relationship with India have in both parties in the U.S.?

Stephen Cohen: Very strong, and bipartisan. See my Brookings Web-Ed for a discussion of differences in India regarding the U.S.


You're missing a huge point.: Oil. namely, the approaching Hubbard Peak in oil between now and 15 years from now. We're either at, or rapidly approaching the point where oil tops out, and start on the downpath of available global reserves.

But China and India are on a geometric upswing in usage at the same time. Ergo, getting India advanced nuke plants is keeping them from resorting to oil.

Stephen Cohen: Don't quite see the connection.

Better conservation, new oil discoveries, etc. should keep us chugging long for a while, but nuclear is an important but small part of the total mix.


Twin Cities, Minn.: What if the slowly building U.S. confidence in India is shattered at some point in the future? Supporting nuclear technology in such a situation can come back to haunt us. Should and are U.S. policymakers developing a plan B? If yes, what, in your opinion, would be the top 2 or 3 items on plan B?

Stephen Cohen: Good question, hope you wind up in the Department of State!

Any relationship between states can backfire, and there should always be a plan B (IRAN?!), but I'm pretty confident in India's overall stability ,and the large area of overlap between American interests (although not necessarily the way any particular administration might phrase these) and India's goals and interests. So, I wouldn't plan on failure,but I would work hard to ensure that the nuclear agreement is properly tended to.

Just as important, perhaps, was the new CEO Forum, which might lead to greater, and responsible, U.S. investment in India. this will not only do a lot to alleviate Indian poverty, it gives American manufacturers an alternative to China. India is already the world's biggest auto parts supplier, a fact lost in the effusive praise given to the IT industry .

SORRY, but I have to sign off now, however I've greatly enjoyed "talking" to all of you, and "with" some of you; hate to sound like I'm pushing my own stuff, but you might want to check out my India book (it was important reading for the Bush administration when it came into office in 2001), and my more recent book, "The Idea of Pakistan,"; also, check the Brookings Web site from time to time for my writings on South Asia, and those of other Brookings staff, and our visitors.


Steve Cohen

Apologies for the spelling, my brain works faster than my fingers sometimes, and The Post does not have a spell check built into this system (yet).


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