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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

02 March 2006

America’s India deal

I was asked by two friends, both passionate about non-proliferation and neither a huge fan of George W. Bush, to explain why America would try to enter into a nuclear deal with India (link). Does this not undermine the efforts for non-proliferation, one asked me? And will this not spiral an arms race and antagonize China, asked the other? So let me say why I think America is doing it.

Start with non-proliferation. Skeptics of the deal will say that it undermines non-proliferation efforts and undercuts the West’s moral high ground in dealing with, say, Iran’s nuclear program. I think there are two points to make here—the first is that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is inherently flawed; by recognizing the duality of the system (nuclear haves and nuclear have-nots), it is prone to rhetorical abuse and feeds on the perception of global injustice. So sticking to the NPT offers little moral high-ground or cover.

The second point is that the NPT is a problematic treaty with glaring holes, particularly as it accords the statutory right to develop nuclear energy and then quit the treaty. The NPT was an effort to freeze things as they were when it was signed (signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970). It is not unreasonable to adapt the treaty to new realities—India has nuclear weapons and no close attachment to the NPT will make that go away.

But does it not undermine efforts to non-proliferation? Here is how I think the administration views things. Any country recognizes that if it acquires nuclear weapons the world will have to pay attention. The costs that convince countries not to get weapons are associated with the development of weapons (diplomatic pressure and isolation, sanctions, and so on); everyone understands that after a country has acquired weapons, it will be more powerful. In that sense, the acknowledgement of India as a nuclear power does not change the calculus for other countries—they already know that nuclear weapons offer power without having to see India get a nuclear deal. As long as the West works on ensuring the path to nuclear development remains rocky, the cost-benefit calculus remains the same since the benefit lies in geopolitical power (which India has gotten already) rather than a nuclear deal (which India may get).

What about an arms race; and is it not irresponsible to give technology to a country that has developed nuclear weapons and stayed out of the NPT? Will this not fuel anxieties in Pakistan, China, and elsewhere? If I were in the administration’s shoes, I would probably think that there is geopolitical dynamic which has its own momentum; what happens between India, Pakistan and China is almost beyond America’s control (at least in the longer run). The best that America can do is get more leverage by offering nuclear technology and making future American assistance an asset that India will have to continually fight for. It gives America some control where it now has none; and it does so while India is still developing. Could America get the same deal in ten years; in fifteen? Maybe not. The deal also forces Pakistan (maybe China) to do more to court America lest it gravitates too closely towards India.

It’s a dangerous game, I agree. But depending on how pessimistic you are, this may make sense. At least that’s the best sense I can make of the administration’s mindset in striking this deal.

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