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The Expanding Nuclear Club

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New Nuclear Concessions to India Imperil Global Non-Proliferation

March 24th 2008

Joe Griebowski headshot
Joseph Grieboski

A little over a year ago, the U.S. Congress voted to approve the Hyde Act which changed long-standing U.S. nuclear non-proliferation laws, to allow the transfer of nuclear material and technology to India. Since then, the United States has made yet additional dangerous concessions to India. Now the India nuclear deal has become worse for everyone’s international nuclear stability.
 
For 30 years, until last year's Congressional vote, nuclear trade was reserved only for countries in good standing under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), our first line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons. Countries that remained outside the NPT simply could not benefit from nuclear trade under U.S. and international rules. India, which misused international assistance intended for peaceful purposes to develop its own nuclear weapons and which is one of only three countries that never signed the NPT, was no exception.
 
If the final steps are implemented, including the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group changing its international rules and the U.S. Congress approving the U.S.-Indian nuclear trade implementation agreement, India will get all the nuclear benefits it needs without any of the legally-binding obligations to nonproliferation.

How did we get here? First, India was let off the hook from having to make commitments that the NPT that states with nuclear weapon have made, such as signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, stopping the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and committing to work toward nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, access to nuclear trade will afford India the capability to quadruple its nuclear weapons production, which will also exacerbate a regional arms race in south Asia, causing Pakistan to seek to match India capability.
 
Not content with this agreement, India earlier this year pushed for additional concessions in negotiating its implementation agreement. The United States gave in to India's insistence that it be allowed to extract nuclear weapons-usable plutonium from US-origin spent fuel. A preview of the proliferation risk: after 30 years of engaging in this dangerous practice, France and the United Kingdom have accumulated enough separated plutonium for the equivalent of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.
 
Moreover, the Bush Administration even backpedaled on the Congressional requirement that changes to U.S. law allowing nuclear cooperation with India be suspended if India tests a nuclear weapon, further undermining decades of U.S. and international nuclear non-proliferation efforts. And in the event U.S. nuclear fuel supply to India is cut off, the United States even promised India that it would help India find alternate suppliers. These additional concessions to India can only further undermine decades of nuclear non-proliferation norms.
 
Despite these sweeteners, opposition had until recently blocked the deal in India. Indian Communists, reluctant to endorse any deal that would allow closer ties with the United States, and other Indian opposition parties that claim India's independence in its foreign and nuclear policy nuclear policy would be jeopardized, delayed India from starting to negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. That itself was a pre-condition for changes to international rules and a final vote in Congress to allow the nuclear trade with India. However, the opposition to the deal in India has now softened enough to let India start these IAEA negotiations.
 
As these negotiations progress, the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group will meet to discuss changes to international rules. Once these rules are changed, India will be able to finalize agreements with many other countries. French, Japanese, and Russian companies, which are better placed for reaping the benefits of nuclear trade with India, will be able to hawk their nuclear wares to India, leaving U.S. companies and their extra safeguards high and dry.
 
If these changes to international rules and a near-final India-IAEA agreement are still in place by spring 2008, Congress will have yet another opportunity to review and vote on the US-India implementation agreement. Increasing concerns about India's energy and military ties to Iran have indeed raised questions in Congress in the past months, and may perhaps cause certain Members of Congress to take a second closer look at this deal.
 
As the deal limps along to the projected spring 2008 finish line when the Administration hopes Congress will give its final approval to the deal, it is worth considering the dangerous consequences of a deal that has gone far to undermine the nuclear non-proliferation the world needs.

Joe Griebowski is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. He can be reached at http://www.religionandpolicy.org/. Leonor Tomero is Director for Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.


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