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A Guide to the Perplexed: Q&A on the US-India Nuclear Deal

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Q.  What is the biggest problem with this deal?

A.  It’s another dangerous detour in the war on terror.   Job #1 is to prevent the worst weapons from getting into the wrong hands.  Instead, the deal the Bush administration struck will weaken existing controls against proliferation and nuclear terrorism. 

Q.  Why is this deal a detour? 

A.  Because we need to focus on tightening global rules of nuclear commerce and forging a united front against Iran and North Korea.  The India deal is all about forging a consensus to loosen the rules.  You can’t dress and undress at the same time.

Q.  But aren’t these separate problems?  India is quite different from Iran and North Korea.

A.  India is different.  But unfortunately, there are no watertight compartments when it comes to proliferation.  When rules are loosened or broken somewhere, the damage is compounded somewhere else.  Plus, the leverage and time spent by the Bush administration to loosen the rules for India won’t help tighten the rules against bad actors. 

Q.  India is a friendly country.  Why should we penalize it because of bad actors?

A.  Yes, there are good and bad actors.  We need one set of rules to distinguish between them.  The good guys follow the rules; the bad guys don’t.   One set of rules also helps to isolate the bad guys.  Creating a loose set of rules for India will make it harder to enforce a tight set of rules against Iran and North Korea.

Q.  But the Nonproliferation Treaty already has two sets of rules – one for recognized nuclear weapon states and another for abstainers.  To bring India under the tent, a new set of rules will have to be made.

A.  We do need to find ways to bring outliers under the tent, which means new rules.  But the nonproliferation benefits of the new rules have to outweigh proliferation risks.  Setting up new rules that help countries grow their nuclear arsenals will further damage the NPT.  Any new rules we create for outliers need to lean in the direction of nonproliferation, not larger nuclear arsenals.

Q.  Will this deal contribute to a nuclear arms race among India, Pakistan, and China? 

A.  An arms race of Cold War proportions is inconceivable.  But this deal will mean larger nuclear arsenals for India, Pakistan and China.

Q.  Why will this deal help India grow its arsenal? 

A.  Because it caters to India’s nuclear lobby by allowing no less than eight power reactors and two fast breeders to be utilized to make bombs – on top of the dedicated reactors and other nuclear facilities already used by bomb makers.  The deal even pledges U.S. support in the event New Delhi resumes nuclear testing.    

Q.  How can the U.S. support India if it breaks its testing moratorium when U.S. law calls for sanctions?

A.  Sanctions can be lifted.  Plus, New Delhi has said that the Bush administration has promised to help circumvent U.S. sanctions by getting other nations to supply India with nuclear fuel in the event of sanctions.

Q.  But doesn’t it make sense to place India under the Nonproliferation Treaty’s big tent? 

A.  What good does it do to have India under the tent if we risk having the tent fall down?  
Q.  Will this deal place India in the nonproliferation mainstream, as the administration insists? 

A.  A country that has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, is producing fissile material for bombs, and is enlarging its nuclear arsenal is not in the nonproliferation mainstream.

Q.  Won’t proliferation risks be curtailed because the deal with India will be a one-of-a-kind exception?  Isn’t India a unique case?

A.  All proliferation cases are unique, which is why we need to tighten the rules across the board.  If this key assumption is wildly optimistic – like assuming that the war in Iraq would be over quickly and would be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues – the negative consequences of the deal will be open ended. 

Q.  Why can’t we make and enforce special rules for India? 

A.  Because the United States has leadership powers, not enforcement powers.  If Washington seeks changes for its friends, other nuclear suppliers will want changes for their friends. 

Q.  Aren’t the other major nuclear suppliers in support of this deal?

A.  Unfortunately, the countries most needed to support the NPT – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — also have the most to gain from nuclear commerce.  Previously, the United States has taken the lead to set rules of nuclear commerce that prevent proliferation and profit taking.   Now, if other nuclear suppliers follow US precedent, profit taking will trump proliferation.

Q.  But isn’t there a consensus rule among nuclear suppliers that prevents profit taking from trumping proliferation concerns? 

A.  This is another likely casualty of the deal.  Soon after the US-India deal was announced, Russia rushed to supply nuclear fuel to India without seeking consensus among nuclear suppliers.  France announced a nuclear deal with Libya, and China hinted at a deal with Pakistan.  Unless the consensus rule holds, the Nuclear Suppliers Group will become a hollow shell.  If country-specific exemptions become the rule in the NSG, its rules will become meaningless. 

Q.  How would this deal weaken existing controls against nuclear proliferation and terrorism? 

A.  By setting dangerous precedents that other nuclear suppliers and buyers will seek to duplicate.  This deal would establish the precedent of “assured supply” of nuclear fuel that could be turned into bombs regardless of what the receiver does.  The deal also abandons two key protections against proliferation that the United States and other states have worked for decades to erect: requirements that the recipients agree to  “full scope safeguards” and safeguards “in perpetuity.”  In plain English, this means that the buyer needs to have all of its nuclear facilities under strict international inspection, from cradle to grave.

Q.  India is a responsible state with advanced nuclear technologies.  Doesn’t it deserve the same benefits if it accepts the same responsibilities as other nuclear powers?    

A.  India is a responsible state, but it has not assumed the same responsibilities as other nuclear powers. Along with Pakistan, Cuba, North Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, India has not signed a treaty banning all nuclear tests for all time.  It is one of the four countries (along with China, Pakistan, and North Korea) whose nuclear stockpile continues to grow.  And it is one of only three countries (with Pakistan and North Korea) now producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.  If India were to join other nuclear powers in accepting these obligations, the nonproliferation benefits of this deal would outweigh its risks. 

Q.  But if India were to accept these obligations, wouldn’t it be les of a counterweight to China?   

A.  US and Indian interests are converging in many areas, but New Delhi will not do Washington’s bidding if its national interests point in a separate direction.  New Delhi will continue to seek improved relations with China.  It will also seek to assure and increase energy supplies from Iran.

Q.  How can this deal be changed from a big minus to a big plus for nonproliferation?

A.  By following three basic principles: 

  • First, the global system of nonproliferation is based on rules.  New exceptions could badly weaken existing rules.  This means that exceptions to the rules need to be based on sound criteria, and that the criteria must strengthen the rules more than exceptions weaken them. 
  • Second, we must give nonproliferation a higher priority than the profit motive.  This means than the consensus rule in the Nuclear Suppliers Group must hold fast.  This also means that the NSG, no less than the US Congress, would be wise to consider a criteria-based approach for new commercial transactions so that they do not lead to more proliferation.
  • Third, states seeking special benefits must be willing to accept special responsibilities. The four most important responsibilities and practices that prevent proliferation are: committing not to test nuclear weapons; refraining from producing fissile material for nuclear weapons; implementing properly tough export controls; and protecting and securing properly sensitive nuclear material and equipment.  We should expect no more – and no less-from states that wish changes in the rules of nuclear commerce.


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