PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Nonproliferation advocates in Washington argue that recent U.S. efforts extending civilian nuclear cooperation with India would undercut global nonproliferation. One argument is that many states like Japan and Brazil either had nuclear bombs or the ability to make them but gave up that ability in return for the civilian nuclear cooperation guaranteed by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Were India now to get the same benefits outside the NPT and without being forced to give up its weapons, detractors argue, some of these countries could rethink their NPT commitments.
This argument is fundamentally flawed because states sign international treaties not based on how the world should be but on how the world actually is. When Japan acceded to the NPT, for instance, it knew that it was entering the treaty as a second class citizen in comparison to its rival China, which had nuclear weapons. Japan also knew that India was not going to be bullied into giving up nuclear weapons. Tokyo signed the NPT anyway because it concluded that doing so was in its national interests. While the India deal might cause some resentment among Japanese diplomats and bureaucrats who are used to isolating India in international nuclear forums, a serious threat to Japanese national interests this deal isn't. The same goes for other near-nuclear nations like Brazil.
Another idea postulated against the nuclear deal is that such a carve out specifically for India would undermine the normative international nuclear set up. However, this argument is based on the wrong notion that the current NPT-based nuclear setup is totally rules-based without exceptions. In fact, the NPT-system by itself has been defined by different treatment for different nations, largely based on global geopolitical concerns. For example, when Iraq was found to be in violation of its NPT pledge to not develop nuclear weapons following the first Gulf war in 1991, the world community came down hard on Baghdad with a tough sanctions regime. However, when China was clearly in violation of its NPT obligations when it was caught selling weapons related "ring magnets" to Pakistan in 1995, the U.S. buried the violation in order not to jeopardize the Clinton administration's efforts to forge better U.S.-China relations. Even recently, when investigations pertaining to the A.Q.Khan nuclear scandal revealed that China may have leaked a nuclear warhead design that was found in Libya, the Bush administration refused to bring China to account and went ahead with proposed nuclear reactor sales to the Asian giant.
Many nuclear deal detractors, such as Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, also insist that India should be asked to stop its production of fissile materials prior to any U.S. nuclear cooperation. Pointing out that the U.S. and three other NPT nuclear states (France, U.K. and Russia) have officially declared stopping their fissile material production, Sokolski argues that India should be asked to do the same.
However, such a precondition would be seen as a poison pill in New Delhi for the simple reason that the U.S. has initiated nuclear cooperation with China, when that country has refused to officially declare the status of its fissile material production. While Western intelligence analyses and informal Chinese communications indicate that China may have stopped producing fissile material, there is good reason to be dubious about the validity of such a conclusion given China's track record of going back on even its official word in the nuclear arena.
Arms control supporters have also tended to minimize the value of the commitments made by India as part of the nuclear agreement. For instance, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment noted in a paper that India's July 18 commitment to implement strict nuclear export controls and other nonproliferation policies of responsible nuclear states was not of much value because United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 requires all states to be responsible with their nuclear assets. This is a bogus argument. UNSCR 1540 specifically refers to non-state actors. India is currently under no legal obligation not to sell nuclear technology to states. Because India has been kept out of cartels such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, there are no legal restrictions that prevent it from selling reactors, precursor or dual-use nuclear technology to countries such as Syria or Vietnam. It is pure sophistry therefore to claim that India's July 18 responsibilities have little value. While India has been a responsible nuclear state out of its own volition, there are no guarantees that future Indian policymakers would persist with a policy of not disrupting a nuclear order that has sought to isolate New Delhi while rewarding other blatantly proliferating states get free passes due to political considerations.
Experts including Perkovich and Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center argue that the nuclear deal is not critical to further India-US ties. Unfortunately, this is not a view that those outside the Indian establishment can assert with any confidence. Just as F-16 fighters are critical to US-Pakistan ties and Taiwan is the focal point of U.S.-China relations, virtually every member of the New Delhi establishment, retired or serving, believes that Indo-US strategic ties are unlikely to move farther without a U.S.-led accommodation of India into the global nuclear order on a level that is at par with the NPT-five states. It would be hard for Indian leaders to take US claims of a strategic partnership with India at face value when the US would not even extend India the same benefits extended to America's self-declared "strategic competitor" - China, even after Beijing is repeatedly caught proliferating.
To many Indian strategists, Western arms control advocates, especially those who have worked in U.S. nonproliferation bureaucracies betray an agenda to freeze India out of the elite club under the guise of promoting nuclear nonproliferation. Further, Indian interlocutors see Washington nonproliferation specialists as facilitators of and apologists for Chinese nuclear proliferation and weapons stockpiling. This perception is enhanced when one sees the visceral nonproliferation-based opposition in Washington to the Indo-U.S. deal contrasted with a near-total silence from the same advocates when the U.S. opened up nuclear reactor sales to China without requiring a credible fissile stoppage by Beijing.
A good faith implementation of the July 18 accord by Washington would therefore represent a significant breakthrough in Indo-U.S. relations. Given that the world has already suffered a great deal due to off-the-books exceptions to the NPT-based nuclear system, a codified and verifiable exception that brings India into a club it deserves to be in is indeed a net plus for nonproliferation.
(Kaushik Kapisthalam is a freelance commentator on South Asia issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)