Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bush's India Deal Bends Nuclear Rules

WSJ.com - Bush's India Deal Bends Nuclear Rules

U.S. Cites Exceptionalism
Of Situation, but Accord
May Stir Others' Ambitions
July 20, 2005; Page A11

WASHINGTON -- President Bush unilaterally rewrote the rules of the nuclear game this week when he agreed to sell nuclear technology to India.

U.S. officials defended the decision by emphasizing India's exceptionalism: New Delhi may have an illicit nuclear-weapons program, they argue, but it also is the world's largest democracy and a key ally. Others are watching closely, including Iran and North Korea -- with their own illicit-weapons ambitions -- and South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil and Egypt, which now may feel freer to re-examine or even break their antinuclear vows.

Mr. Bush had a lot of reasons, from grand strategy to mercantilism, to agree -- pending Congress's approval -- to New Delhi's request to buy everything from nuclear fuel to nuclear reactors for its civilian power program.

The Pentagon long has argued for strengthening India as a counterweight to China, and the White House is eager to revive the U.S. nuclear industry with new overseas markets until a wary American public is brought around to accepting nuclear energy as a power source.

U.S. officials also say it was counterproductive to deny reality. India will never give up its atomic weapons, they contend, and with this week's agreement, New Delhi is making important nonproliferation commitments. India agreed to place its entire civilian nuclear program under international monitoring, though it hasn't agreed to stop producing plutonium for its unmonitored weapons program.

Even as he declared India a nuclear power -- a fact the U.S. hasn't formally acknowledged -- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a joint session of Congress yesterday that his country is "fully conscious of the immense responsibilities." (See the joint Bush-Singh statement)

George Perkovich, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, said that if the U.S. can persuade other countries of India's exceptionalism, then Washington may pull this off without doing lasting damage to the wider nonproliferation system. But, he is skeptical that presenting it "as a fait accompli" is the best course.

"If you can get other countries to agree that this won't weaken their commitment to a rule-based system, then that's fine," Mr Perkovich said. "But if it appears we're being cavalier about the rules...then it gets harder to persuade other people to strengthen the rules or enforce them."

Just a few months ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed similar concerns. In an April interview with The Wall Street Journal, she said any decision to sell civilian nuclear technology to India would have "quite serious" implications for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The Bush administration, which had expected any deal would have to wait until the president travels to India sometime next year, scrambled to explain its decision to allies and friends yesterday. Ms. Rice spoke with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, who played an important role in the India negotiations, spoke with senior British, French and German officials and was expected to meet with Japanese officials last night.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, however imperfect, is the keystone arms-control agreement, one that has dissuaded many other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. The 1970 treaty recognizes only five nuclear-weapons states -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- and bars sales of nuclear technology to any country that breaks the treaty or refuses to join. India, Pakistan and Israel all have refused to sign. The Indians and Israelis used technology acquired ostensibly for civilian purposes to secretly build nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush has consistently shown little enthusiasm for traditional arms-control agreements. But until this week he has been one of the most outspoken champions of strengthening and enforcing the NPT, starting with punishing North Korea and Iran for secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials say Monday's India decision won't in any way muffle those demands and that the cases aren't comparable. "We don't believe the Iranians have been telling the truth to the IAEA for the last 20 years," Mr. Burns said yesterday. "We know North Korea has been proliferating. And we know the Indians have not. They have a very strong commitment to nonproliferation."

Nevertheless, the decision, especially if it is seen as commercially motivated, could undercut U.S. demands that Russia halt its nuclear cooperation with Iran or Washington's efforts to persuade India to abandon a proposed $4 billion gas-pipeline deal with Tehran.

There are serious concerns that other U.S. allies may decide that they, too, are exceptional and that they can abandon their nuclear vows without facing harsh punishment from Washington. Indeed, U.S. officials have been warning in recent months that if North Korea tests a nuclear weapon, then Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all may be tempted. At a minimum, the U.S. could face some tough new demands. South Korea or Taiwan, for instance, could revive their long-held desires for a nuclear-fuel program. Washington has blocked both, fearing the technology could be diverted to produce nuclear weapons.

India's first request almost certainly will be for nuclear fuel for two U.S.-supplied power reactors in Tarapur, both of which already are under IAEA monitoring. Before the White House can agree to that, it must either seek a waiver of current U.S. law -- which bans nuclear trade with India -- or try to amend the law itself. "I made it very clear [to the Indians] that we cannot just turn on the fuel supply next Monday morning. We had to seek agreement with Congress and that may take time," Mr. Burns said.

In a sign of the tensions that may produce, yesterday House members of the conference committee working to draft a compromise national energy bill tried to include language to block the export of nuclear technology to India. Senate members of the committee, however, rejected the move.


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