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AAAS Briefing Explores Potential Impact of U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement
While policy experts have warned that the recent groundbreaking nuclear agreement between the United States and India has the potential to quickly unhinge regional power balances and set dangerous precedents, two nonproliferation experts told an AAAS-sponsored briefing on Capitol Hill it also offers the possibility of long-term technological innovation and improvements in international security.
Under the March 2006 pact signed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India would be provided assistance to further its civilian nuclear energy program. In response, India pledged to separate its civilian nuclear power program from its military nuclear program and comply with full-scope inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But the proposed pact has met some stiff opposition from American lawmakers.
Many of these potential roadblocks, which were discussed at a 5 June AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) talk on Capitol Hill, center around fears that the pact violates the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), conflicts with several U.S. laws, and opens the door to increased nuclear proliferation.
According to Scott Sagan, professor of political science at Stanford University, while the pact does raise serious security concerns, it also offers increased technological and informational sharing potential between the two nations.
The more Indian scientists in the nuclear establishment talk with the international community and the United States, Sagan says, “the increased likelihood there is a deeper sharing of intelligence and best organizational practices for safety and security.”
Sagan finds that the agreement’s ultimate success will depend on the United States’ ability to set high standards for continued Indian “good behavior” in nonproliferation issues to make it harder for other states to use the deal as a precedent for nuclear cooperation elsewhere.
Apart from fostering closer ties between the two nations, the pact allows India to publicly expand its nuclear energy production to meet expected further demands.
Currently 3% of total electricity production in India comes from nuclear power plants, and according to T.S. Gopi Rethinaraj, who also spoke at the event, this may need to rise significantly to keep pace with growing energy needs and addressing coal-related problems in India.
In addition to the increased exchange of scientific information such as “best practices” between U.S. and Indian laboratories, the deal is expected to contribute to the safety and security at Indian nuclear facilities by bringing them under international supervision from the IAEA.
While many in the Indian government consider the agreement in both U.S. and Indian national interests, the pact received a mixed response in India.
Rethinaraj, professor of pubic policy at the National University of Singapore, explained that while India’s diplomatic leaders hailed it as a major achievement in Indian diplomacy, India’s Communist parties snubbed the proposed agreement on the grounds that the United States was dictating Indian domestic and foreign policy.
Further, Rethinaraj finds that many elites in India’s other opposition parties responded with reserve to the news of the nuclear pact.
“While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in India was enthusiastic about the deal, which they consider to be one of the towering achievements of current policy objectives, the main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposed the deal on political grounds [because] they wished it had taken place when they were in power,” he said.
Other critics contend that the nuclear pact undoes 35 years of efforts at nuclear non-proliferation for the short-term goal of forming a strategic alliance. In addition, some argue it was quid pro quo for Indian participation in US-led security initiatives, while still others believe it is an attempt to contain China and isolate Iran.
According to Sagan, the nuclear pact’s strongest asset raises an important and potentially dangerous question: How are other “latent nuclear powers” going to view this precedent? Is Russia going to view the U.S. pact with India as carte blanc to supply Iran with nuclear materials and expertise? Further, will other nations enter the market to supply India with materials and expertise?
Both the Singh and Bush administrations assert that this accord will create a precedent of only rewarding nations for “good behavior,” i.e. stable governments and free elections. Further, the United States is making an exception to the NPT because India is deemed to be a responsible nuclear partner.
Sagan feels that this may prove easier said than done.
“When an official or anyone says in a bargaining situation this deal will not set a precedent, that is a signal that it is in fact going to set a precedent, and you have to pay close attention,” he said.
The Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) was established by AAAS through support from the Science, Technology & Security Initiative at the MacArthur Foundation. The goal of the Center is to encourage the integration of science and public policy for enhanced national and international security. The Center acts as a two-way portal that facilitates communication between academic centers, policy institutes, and policymakers.
9 June 2006