Michael KreponSix Years Later (II)

The Bush administration was very adept at creating a sense of political inevitability behind its proposed civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that, “Looking back decades from now, we will recognize this moment as the time when America invested the strategic capital needed to recast its relationship with India.” The U.S.-India Business Council at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a collection of heavyweight companies including AIG and defense contractors Boeing, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin, invested in support of the deal’s door-opening possibilities. The nuclear deal alone was projected by Ron Sommers of the U.S.-India Business Council’s to produce 27,000 “high-quality” American jobs. The U.S.-Indian community was exceptionally active and effective in generating support for the deal on Capitol Hill.

Public debate and editorial opinion was very one-sided. As expected by the Bush administration, even a large number of skeptical members of Congress, including presidential aspirant Barack Obama, provided qualified support. Here is a sampling of the arguments that carried the day:

“A massive scope for commercial opportunity between US and Indian companies will also be the result, valued at more than $150 billion over the next 30 years, spurring a revival of the nuclear power industries of both countries that will create as many as a quarter million high-tech U.S. jobs for generations to come.” – Ron Sommers

“Congress now has an important opportunity to transform the nature of U.S.-Indian collaboration permanently, by changing the status from that of a target under U.S. nonproliferation laws to that of a full partner… But at a grand, strategic level it is designed to do much more. It is designed to convey in one fell swoop the abiding American interest in crafting a new and productive partnership with India to advance our common goals in this new century.” –Ashley Tellis

“In my view, this is perhaps the single most important initiative that India and the United States have agreed to in the 60 years of our relationship. It is indeed historic. It’s already become the symbolic centerpiece of a growing global partnership between our two countries.” — Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns

“The initiative to reach civil nuclear cooperation will remove one of the most divisive issues in our bilateral relationship. If the civil nuclear aspects of the Joint Statement are not realized, we believe that our diplomatic relationship and our strategic, commercial and scientific ties will remain constrained.” — Undersecretary of State Bob Joseph

The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to endorse the deal. What has happened since? Here’s a very selective chronology:

In May 2009, Pakistan began to block consensus in the Conference on Disarmament on the start-up of negotiations on a fissile material production cutoff treaty.

At the May 2010 NPT Review Conference, NAM states led by Brazil, Egypt and South Africa balked at language in the final document affirming the Additional Protocol as the verification standard under the NPT and as a condition of nuclear commerce.

In August, 2010, the Lok Sobha passed liability legislation for nuclear plant builders and suppliers in the event of accidents. With the gruesome 1984 Union Carbide accident at Bhopal very much in mind, parliamentarians chose to impose liability provisions that will make it exceedingly difficult for U.S. firms to build or supply nuclear power plants in India.

In September 2010, China confirmed that it would sell Pakistan two additional nuclear power plants at concessionary rates, without regard for the NSG’s consensus rules and procedures.

In March, 2011, India, a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, abstained from voting on a resolution approving “all necessary measures,” including imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

In April 2011, the Indian Government decided against purchasing fighter planes from Boeing and Lockheed Martin in its $9 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition. European firms will win this jackpot.

Earlier this month, India joined ten other NAM states on the IAEA Board of Governors in voting to abstain from referring noncompliant Syrian actions to the UN Security Council.

So… six years after George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh set their sights on a civil nuclear deal, where do we stand? Five short-term consequences are very hard to refute:

One, even with the positive outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, nonproliferation norms took a hit from the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal and, at best, will take time to reinforce. The deal has added to the IAEA’s woes and has made the NSG a weaker institution. I defer to Mark for particulars and nuance.

Two, negative nuclear trend lines within Pakistan have grown steeper and will be harder to reverse.

Three, the arc of U.S.-Indian relations has improved, but with far less loft than the Bush administration’s deal makers conceived. Trade and investment will grow, as will defense sales and cooperation in some areas. This would have been the case whether or not the Bush administration had decided to pursue the civil nuclear deal. Indeed, these advances were delayed because it took five years of high-level attention to close this deal.

Four, the notion of India joining the “nonproliferation mainstream,” as advocates of the deal predicted, has been a mirage. Instead, New Delhi has closed ranks with NAM states balking at stronger nonproliferation norms. India remains in limbo on the CTBT, seemingly far from ready to sign or to resume underground tests. Fissile material production for nuclear weapons continues; India, like Pakistan, may have doubled its inventory of nuclear weapons over the past decade.

Five, New Delhi continues to titrate improved strategic cooperation with the United States, especially given domestic political sensitivities about U.S. infringements on Indian sovereignty. New Delhi also continues to improve ties with Beijing. It is folly to presume that Washington can leverage New Delhi’s dealings with Beijing. The civil nuclear deal was a poor choice to help India become a stronger counterweight to China.

Why, then, did the Bush administration make this deal the centerpiece of bilateral relations during its second term? Why tackle the toughest nut first, incurring unnecessary and perhaps long-lasting damage to nonproliferation norms? It’s obvious why New Delhi embraced the Bush administration’s gift horse of a civil nuclear deal. Those in India who argued that it was a Trojan horse have been proven wrong on every count. So far, U.S. backers of the deal have also been proven wrong on every count.


  1. neel123 (History)

    First of all it needs to be clearly understood that India, after exploding its first nuclear device in 1974, was the target of all kinds of US lead sanctions for over three decades. The NPT, CTBT, FMCT and NSG was formed specifically targeting India. Therefore lifting of the nuclear apartheid against India was the bottom line for initiating a US-India partnership.

    Secondly, the US-India partnership is based on the understanding that it is essentially a partnership with dividends to accrue in the long term. The two countries agreed to work on the areas of convergence of interests, acknowledging that there would be areas of disagreement.

    Now, in response to Krepons observations point wise :

    1. NSG is weaker due to US-India nuke deal, is a hollow argument because nuclear technology was proliferated under the nose of the NSG to N Korea and Pakistan with impunity, confirming NSG as ineffective to curb proliferation.

    2. Pakistani nuclear activities would continue anyway, with or without the US-India nuclear deal. Reversing Pakistani nuclear program, or the nuclear program of any mid size or large nation, is a fantasy of the Americans, as long as they themselves retain the same.

    3. As mentioned earlier, the US-India partnership is aimed for a long term. It seems the Americans, after treating India with sanctions for three decades, want to sleep with India on the first date …. !

    4. India did not get into the US-India nuclear deal, to give up its sovereign rights. Therefore India not supporting the unequal and unfair treaties like NPT, CTBT and FMCT should not come as a surprise to anyone. This is specially so when these treaties have proved to be totally ineffective in stopping nuke proliferation in India’s neighborhood, including N Korea.

    5. As mentioned again, the US-India nuclear deal is for a long term. Anyone in the US expecting and hoping that India would give up its sovereignty, accept the status of a client state of the US and join the bandwagon against China, needs to question his own intellect.

    ” Why, then, did the Bush administration make this deal the centerpiece of bilateral relations during its second term?”

    – Given the meteoric rise of China, and the trend for the future years for India, do the Americans have any choice, if they wish to stay relevant in Asia ?

    • kme (History)

      The experience of South Africa and the Ukraine (along with many other countries that did not make it as far along the weaponisation scale) argues against your conclusion in point 2.

      The CTBT and FMCT are not in force, and so blaming perceived nonproliferation failures on them is completely off-base. Further, the NPT has been far more successful in containing proliferation than you admit. Just in India’s neighbourhood, the list of countries that would probably have nuclear weapons today were it not for the strong non-proliferation norms established by the NPT starts with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, and goes on from there.

  2. yousaf (History)

    Any eventual bilateral benefits that may or may not accrue in the long term need to be balanced against the further poisoning of the well of strategic security in the subcontinent and China (and beyond) that making such deals bring about.

    That certain polities in US and India (and now China and Pakistan) argue — often unconvincingly — that there may be some narrow benefits that may eventually accrue to them or their countries needs to be traded-off with the obvious downsides.

    Then there is the point that when the proposed benefits likely do not materialize that there may be confusion, disappointment and possibly a backlash against India, poisoning the well further. To stretch neel’s analogy above: It is fine that India did not sleep with the US on the first date — but she put out to the Euros (i.e. the $9 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition) after the US took her to the prom.

    What we certainly don’t need is a nuclear Jerry Springer episode in South Asia.

    • neel123 (History)

      1. Nuclear proliferation is not simply a South Asian issue. It is an issue of global concern. Dr AQ Khan of Pakistan ran a whole nuke-Walmart with the connivance of the so called Global Watch dogs. The whistle blowers like Richard Barlow and Sibel Edmonds were gagged and persecuted by the US state department. The main issue is of allowing selective proliferation by those very agencies and nation that are supposed to prevent nuke proliferation.

      2. India has already rewarded the American military industrial complex with orders worth several billion dollars, and there are many more in the pipeline. The Indian decision of rejecting the American fighter jets is part technical part strategic. India’s security concerns in a scenario of a war with Pakistan and American history of being unreliable had to be factored in. As I had mentioned, the Americans want to sleep with India on the first date.

      3. The author’s concerns about India improving relations with China is surprising, given the fact that US China trade is ten times that of India China trade.

  3. magoo (History)

    Interesting piece but flawed by its lack of attention to the one issue that has been a strong and abiding raison d’etre on which national policies in the US in particular and other entities of the global commity – ‘National Interest’. The nuclear deal was initiated at that point in history where it suited both Washington and New Delhi’s national interests.

    In so far as Washington was concerned three decades of political, economic and strategic investment in India directed non-proliferation policies had failed abysmally.

    In the larger strategic matrix, Washington had already decided that the centre of gravity of its strategic security was to shift from Europe to Asia, which generated new factors that suggested a change in its policies vis-à-vis India.

    In this scenario, India’s value altered radically and had a major role to play in American thinking.

    India, on the other hand had one – and only one – over riding national interest – as stated by Pranab Mukherjee in his address to Parliament, i.e. to break free of the technological and economic shackles engineered by the US and its allies with a view to give free rein to its economic growth.

    Both the US and India worked towards achieving their ‘national interests’ in addressing the issues that the nuclear deal faced.

    India is not responsible for the nonproliferation behaviour of China or Pakistan. New Delhi did not facilitate nuclear material and technology transfers to North Korea, Libya or Iran. For that one needs to address the actions of America’s MNNA, Pakistan.

    Finally a word on “putting out” to the Euros. We scour the market and buy tomatoes that suit our palate most. Not because we have a thing for the vendor.]

  4. krepon (History)

    Raja Mohan’s take on the stronger NSG guidelines for ENR in the Indian Express, below. If Raja is so misinformed about the position the Bush administration took and the US Congress insisted on with respect to ENR transfers, this could get very ugly.

    “The last thing Delhi would want to do is to get into an
    argument with the NSG as a collective, especially when India is seeking membership of this club. Entry into this club is indeed important for India to have a say in the making of nuclear rules and stop the sanctimonious humbug of the kind that the NSG has just dished out.

    The worst thing India could do is to view the NSG’s latest
    move in legalistic terms. India’s tradition of self-deluding rhetoric of moralpolitik and its adolescent literalism in reading international nuclear arrangements have proved rather costly for the nation over the
    last decades.

    Delhi, instead, should see the NSG through the
    geopolitical lens. It could indeed benefit by following the Chinese lead in the NSG.

    Recall how the nuclear fundamentalists were tongue-tied in responding to Beijing’s recent decision to sell
    additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan in defiance of the NSG guidelines. All the major powers had other business to do with China and were unwilling to confront Beijing’s haughty disregard for the NSG rules.

    India will gain nothing by presenting itself as a
    plaintiff at the multilateral NSG. It has a reasonable chance to redress the ENR problem if it acts bilaterally with the nuclear big three — United States, Russia and France. Delhi must put across a simple proposition to Washington, Moscow and Paris — “No ENR, No Reactor Deals.” India must remind all three that if they can’t keep their word, they should not expect a share
    in India’s nuclear pie.

    • Dan Joyner (History)

      Great piece and great exerpt here from Raja Mohan.

    • Ray Kaminski (History)

      Raja Menon is advocating that India play power politics, much to the dismay of the non-prolif fan club, who thought that they could shaft India indirectly, and rely on the typical tepid India response.

      India has show itself capable of playing very well, when it has strong cards in various forums. It how lasted various American administrations, until Bush folded. Here, I bet on India. The lure of billions in nuclear sales is just too much with Japan and Germany drying up. I suspect the non-prolifs here, understand how strong India’s hand is, hence Michael plea in the Hindu, for India to be “reasonable”.

  5. madhur (History)

    “No ENR, No Reactor Deals.” the writing on the wall is clear for all to see…how one choose to misread it the 300 billion dollars question.

  6. neel123 (History)

    The US-India nuclear deal, which came into force after five years of painstaking negotiations, shows all signs of unraveling. This outcome should not surprise anyone given the fact that the US law allowing the deal came into effect loaded with a number of poison pill amendments one of which came from Obama himself.

    It is time for India to go its own way on nuclear issues.

    And it is party time for the nuclear Ayatollahs, as cracks have already appeared in the attempt to crack the “toughest nut” in US-India bilateral relations.

  7. JDur (History)

    China initiated the original Chashma sale just before it joined the NSG, despite the then recent stink of the A.Q.Khan revelations, which included a Chinese bomb design freely passed along to anyone with cash.

    To say that China would have been a model citizen had the Indo-US nuclear deal not happened is about as credible as saying that a mobster would stop his law breaking because he was admitted into a country club.

    The NSG, was and remains a joke – just like all its peer groups. The rule don’t apply to those with power.

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