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.