Michael KreponSix Years Later (I)

On July 18, 2005, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their commitment to a civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement at the White House. The Bush administration pledged to take the lead in persuading the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to make an exception to its restrictive rules so as to allow nuclear commerce with India. In return, the deal’s backers expected profits, jobs and a transformed U.S.-India partnership to help counter China’s rise. Job creation became the top-line argument; geopolitics was subtext. The presumed utility of the deal for counter-balancing China’s rise was never an explicit part of the argument, in deference to prickly Indian sensibilities.

Prior U.S. administrations had worked hard to beef up the NSG by persuading its members to operate by consensus and by trying to condition nuclear commerce to the acceptance of full-scope safeguards and tougher inspections. India couldn’t possibly meet these tests, given its nuclear weapon programs. The Bush administration judged that the potential benefits of making an exception for India were worth the risks to the NPT and the NSG, the only cartel ever designed to prevent profit-taking.

The deal’s Svengali was Ambassador Bob Blackwill, who ventured off to India in June 2001 with thoughts of Kissinger going to China. High policy was Blackwill’s forte. He lobbied behind-the-scenes for a “bold and brave nuclear deal,” belittling the complaints of nonproliferation advocates as “nagging nannies.” For help with the particulars, he chose Ashley Tellis, an immensely gifted, productive and broadly versed Indian-American strategic analyst.

Bob Blackwill left his ambassadorial post in July, 2003. In November 2004, he became the president of Barbour Griffith & Rogers International, a lobbying firm. In August 2005, the Government of India hired Barbour Griffith & Rogers International to promote the deal.

Industry opened its checkbooks and heavy hitting geo-political thinkers backed the proposed deal. Skeptics were mostly confined to “nonproliferation ayatollahs,” to use the parlance of Indian pundits. The irony of this epithet was lost to those who could see no connection whatever between trying to tighten nonproliferation screws for Iran while loosening them for India.

Here are the arguments that were used six years ago against the deal:

1. By giving preferential treatment to a country outside the NPT, it would become harder to set tougher standards for treaty adherents.

2. Two other outliers, Pakistan and Israel, might also seek special deals that, if granted, would further compound damage to the NPT, given Pakistan’s history of illicit nuclear commerce and the sensitivity of Israel’s nuclear program in the Middle East. A civil nuclear deal between China and Pakistan seemed especially likely.

3. The deal would almost certainly weaken the NSG’s practice of consensual decision making.

4. By granting Indian demands for the right to enrich and reprocess spent fuel under safeguards, the United States and the NSG would find it more difficult to put the brakes on national enrichment and reprocessing programs elsewhere. (The Obama administration and the NSG recently reeled this one back in.)

5. By meeting Indian demands for assured fuel supply reserves, the NSG would have far less leverage on future deliberations in New Delhi on whether to resume nuclear testing. (Moscow cashed in with a sale even before the NSG’s approval.)

6. The proposed deal would heighten Pakistan’s sense of insecurity and likely raise its requirements for bomb-making fissile material and weapons.

These arguments fell on deaf ears. During President Bush’s second term, helping a friendly country trumped proliferation concerns. Administration officials were, in any event, deeply unenthusiastic about convincing New Delhi to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to accept a voluntary cessation of new fissile material production for weapons – the two steps that could best dampen down-side risks and compensate for the exceptional treatment they proposed to grant India.

The Bush administration’s facile talking point was that the nuclear deal would bring India into the “nonproliferation mainstream.” Nannies warned that if the mainstream now included a state that refused to sign the CTBT and continued to produce fissile material for bombs, then, Houston, we have a problem. These qualms couldn’t pay the bills. The smart money lined up behind the deal.


  1. mark (History)

    Very nice and timely post, Michael. We’re going to be at this subject for quite a while.

  2. ZeeKay (History)

    The conclusion is simple: history [and politics are] economics in motion. (Will Durant in Lessons from History)

  3. yousaf (History)

    in my view, this is just another instance of lobbying trumping good sense in DC. As you are aware, good arguments and what is sensible for US and global security are not the primary metrics by which “national security” decisions are made in Washington.

    There are many government initiatives that would be canceled if they were judged by whether or not they were sensible.

    In this case, proliferation concerns played second fiddle to powerful lobbying by the business community — Subrata Goshroy at MIT wrote an excellent piece on this:



    “In Washington, the Indian government mounted a multi-faceted lobbying campaign, expending large sums of money—e.g., $1.3 million on two lobbying firms—with the aim of pushing the deal through Congress. One of the firms it hired is Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, which is headed by Robert Blackwill—a former U.S. ambassador to India.

    There were other significant players. These include business lobbies like the Confederation of Indian Industries and the U.S.-India Business Council, and ethnic-based lobbies such as the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) and the U.S.-India Friendship Council. The powerful Israeli lobby worked less conspicuously, but made its substantial network available to the relative neophytes in the embassy and the Indian lobbies. The American Jewish Committee expressed its strong support for the deal by sending a letter to influential lawmakers.5 Collectively, they launched a massive lobbying effort by blanketing Capitol Hill with receptions, meetings and briefings, and the like. The lobbyists worked energetically to highlight the commercial potential for the U.S. nuclear industry to participate in the projected build-up of nuclear power in India. They also sponsored numerous trips to India by the American lawmakers and their staff.6

    That there is much more at stake behind the nuclear deal is evident from the importance assigned to it by the business leaders in both countries. For example, the U.S.-India Business Council hired Patton Boggs, reportedly one of the most expensive lobbying firms in Washington, for an undisclosed sum, to push the deal. On the Indian side….”

    Another good ref. for the generally corrosive influence of foreign lobbying on US security is available at:


    • Scott Monje (History)


      While lobbying certainly played a role, I’m willing to believe that at least some in the Bush administration saw this as an opportunity to bolster a nuclear counterpart to China. Rather than national interests being subordinated to commercial interests, they would argue that (a) nonproliferation and (b) constraining China were two competing national security interests that needed to be balanced. In the process of balancing, nonproliferation lost points because the proliferating was being done by “good guys” rather than “bad guys.” Anyone who saw negative future consequences arising from the decision wasn’t being sufficiently “hard-headed.” (“Nagging nannies” and “hard-headed” rarely appear in the same sentence.)

    • yousaf (History)

      Good point — I agree. Neocon policies certainly played a role and have had counterproductive effects. And not just on non-proliferation issues but on US security and fiscal strength in general.

      e.g. The NASA budget is now less than the amount spent on just air conditioning in Afghanistan:

  4. Daryl Kimball (History)

    Nice summary MK. Over here at ACA we prefer the term “nonproliferation gurus.”

    • MWG (History)

      The Indians took to calling opponents of the deal “nonproliferation ayatollahs.”

  5. Sanjay (History)

    The problem is that failing to reward India for its non-proliferation restraint, and lumping it in with glaring proliferators like Pakistan and China, is only going to undermine India’s restraint in the future.

    China is a country which benefited from NPT privileges even while refusing to sign the treaty. China also proliferated nuclear weapons and missile delivery technology to non-nuclear NPT signatories and non-signatories alike, while having this privileged membership status under NPT.

    India’s mistake was in not weaponizing alongside the Chinese when they did so in the 1960s, under the naive moralistic illusion that it could take a ‘higher moral path’. As we can see, the higher moral path is never rewarded, but only exploited by others for its weaknesses.

    Had India weaponized alongside the Chinese back then – as it could have, given its natural size and technical base – then all the debate around NPT would not be occurring today. Morality is a weakness, as game theorists will tell you – and as non-proliferation advocates continue to prove through their selective discourse on the subject.

    India’s treatment relative to China is proof that moralistic decision-making will only be punished, and not rewarded.

    • bradley laing (History)

      How much of China’s proliferation of missile technology was simply conventional weapons, and how much of it could be seen as WMD-related ?

      Where are the “red lines” that seperate conventional missile proliferation from ICBM, SLBM and nuclear-cruise missile proliferation?

    • Sanjay (History)

      Again, China has proliferated more than just missiles, which it cleverly did before signing MTCR. It has proliferated nuclear weapons

      India did not do these things, and is now paying the price for being a moderate, as opposed to a machiavellian.

      No Taxation Without Representation; No Obligation Without Representation. Equal non-proliferation cooperation by nuclear states requires equal membership and equal representation. Without that equal membership and equal representation on control regimes, there shouldn’t be such cooperation or obligation towards such control regimes. A fair and credible control regime would recognize this.

    • kme (History)

      India, too, derives benefits from the NPT whilst remaining outside of it – in that it does not today face a nuclear-armed Thailand, Iran, Vietnam or Indonesia among many others.

      It is not India’s failure to weaponise in the 1960s that leaves it subject to restrictions in nuclear trade – it is its continuing failure to join the NPT. There are *many* other states which could have weaponised in that era and chose not to, also – but most of those did not choose the subsequent path that India did.

  6. arch (History)

    Mr. Krepon: As you say, “[G]eopolitics was subtext” to the agreement, and opposition was blown away by commercial concerns. When has it not been thus? There was a lot of globaloney (thanks, Rich) spouted in support of the agreement, but it never really mattered. Ain’t no nuclear agreement that will get in the way of the strategic US/India collision or cooperation that has been on the way for about a half-century The bottom line of the debate, as I recall, was that commercial interests were important, and since India had already blown up the big chapati, and the Buddha smiled, what difference did it make? I despair at the slim chances of making a new bargain on nuclear weapons, but the main thing the India deal told us is that the existing nonproliferation norms as embodied in law and treaty at the time were long out of date.

    On another tack, thanks for contributing to this blog. There’s never been anything like it before.

    • krepon (History)

      Much appreciated.
      Money has never talked louder in Washington, and now it has seriously messed with the NSG. Yes, there was the rare, phoney grandfathering maneuver, but this deal was different. We’ll see if the damage is lasting or temporary.

  7. John Bragg (History)

    A few other things happened in 2005.
    Osama bin Laden moves into a permanent compound in Abbottabad.
    Pakistan’s clients in the Afghan Taliban make a real comeback.

  8. yousaf (History)

    While India may not have been as exuberant a proliferator as its neighbors, it certainly was a big “proliferatee”.


    “In 1974, India became the first and only country in the world to explode an atomic bomb made from materials imported for peaceful nuclear purposes. India made the bomb with plutonium extracted from spent reactor fuel. Canada supplied the reactor and the United States provided the heavy water needed to run the reactor. India had promised to use the reactor and the heavy water for peaceful purposes only…. ”

    In fact, the NSG was created in part because of India misusing nuclear materials:


    “Proliferation Record

    India’s first nuclear test was of a device derived partially from Canadian and U.S. exports designated for peaceful purposes. That test spurred the United States and several other countries to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group to more severely restrict global nuclear trade.

    The George W. Bush administration has sanctioned several Indian entities for transferring technologies and know-how to Iraq and Iran that could contribute to chemical or biological weapons programs. Independent analysts also allege that India’s procurement system for its own nuclear programs could leak or reveal nuclear know-how to other states or non-state actors.[8]”

    It’s export control regimes also appear weak:

    “Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

    Australia Group: Not a member.

    Missile Technology Control Regime: Not a member, but India pledged in July 2005 to adhere to the regime’s guidelines.

    Nuclear Suppliers Group: Not a member, but India vowed to “harmonize” its export controls with those advocated by the voluntary 45-member group. India is prohibited from importing key nuclear materials and technologies from group members because New Delhi does not subject its entire nuclear enterprise to safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    Wassenaar Arrangement: Not a member.

    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: No, but India pledged in July 2005 to negotiate and sign such an agreement.

    Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Not a participant.

    Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Not a participant.

    Proliferation Security Initiative: Not a participant. A senior U.S. official indicated to Arms Control Today that the initiative does not target Indian transfers because it is a U.S. ally.[2]

    UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673: India has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and offered to host IAEA courses on physical security of nuclear facilities.”

    Lastly, building on Micheal’s point (6), Manasi Mahanty makes a good argument that further favored status to India may eventually lead to a backlash:


    “US-India bilateral co-operation for civilian space activities, civilian nuclear programs and high technology trade along with expansion of discussions on missile defense constitute the corner stone of the New Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) launched in 2004.27 This agreement initiated three major steps: removal of ISRO from the Department of Commerce Entity List, removal of export license requirements from items subject to Export Administration Regulations EAR99, and establishment a presumption of approval for all items not controlled for nuclear proliferation reasons.28 The US government, by offering the ‘Trinity’ of cooperation, is in fact creating a situation that could lead to more proliferation. If India improves ICBM capabilities and proceeds to complete its development, the increased tensions within Asia can’t be avoided. Such consequences can be expected to create confusion and anger on the part of India’s friends in Europe and the United States. A backlash against India will hinder further cooperation in a number of areas.”

  9. neel123 (History)

    The benefits of the much publicized US-India nuclear cooperation agreement of 2005 are not visible yet after six years of the deal being signed, neither in India nor in the US.

    On behalf of the Indian people I would appeal to the US administration to have a similar nuclear deal with Pakistan. I am certain that such an American deal with Pakistan will not change India’s security scenario from what it is right now ….. !

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