India, U.S. engage in cynical nuclear bargain

India, U.S. engage in cynical nuclear bargain
By Amitabh Pal

February 28, 2006

President Bush is busy stamping his seal of approval on a cynical nuclear bargain between India and the United States. One of the major purposes of his India visit is to put the final touches on a nuclear agreement that the two sides reached last summer, an agreement that does neither country any credit.

Last July, the United States pledged to sell nuclear material to India and implicitly recognized its nuclear weapons program. In return, India vowed to open up the civilian component of ts program to international inspection.

The deal may still fall through because of opposition in both countries, albeit for mostly the wrong reasons. Rightwing elements in India have deemed the agreement a sellout of the country’s sovereignty, while members of the U.S. Congress are concerned about giving India a free ride on nuclear weapons, oblivious to U.S. hypocrisy on the issue.

But there are other, good reasons for being opposed to the deal.

Independent India in its early decades had been an ardent proponent of nuclear disarmament, even if it quietly kept the option open for the development of an indigenous nuclear program. Then in 1974 it detonated a bomb in what the Indian government termed a “peaceful nuclear explosion.” For more than two decades, it kept up a façade, at least, of not brandishing nuclear weapons. In fact, as late as 1996 it was in support of a World Court judgment that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law.”

All this changed in 1998. Largely driven by a distorted definition of nationhood and self-respect, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party detonated a series of explosions that made India a declared nuclear power. Then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said nuclear bombs are “India’s due, the right of one-sixth of humankind.” Pakistan quickly followed suit, and the two countries came close to a nuclear confrontation a number of times in the next few years. (See my Progressive Media Project op-ed on the tests and their aftermath.)

Now that India has joined the rogue’s gallery, it has, of course, dropped all references to “nuclear apartheid”—the notion enshrined in the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty that some nations have the right to have nuclear weapons while others do not. Last October, India abandoned even its feeblest commitment to a nuclear-free world, with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran indicating that India was now “part of” the nuclear establishment. In other words, nuclear apartheid was fine as long as India was part of the privileged few.

Washington’s eagerness for the deal is also hard to understand—until you look at the corporate interests and at the double standards that prevail. As is true of so much of the Bush Administration's policies, the decision to open up to India will benefit huge multinationals based in the United States. "General Electric, the largest U.S. investor in India, ... would stand to profit from a newly opened nuclear market," The Wall Street Journal reported on February 7.

On strategic policy, the Administration has instituted a global hierarchy of countries with nuclear weapons, based on their usefulness to the United States. So, India and Israel—with its undeclared nuclear arsenal—are the favored two, and have been accepted into the select nuclear club (the “good guys”). Pakistan’s nuclear program is regarded with some suspicion, in part due to A. Q. Khan’s proliferation network, but even Pakistan is still tolerated. And then there are countries such as Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear weapons programs are deemed beyond the pale (“the “bad guys”). This lends an added layer of hypocrisy to the Bush Administration’s insistence that Iran get rid of its nuclear weapons, and complicates international efforts to dissuade Iran from going the nuclear route.

The United States and India are abandoning their principles for expedient geostrategic reasons. India wants to be taken seriously on the world stage and get U.S. support for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council; the United States wants to tap India’s growing market and use it as a bulwark against China.

But at what price their Faustian bargain?