Saturday, December 09, 2006

US-Indian Nuclear Deal after the Senate Approval

Right after the midterm election, political commentators argued that the Bush administration would have difficulty in dealing with the Congress under Democratic majority. However, a controversial bill has passed the Senate on November 16. As I mentioned several times on this blog, the Bush administration decided to offer technological assistance for civilian nuclear use in India, which spurred fierce pro-con debates among American policymakers. Proponents insist the following reasons for the US-Indian nuclear deal: strategic partnership in the war on terror, balance of power in Asia and the Middle East, and access to a prospective market. However, opponents argue that the nuclear deal with a non-NPT member would undermine the current non-proliferation regime, and tougher verifications should be required. Even some Republicans raised these concerns as I mentioned “Kissinger Talks on India.” Despite these hurdles, the Senate approved the nuclear deal with India.

I would like to explore why such a controversial deal has passed the Senate under Democrat majority. The following reasons are important: terrorism, market, China, and the Middle East. US businesses are keen to expand their market in India. According to “US Nuclear Firms Eye on Indian Market” in the Washington Post on December 1, leading American companies like General Electric, Westinghouse Electric, and Bechtel sent delegates for nuclear power plant projects in India. In addition, tougher safeguards were installed at the Senate to assure non-proliferation. The nuclear deal would enable the United States to pursue these objectives. Regarding non-proliferation, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns commented as below at the Senate testimony.

Without such an agreement, India, with its large and sophisticated nuclear capabilities, would continue to remain outside the international export control regimes governing commerce in sensitive nuclear and nuclear-related technologies. With this agreement, given India’s solid record in stemming and preventing the proliferation of its nuclear technology over the past 30 years, the U.S. and the international community will benefit by asking India to open up its system, to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities, and to submit to international inspections and safeguards on its civil facilities, thus allowing it to bring its civil nuclear program into effective conformity with international standards.

Although supportive of the deal with India, leading members of foreign policy panels in both houses --- including Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Joseph Biden, Congressman Henry Hyde, and Congressman Tom Lantos --- raised concerns about nuclear proliferation and India’s relation with Iran (Lawmakers Concerned about US-India Nuclear Deal, Washington Post, November 15). In order to deal with such problems, tougher clauses were installed. The Senate bill bans the transfer to India of technology related to enrichment, reprocessing or heavy water production -- weapons-related technologies the United States says it has no plans to provide -- but Rice wants this out. With regard to the Iran issue, Burns said, “We appreciate India’s belief that Iran should not acquire a nuclear weapons capability, and India’s continuing cooperation with the U.S. and Europe is essential to convince Iran to return to negotiations.” The Senate bill requires that India be "fully and actively participating in U.S. and international efforts to dissuade, sanction and contain Iran for its nuclear program."

For the final legislation, both the Senate and the House must fill the gap in their vote. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insists on softening the bill. In her open letter to the Senate, she says, "It is not appropriate to single out India, which has been a responsible steward of its nuclear technology." Also, she points out “India twice joined Washington in voting against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency and is expected to continue cooperating” (“Democrats: White House seeks to weaken India bill”, Washington Post, December 4).

Among the reasons for the nuclear deal, the most questionable one is to use India as a strategic card against China. Actually, energy hungry India is exploring a similar deal with China. In the economy, both countries agreed to expand mutual trade. The Economist questions the Indo-Chinese relationship as below.

The appealing notion here is that India and China have complementary economies. China, through its burgeoning factories, is the world’s workshop. India, with its fast-growing IT and outsourcing firms, is becoming the world's back office. With Chinese hardware providing the orchestra and Indian software writing the score, surely they can make beautiful music together? (The Myth of Chindia, November 22)

The Boston Globe quotes by policymakers in both countries. Sun Shihai, Deputy director of the Institute for Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, comments "China feels it needs to engage India more [and] develop some kind of Russia-China-India cooperation" that can balance US hegemony. "So there is some kind of competition happening." Also, an Indian official says "Traditionally, India's always been nonaligned and had an independent foreign policy," and "Recently, India had been moving very close to the US and with this deal India will become equidistant between the US and China." (China and India on Verge of Nuclear Deal, November 20)

As mentioned in “Anatomy of Partnership” in the International Herald Tribune on March 10, Henry Kissinger is right to insist that the United States should not expect India as a diplomatic card against China. The Sino-Indian relationship will not develop rapidly. According to “Still Treading on India’s Toes” in the Economist on November 16, China’ military ties with Pakistan and South East Asian neighbors, and border dispute with India are still hurdles. In any case, India acts on its own as to the relationship with China.

Though Democrats occupy the majority seats in both houses, the Bush administration is winning this landmark deal. It is not adequate to see the current administration lame duck. As to the nuclear deal with India, US policymakers should focus on strengthening non- proliferation and counter-terrorism efforts, and expanding business. Never think of using India in the power game against China. Is this really a practical deal as Mohammed El Baradei says? Under Secretary R. Nicholas Burns is right to say that the United States incorporate India into the international export regime of nuclear technologies. The agreement must be sufficiently binding.