What is especially disheartening about the nuclear agreement is the extent to which economic considerations and power politics overrode those involving nuclear arms control.
The decision early Saturday morning by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to grant an unconditional Indian specific waiver on tough nuclear export guidelines probably was inevitable. A small group of nonproliferation stalwarts — Austria, Ireland, and New Zealand — could not by themselves withstand the onslaught of economic and political pressure brought to bear by four of the nuclear weapons states led by the United States. Ironically, complicity in ignoring non proliferation obligations and bullying reluctant NSG members to exempt India from well established export restraints may be one of the last areas of nuclear cooperation between the United States and Russia. To its credit, only China among the nuclear weapons states, voiced any reservations about the deal, but in the end it too lacked the power of conviction to block an artificial consensus.
What is especially disheartening about the nuclear agreement — and bodes poorly for future nonproliferation efforts — is the extent to which economic considerations and power politics overrode those involving nuclear arms control — even among states typically regarded as international nonproliferation leaders. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Africa, and Sweden were largely missing in action — or worse — during the prolonged struggle to impose consensus on the deeply divided 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Did these states, and others, simply forget the commitments they undertook at prior Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences to foreswear nuclear cooperation with states lacking comprehensive safeguards? What credibility will they have now to hold the feet of the nuclear weapons states to the fire on other NPT commitments such as nuclear disarmament, the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones, and the provision of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes? Having rewarded India, a nuclear weapons possessor, with nuclear trade benefits previously reserved to states in compliance with the NPT, what incentives remain for other states to join the Treaty? How can one tighten controls on nuclear exports to NPT members of sensitive uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology having just created a giant loophole for such exports to a non-NPT state? Which countries retain the moral authority to speak credibly about other states’ nuclear disarmament and arms control shortcomings in light of the collective nonproliferation amnesia on display in Vienna this past week? Certainly, the tiny group of white knights no longer includes Canada, Germany, South Africa, and Sweden — nations who pride themselves as models of nonproliferation propriety.Battle moves to Washington
The battle over the India deal next moves to Washington where the U.S. Congress will need to decide if it has the time or stomach to approve a measure pronouncing the agreement to be consistent with the requirements of Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act. Unless events take an unusual turn, the political outcome in Washington will resemble that in Vienna. A few lawmakers will make a compelling case about why the deal undermines global efforts to stanch the spread of nuclear weapons, many members will entertain private doubts about the wisdom of the legislation, but in the end a large majority will subordinate principle to politics and deliver a bipartisan victory to President Bush and the Indian lobby.
The one conceivable wildcard that could still torpedo the deal, oddly enough, involves the unpredictable political impact in New Delhi of last minute efforts in Vienna to secure the agreement. Although the NSG waiver failed to contain the provisions sought by most nonproliferation advocates, including unambiguous provisions to terminate nuclear trade if India resumes weapons tests, the final document is not the “clean” and “unconditional” exemption sought and promised by the Congress Party leadership. As such, the compromise text, together with tough national statements of interpretation by countries such as Austria, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Norway, could splinter the already frail ruling coalition in India and lead to its collapse before the U.S. Congress has a chance to consider the legislation. Such an outcome would not restore the integrity of nonproliferation export controls, but it would be a fitting conclusion to an ill-conceived initiative.
6 months ago