India never joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Instead, it developed and tested nuclear weapons. It is a known nuclear proliferator. India is now thought to have an arsenal of some 60 nuclear weapons, and India’s first nuclear test in 1974 led Pakistan to also develop and later test nuclear weapons. India’s 1974 nuclear test also led to the formation of a Nuclear Suppliers Group, a group of 45 countries that agreed to ban nuclear technology transfers that would make nuclear proliferation more likely, particularly to countries such as India and Pakistan that were outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Despite the obvious implications for nuclear proliferation, George W. Bush put forward a plan in 2005 to transfer nuclear technology and materials to India. For this plan, which is best characterized as the US-India Nuclear Proliferation Deal, a special waiver was needed from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, requiring the consent of all members. This deal ran into trouble when Austria, Ireland and New Zealand initially sought to uphold the obligations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and held out for tighter proliferation controls, at a minimum a commitment by India that it would conduct no further nuclear tests. Although India would not make this commitment – only going so far as to say it would engage in a voluntary moratorium on testing – arm-twisting diplomatic pressure from the US caused these last hold-outs against proliferation to capitulate. The only barrier remaining to this Nuclear Proliferation Deal going through is the US Congress.
The Bush administration has given three justifications for pursuing this deal with India. First, it will forge a strategic partnership with the world’s largest democracy. Second, it will help India meet its increasing energy demand in an “environmentally friendly” way. Third, it will open a market for the sale of billions of dollars of nuclear technology to India.
Forging a strategic partnership with India is fine, but why do it on a foundation of nuclear weapons proliferation? Surely, other countries will be looking at this Nuclear Proliferation Deal as a model that will serve their own interests as well. If the US can do it with India, why not China with Pakistan? Or Russia with Iran? Or Pakistan with Syria? The possibilities for nuclear proliferation are endless, and this deal makes them more likely.
It is also fine for the US to help India to meet its growing energy demand in an environmentally friendly way, but it is absolute hypocrisy to classify nuclear energy “environmentally friendly.” No one knows what to do with the long-lived radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants – not the US, not anyone. And these wastes are truly long-lived. In the case of the highly toxic and leukemia causing by-product of nuclear power production, plutonium 239, the wastes will gradually decline in danger over a period of 240,000 years. Not the best gift to bestow on future generations.
There are other reasons as well to be skeptical of nuclear power plants. They are capital intensive, subject to accidents and tempting targets for terrorists. They also require large societal subsidies, such as the underwriting of liability insurance. The uranium used in these plants, if highly enriched, not a technologically difficult feat, provides the basic ingredients for nuclear weapons. The plutonium generated in these plants, if reprocessed, also not difficult technologically, provides another fissionable material for nuclear weapons. Why not support India to produce truly environmentally friendly energy sources, such as wind or solar energy?
The third reason for the US-India Nuclear Proliferation Deal sounds to me like the real one – that it will open a market to sell billions of dollars of nuclear technology to India. There will be a small number of corporations and their chief executives that will profit big-time from this deal, but they will be doing so at a heavy cost to the people of the world. This Nuclear Proliferation Deal has “double standards” written all over it. Can you imagine the US pushing the same deal with Iran, Iraq or North Korea? Of course not! This deal puts a hole the size of a nuclear explosion through the heart of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Very soon the US-India Nuclear Proliferation Deal will be back before the US Congress for a final vote. If the Congress approves the deal as it stands, it goes through. If Congress votes it down, it doesn’t go through. This deal, initiated and promoted heavily by the Bush administration, will undermine the security of the American people and people everywhere, if Congress allows it to go through.
The Bush administration was able to pressure the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but the American people should not allow Mr. Bush to proceed with this final cynical act to enrich the few at the expense of national and global security. If you care about the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation, it’s time for action. Let your representative in Washington know that you expect a No vote on the US-India Nuclear Proliferation Deal.