When geopolitics comes up against principle in the US Congress, it is generally principle that is forced to give way. In the case of the US-India nuclear deal, originally proposed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005, the deal would involve transferring nuclear technology and material from the US to India. Geopolitically, it would strengthen the relationship between the two countries, but it would do so at the expense of the principle of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
India is not a party to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It never joined because its leaders believed that the Non-Proliferation Treaty promoted nuclear apartheid with its two classes of states: nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” By not signing the treaty, India, like Pakistan and Israel, held open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons. In 1974, India tested its first nuclear device, what it called a “peaceful nuclear device.” In 1998, India conducted multiple tests of nuclear weapons, and was followed almost immediately by a series of Pakistani nuclear tests.
The United States, unlike India, is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Like all other parties to the treaty, it promised in Article I of the treaty “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.” India is a “non-nuclear-weapon State” by the treaty’s definition. By providing nuclear materials and technology to India, the US will be assisting India to develop a larger nuclear arsenal than it already has developed. Thus, the US will be in violation of its treaty obligations.
India has agreed to allow its civilian nuclear reactors to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but not its military reactors. By supplying nuclear material and technology to India, it will allow India to use all of the uranium and plutonium from its military reactors, which are not subject to inspection, to be used for increasing the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal. This will, in turn, promote nuclear arms races with Pakistan and China.
Earlier this month, the US applied pressure to the 45 member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to waive their rules and allow nuclear material and technology transfers to India. Many of the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group were as eager as the United States at the opportunity for their big corporations to cash in on selling nuclear reactors to India.
With the Nuclear Suppliers Group having signed off on the deal, it left only the US Congress to reconsider the matter before giving the green light to the deal. The first step in getting the deal through Congress was gaining the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In this Committee, Senator Russ Feingold introduced an amendment to the bill calling on the administration to reach an agreement with the Nuclear Suppliers Group that there will be no transfers of uranium enrichment or plutonium separation technologies to a country that is not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Since India is not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Feingold amendment would have prohibited transfers of these technologies for producing weapons-grade nuclear materials to India. It is an amendment that upholds the principle that transfers of nuclear technology should not assist in the development of nuclear weapons. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in its eagerness to see the US reap perceived geopolitical and financial advantages, threw principle to the wayside and voted 15 to 4 against the amendment. The four principled Senators voting for the amendment were Feingold, along with Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey and Jim Webb.
Following the defeat of the amendment, the Committee, in its embarrassing rush to line up behind a Bush policy that substantially undermines the current nuclear non-proliferation regime, voted 19 to 2 in favor of the deal. The only two Senators on the Committee to stand on principle and vote against the deal were Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer.
If the House Foreign Affairs Committee follows its colleagues in the Senate, it is almost assured that the Congress of the United States will vote in favor of this ill-conceived deal, and the prospects of preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons will have been dealt a near fatal blow. The US will have demonstrated that perceived short-term geopolitical gain, with an unhealthy dose of potential financial profit thrown in, is more than enough to defeat even the most important of security-related principles. The Bush administration will have succeeded in making the Congress complicit in blowing a hole the size of a nuclear explosion through the principle of safeguarding the country and the world against the spread of nuclear weapons.