Three years ago, President George W. Bush offered India a far-too-generous nuclear deal. India’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons would effectively be forgiven. And for the first time in 30 years, it would be allowed to buy nuclear fuel and equipment for its civilian energy programme from the US and other nations.
Instead of celebrating a big political win, the deal quickly turned into a political nightmare for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, nearly toppling his government. India’s Communist party, his junior coalition partner, is dead set against the agreement and any broader strategic relationship with the US.
Bush, who is eager for any foreign policy win before he goes back to Crawford, Texas, is pressing Singh hard to finally work this out. Singh is now looking for new allies.
As far as we’re concerned, there is no reason at all to rush. Bush gave away far too much and got far too little for this deal. No promise from India to stop producing bomb-making material. No promise not to expand its arsenal. And no promise not to resume nuclear testing.
Bush may be running out of time, but the US Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency and (IAEA), the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG—the 45 nations that set the rules for nuclear trade) will need plenty of it to review the agreement before deciding whether to grant their respective approvals.
At a minimum, they must insist that international suppliers halt nuclear trade if India tests another nuclear weapon, as it last did in 1998. And they must insist that India accept the fullest possible monitoring of its civilian nuclear facilities by IAEA inspectors.
The US must ensure that any rule the suppliers’ group adopts for selling technology to India is not weaker than anything already in American law. Otherwise, New Delhi will be able to end run Washington and buy technology and fuel from states—such as Russia and France—that are even more eager for the business and even less punctilious than this country.
Bush was right to build on the Clinton administration legacy and forge stronger ties with India, a burgeoning power whose democratic values provide a unique basis for cooperation. But it was a mistake to let India and industry lobbyists persuade him to make the nuclear deal the centrepiece.
If Singh finds a way to push the deal forward, it would be a mistake for the US to try and ram through the remaining approvals—by the IAEA board, NSG and the US Congress—just to meet the artificial deadline of Bush’s presidency.
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES