Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Nukes, America and India
WASHINGTON — President Bush in effect legitimized India's nuclear arsenal last week, offering to sell it technology that has long been forbidden to anyone who played outside the world's nuclear rules. So what will senior officials say on Tuesday morning when North Korea opens its long-delayed negotiations with the West? "I can just see it now," said one of those officials, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the talks. "They come in, throw a newspaper from the other day on the table, and bellow: 'How can America demand that we give up all our nukes, while you just let the Indians keep all of theirs?' "
It's not an unreasonable question. The long-term implications of Mr. Bush's decision may not be clear for years, and some short-term risks seem evident to critics now. The timing is particularly awkward, in a summer of extraordinary tension with North Korea and Iran. "Asia is the continent with just about the most complicated nuclear problems we have: India and Pakistan, North Korea and Iran," said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "And by accepting India as a de facto nuclear weapons state, you are telling other countries that if they just hang tough, and put up with sanctions for a while, sooner or later they will be rewarded with status and military power. Is that the message the Bush administration wants to send?" India is no North Korea. It is a democracy. And unlike Pakistan, which gave rise to the biggest nuclear proliferation ring in history, it has kept strict control of its nuclear stockpile and its bomb-making technology. But the fact remains that for decades India flouted the world's nuclear safeguards. It ran a huge, secret nuclear weapons program, made easier by its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It built its weapons by diverting material from civilian nuclear plants - just what the United States says Iran is doing. Iran denies it, but so did India - until it conducted nuclear tests. Still, as a matter of realpolitik, the administration argued, it has become silly not to acknowledge, at least implicitly, that India is a nuclear-armed state. "Our national interests have been intersecting," said R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, who spent months working out elements of the deal, including India's commitment to allow inspectors to visit its civilian nuclear facilities (but not its military stockpiles) and to adhere to provisions of the non-proliferation treaty that are designed to prevent further leakage of nuclear technology.
"India needs energy and prefers clean energy, which means nuclear," he said. "It is worried about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and it is worried about terrorism. Those are our interests as well. And we know what kind of country India will be 25 years from now: A pluralistic democracy." That last point is telling. Washington is far from certain what China - India's nuclear-armed neighbor - will look like in a quarter of a century. So even while embracing the Chinese as the key to solving the North Korean crisis, Mr. Bush appeared to be bolstering China's longtime rival.
The administration hopes to sell that to the Chinese by noting the deal includes Indian support for a new global treaty that would cut off the production of all new fissile material, the stuff of bombs. Eventually that could cap India's nuclear program. The counterargument is that Mr. Bush has again divided the world into America's friends and its enemies, giving the first a pass and showing the second the stick.
It is unclear how he will deal with Pakistan; not long ago, he declared it a "major non-NATO ally," but administration officials say its proliferation record means it won't be seeing a deal like this anytime soon. Nor, the administration insists, will the North Koreans.