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No Nuclear Exception for India
The New York Times, Feb. 28, 2006
Photo: Manmohan Singh
President Bush's wrongheaded decision last year to make an end run around the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by agreeing to share civilian nuclear technology with New Delhi took America's contain-China-by-building-up-India strategy a step too far.
When President Bill Clinton went to India six years ago, he danced to folk music with women in a rural Rajasthani village, ate bowls of black lentil stew at a posh restaurant in New Delhi, and spotted a rare Bengal tiger at a wildlife reserve south of Jaipur. He was cheered wildly in India's Parliament.
President Bush's visit to the world's second most populous nation will likely be less entertaining visually; Mr. Bush, after all, isn't even planning to visit the Taj Mahal, let alone address India's legislature, which both nations have decided is too raucous to risk an appearance by this president. But Mr. Bush's two-day visit, to begin tomorrow, is a far more significant presidential trip, for both strategic and economic reasons.
Relations between the United States and India have never been more important, thanks to global terror in the post-Sept. 11 world, the search for sustainable energy resources and the United Nations' pledge to halve world poverty by 2015. More than 500 million of the world's poor are Indian villagers. India is also home to one the largest Muslim populations in the world.
So it's a pity that this trip, which should focus American attention on such a rich array of issues, now revolves largely around whether India and America will manage to conclude a nuclear deal that shouldn't have been initiated to begin with.
The United States is at an important crossroad in its relations with India, home to more than one billion people and an economy that is growing at around 6 percent every year.
For decades after India's independence, American policy toward the huge country was one of adversarial neglect. During the cold war, Washington viewed India through the narrow prism of the geopolitics of that era. And since the collapse of the Soviet Union, things haven't gotten that much better. Relations between the United States and India chilled when India tested a nuclear bomb in 1998, going further south after Washington imposed punitive sanctions. Now the Bush administration appears to be looking at India primarily as a counterbalance to China's growing ascendancy.
Against that backdrop, Mr. Bush would be well employed simply building bridges between the world's two largest democracies and focusing on economic issues of common concern.
The president is planning the obligatory trip to a center of high technology, although White House strategists, mindful of election-year fears in the United States about call centers and outsourcing, chose the more diversified city of Hyderabad instead of the call-center capital, Bangalore. Hyderabad has a big Muslim population, so it is also a chance for Mr. Bush to try to counter some of the damage done lately to relations between Muslims and the West.
But there's not enough substance to these parts of Mr. Bush's schedule to disguise the fact that this trip is built around a bad nuclear deal.
President Bush's wrongheaded decision last year to make an end run around the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by agreeing to share civilian nuclear technology with New Delhi took America's contain-China-by-building-up-India strategy a step too far. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's basic bargain has been to reward countries that renounced nuclear weapons with the opportunity to import sensitive nuclear technology to help meet their energy needs. For decades, America has imposed nuclear export restrictions on India - and Pakistan, for that matter - in response to those countries' refusal to sign the nonproliferation treaty and their open development of nuclear weapons.
This carrot-and-stick approach has dissuaded many other countries capable of building or buying nuclear arms from doing so, from South Korea to Turkey to Saudi Arabia. Now President Bush wants to carve out an exception for India. That's the worst possible message to send to other countries - Iran comes to mind - that America and its nuclear allies in Europe are trying to keep off the nuclear weapons bandwagon. Already, Pakistani officials are requesting the same deal for their country, although it is a request that is unlikely to be granted.
Congress would have to approve this nuclear deal, and it should kill it. If lawmakers approved the arrangement with India, other countries that signed on to the nonproliferation treaty would be tempted to reconsider the cost-benefit bargain that kept them from developing nuclear weapons.