Nuclear Weapons

Legislative Update on Indian-US Nuclear Deal

07.17.06 | 3 min read | Text by Ivan Oelrich

There have been some legislative developments on the India-US nuclear deal. The results are not what I would like to have seen but I suppose it could have been worse. On 27 June, the House International Relations Committee approved their version of the bill 37 to 5. On 29 June the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16 to 2 in favor of their bill. Both bills give the administration and the Indians essentially everything they asked for except preapproval.

My fundamental objection to the deal was that it ignores proliferation concerns. I find it interesting that India is often lauded for its good proliferation record, meaning it has not exported its nuclear weapon technology a la Pakistan. But developing a nuclear weapon is proliferation. If every country independently develops its own nuclear bomb, the bomb is still proliferating and the world is still a more dangerous place even if no country ever exports anything. Clearly, exporting the technology is worse, but that does not mean that India—along with the other “recognized” nuclear powers, including the original “proliferator,” the United States—is not proliferating nuclear weapons.

This agreement does nothing to slow India’s nuclear weapons production and may very well accelerate it. It is my contention that this is not simply due to the administration’s indifference but that the US administration actually welcomes a more robust Indian nuclear arsenal as balance to China.

The original legislation suggested by the administration basically asked Congress to remove itself from any further input on the deal. The only real good news is that Congress rejected that. Whatever deal the administration and the Indian government come up with, Congress will have to approve and that was a major victory.

The bad news is that Congress seems to have accepted nuclear cooperation as the totem of any cooperation with India. The Indians have very skillfully portrayed the decision about nuclear cooperation as a litmus test for good relations with India. Most members of Congress, indeed most Americans (me included), desire better relations with India. If a member of Congress accepts that any improvement in relations hinges on nuclear cooperation, then there is a strong incentive to approve the nuclear deal. If, like me, you believe that there are a hundred and one other ways that we could cooperate while leaving nuclear technology as an area where we agree to disagree and you are concerned about global nuclear proliferation, then you will tend to oppose the deal.

The truth is, the subcommittee hearings sounded like a love fest for India, which is not bad, but the participants also seem to have swallowed that friendship = nukes. So, while the Congress refused to remove itself from further consideration of the nuclear deal, there is no indication that they will be asking any tough questions when the deal comes up for approval.

There is one good amendment in the works. Congressman Howard Berman, representing the 28th District of California has submitted an amendment that would require India to agree to a cutoff of production of fissile material (that is bomb material). This would be a bit of a hypocritical demand for the United States to make because the US administration opposes any verification measures for such a cutoff, but perhaps the irony will not be lost on the administration and will nudge them to make some meaningful proposals of their own on fissile material controls. The Berman amendment is one of the few good thing out there and deserves support.