Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

India Goes Roos for Nukes: Has Bush’s U.S.-India Nuclear Gambit Failed?

Posted by K.E. White on January 24, 2007

President Bush, upon signing the India nuclear deal, told detractors that India becoming a stanch U.S. ally was well worth any unfounded proliferation concerns:American President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

“The United States and India are natural partners,” Bush said at a signing ceremony in the East Room attended

While that may be true, it seems that America’s decision to open up nuclear technology and material trade to India might be pushing India just as close to other countries: specifically, Russia.

Seems like those “rivalries” from the Cold War are back.

AKI news reports on Putin’s no-strings attached offer to India for nuclear materials and technology:

In an interview…on the eve of his departure for India, President Putin has said that this access should be available under the framework of international centres for nuclear fuel enrichment under the control of international organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said that all countries had the right to access modern technologies “while simultaneously complying with the principles and requirements of non-proliferation.”

Putin said that he was referring not just to India but also to “threshold” countries like Iran, which should all be looked at as universal and not isolated cases. He made it clear that Russia did not want to be a superpower as it did not “wantRussian President Putin and the Indian Prime Minister to be the object of fear and be regarded as the enemy.” In the process, he has thrown open the doors for nuclear cooperation with India without attaching a single condition for a permanent and uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel for the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, construction of additional nuclear reactors and transfer of reprocessing technology…

The US is now getting worried about the Russian strategy to not just open the doors for India, but to also set the pace for greater cooperation in the key nuclear and defence sectors. Unlike the other recent visits by President Putin to India, this one is very different, according to experts here, who see in it a top-level decision to give a new momentum to India-Russia relations for an era of accelerated cooperation.

The Times of India reports on what to expect from Putin’s New Delhi visit:

A statement of intent on nuclear cooperation, a joint venture between Rosneft and OVL and first steps together in space development will mark Russian president Vladimir Putin’s bi-annual visit to India. India and Russia are expected to sign around 10 agreements on Thursday…

The final clause is the key here: until the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) grants India an exemption, Russia will not move a muscle in that direction.

This has been made very clear to India, despite an eagerness on part of the UPA government to get Russia to commit itself, which could have been construed as a testimony to India’s ‘independence’.

The NYTimes fails to completely convey the irony of this development for the Bush administration:

As for weaponry, Russia is already India’s largest military partner. Paradoxically, when the India-United States nuclear deal opens the door for New Delhi to buy acquire technology for its civilian nuclear program, Russia may benefit the most. Kanwal Sibal,Is this in the balance? India’a ambassador to Russia, predicted that Russia would be “among the first, if not the first, to walk in” and sell technology to India.

The deal with the United States permits India to purchase nuclear fuel, reactors and other items around the world, provided that it obtains advance approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a coalition of 45 countries that regulates international atomic trade. Russia is already building two nuclear reactors in India, and the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, was quoted earlier this week by Interfax saying that his government was prepared to build more.

But why, when India is so close to winning a hard-fought deal with the United States is India so quick to conclude a deal with Russia—particularly when they still need to overcome the hurdle for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)?

Beyond the simple reason that the majority of the Indian public thinks nuclear technology is its right and not some U.S. gift to confer, there is another fact that the International Herald Tribune highlights:

A key element of their relationship was rooted in an unwritten code: that India would buy enormous amounts of Russian military hardware, and Moscow would not supply defense equipment to India’s neighboring archrival, Pakistan.

Russian politicians warned there will likely be consequences if India shops elsewhere.

“I believe this situation could stay, but only on condition that India, in its turn, will continue to view Russia as the main source of weapons,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told The Associated Press.

So while it would seem diplomatically “smart” to first get the U.S. deal finished up, India 1) must win the support of other NSG’s members, like Russia, and 2) feels an intense pressure to assuage any Russian fears that India is now firmly in the American bloc.

While understandable, this shift seems to highlight the faulty logic of the Bush administration. The Bush White House put nuclear issues–and not trade–at the heart of the Indian relationship.

In so doing, they have allowed other nuclear powers–be they China or Russia–to more evenly compete with them for influence in India, a nation whose public is very attune to their nuclear status–eschewing our natural advantages: India and the United States are liberal states, both are democratic and have strong economic ties.

In any case, arguments that this deal–in the short-term–would wedge India into the American camp when it came to international relations have been off the mark.

Whether in the long-term this changes is an open question: but it seems Bush’s emphasis on bestowing nuclear acceptance to India has proven a costly distraction.

In sum: America has been seen as the state that has relaxed prohibitions against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, without getting anything in return.

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