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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - James Holmes

RealClearPolitics - Articles - James Holmes

Last Build Date: Fri, 04 Aug 2006 12:30:52 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

The Indian Nuclear Deal and Congress

Fri, 04 Aug 2006 12:30:52 -0600

This has been public knowledge for a full six years.

The critics hyping a new India-Pakistan arms race have been privy not only to news reports but to classified government reports documenting Pakistan's determination to beef up its nuclear arsenal. Especially egregious was the opposition of Robert Einhorn, an outspoken backer of the ISIS report. The ultimate insider, Einhorn headed up nonproliferation policy for the Clinton State Department. And he played down Pakistan's nuclear efforts when grilled before Congress.

So Pakistan's nuclear ambitions are a side issue. Instead the timing of these revelations smacks of a political "late hit" on a major Bush administration foreign-policy initiative: the July 2005 nuclear deal with India that was approved overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives and is now pending before the Senate. Markey, Einhorn & Co. were flinging around sensational charges in a last-ditch bid to shift opinion against the agreement.

In all likelihood, more such shenanigans are in store for September, when the full Senate will reportedly vote on the measure. The Senate should shrug off any new late hits.

Let's recap the controversy surrounding the nuclear pact. Washington agreed to lift longstanding bans on transfers of nuclear fuel, technology, and reactors to India's commercial nuclear sector. Specialists in weapons nonproliferation fear that such seemingly innocuous hardware and substances could be diverted to construct nuclear weaponry--as indeed they could if not subjected to stringent, preferably international oversight.

For its part, New Delhi agreed for the first time to tighten legal controls over exports of weapons-related materiel and to place its nuclear program under international safeguards. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog body, will enjoy access to Indian nuclear power plants and related facilities under the accord. Indeed, some 65 percent of India's nuclear complex will now undergo international scrutiny.

That's a major advance in the fight against weapons proliferation. The nuclear deal represents a net gain in the fight to deny terrorists or regimes the makings of nuclear weapons--weapons they would gladly use against the United States or its friends.

Nonetheless, nonproliferation experts have inveighed against the agreement, contending that it in effect exempts India from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which only recognizes five states (the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China) as legitimate nuclear weapon states. New Delhi has never acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and opponents of the nuclear accord fear that U.S. technical assistance will in effect affix the stamp of legitimacy to the Indian arsenal.

The Bush administration, say critics, wants to reward India for flouting the ideals underlying the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In this view, Washington is fueling an arms race and creating incentives for future Indias to pursue covert nuclear efforts--all for the sake of courting this rising Asian power.

But, to the dismay of the critics, their objections to the deal haven't swayed the American people or their elected representatives. Both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee approved the agreement by lopsided margins (16-2 and 37-5, respectively). The full House of Representatives voted in favor of the deal by a resounding 359-68. The Senate is poised to do the same.

Having failed to spike the nuclear deal through reasoned debate, critics are attempting to create hysteria over a chimerical arms race in South Asia. The Senate should see through this ploy when it debates the nuclear accord this fall, and President Bush should follow suit. The agreement must go forward--enlisting India as an ally in the battle against nuclear proliferation.