Nuclear Reactor Heist

6 Aug

The Carnegie Endowment’s Sharon Squassoni makes a disheartening, yet compelling argument about how the new India-US nuclear deal will undermine America’s bargaining position with both North and South Korea and Iran.

What does the United States get in return for this largesse? It is unlikely to gain much nuclear trade from India, which has been more interested in Russian and French reactors. But it could gain significantly in other areas?for example, defense sales (including missile defenses) and high tech and science cooperation. The hope is that a better, deeper relationship will give India’s foreign policy a more American tilt, perhaps providing a counterweight to China. As for assurances from India, India pledged to build a brand new spent fuel reprocessing plant under international inspections. But this would free up existing plants?those not under inspection?to separate more plutonium for bombs. What’s more, International Atomic Energy Agency inspections don’t track technology, just material and equipment. A new facility under safeguards won’t prevent know-how from migrating over to weapons-related facilities.

In practical terms, this may not matter terribly, since India already has nuclear weapons. But the precedent it sets for others may make U.S. nonproliferation objectives tougher to achieve. For example, in the six party talks with North Korea over dismantling that country’s nuclear program, the United States has not looked favorably upon North Korea’s demand for future nuclear power reactors And, although the United States views North Korea differently from India, since North Korea pulled out of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) while India never joined it the distinction is likely lost on the North Koreans. Just saying “no” to North Korean demands for reactors may become harder as a result.

Many similarly see hypocrisy in rewarding India, a nuclear weapon state outside the NPT, while punishing Iran, an NPT member state that does not yet have the bomb. While there is no question that Iran must be brought back into compliance with its NPT obligations and must heed U.N. Security Council resolutions, how will it view the United States providing the very technologies to India that it seeks to ban Iran from having? Moreover, President Bush told the world in 2004 that ”enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Yet the nuclear cooperation agreement with India sends the opposite message. Why shouldn’t South Korea, for example, seek U.S. approval to reprocess fuel? Adding more states with enrichment and reprocessing capabilities will achieve exactly the opposite of the administration’s goals.

Nukes of Hazard‘s , according to the Indian ambassador to the US. New Dehli actually “expects” a future American administration to abide by the deal, too. But, most disconcertingly, India believes it can continue to test nukes, and still receive all these benefits indefinitely.

But, Squassoni leaves out Pakistan. The Indo-Pakistan nuclear rivalry is arguably more destabilizing than the Sino-Indian competition. Pakistan is also politically more unstable. Maintaining good relations with both Beijing, Pakistan’s strongest ally, and India, its bitterest enemy, serves as a vicious zwischenzug reminder of how Washington could isolate Islamabad.

New Dehli should be the world’s poster child for everything, if it hopes to receive such goodies certain to destabilize two regions of the Eurasian continent.

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