President George W. Bush, during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month, agreed to provide India with access to sensitive nuclear technology and sophisticated nuclear-capable weapons systems. This proposed agreement represents a dangerous misunderstanding of how America can best use foreign assistance in support of economic development and international security.
To begin with, it does not require India to eliminate its nuclear weapons program or its ballistic missile systems, as called upon by a 1998 U.N. Security Council resolution, or even to cease production of weapons-grade plutonium that enables India to further expand its arsenal of more than three dozen nuclear warheads.
Furthermore, in order for the proposed U.S.-Indian agreement to be implemented, the Bush administration will need Congress to amend the U.S. Non-Proliferation Act of 2000, which bans the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to any country that refuses to accept international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. It will also mean contravening the rules of the 40-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which controls the export of nuclear technology and to which the United States is a signatory.
Coupled with President Bush's announcement last month of its intention to sell $3 billion worth of nuclear-capable military aircraft to Pakistan, it raises questions regarding the administration's commitment to arms control and nuclear nonproliferation.
Even if the nuclear assistance now being offered by the United States were somehow limited solely to peaceful uses, this agreement would still be bad for India. Advanced industrialized countries have found nuclear power to be an extremely dangerous and expensive means to generate electricity and there is little likelihood India would be any better at handling such hazardous technology. As evidenced by the 1984 accident at a Union Carbide chemical facility in the Indian city of Bhopal, which killed more than 20,000 people, there are serious questions regarding the ability of Indian authorities to adequately safeguard the public from major industrial accidents.
India's interest in procuring additional nuclear technology is ironic, moreover, given that the man who led the country's struggle for freedom from British colonialism, Mohandas Gandhi, was not only a pacifist and an opponent of the partition of his country between India and Pakistan, but also opposed centralized control of basic necessities like energy--whether it be by the state or private corporations. Were he alive today, Gandhi would not only be leading the struggle against the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement, he would be an outspoken advocate for small-scale, locally controlled renewable energy and other …