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The Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement

Article excerpt

What's the big deal?

The year 2008 saw a paradigm shift in US foreign policy. The US signed the "123" civilian nuclear agreement (referred to as the nuclear deal or simply the deal) with India, a country that is not a nuclear nonproliferation treaty signatory, has nuclear weapons, and until recently was a nuclear pariah. It is extremely surprising that even many scholars of US foreign policy, let alone the public, have given little attention to this rather historic paradigm shift in US policy on civilian nuclear trade. The US government, on the other hand, has passed the new Hyde act, which facilitates the implementation of the civilian nuclear agreement by exempting India from certain requirements of the atomic energy act of 1954.1

The deal was signed between Indian and the US government on 1 October 2008 and cleared by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It gives India access to civilian nuclear technology and is supposed to help the country fulfil its energy requirements. At the same time, India has placed 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and has agreed to separate its civilian and military reactors, which it has not done before. In return, the US companies hope to get a few of the pending multibillion-dollar reactor-building contracts. The deal was signed with India even though it is not a signatory to either the nonproliferation or the comprehensive test ban treaties. The nuclear deal does not require India to give up its nuclear weapons program, but future nuclear testing by India would, as per US law, lead to the US stopping nuclear commerce with India. Republican Senator Richard Lugar stated that this deal was a good incentive for India to refrain from nuclear testing in the future.2 However, there seems to be some room for contention on this issue. The Indian government has asserted that the nuclear deal theoretically does not constrain it from future testing. Furthermore, according to a Council on Foreign Relations publication, "the US Senate rejected an amendment that would require US nuclear supplies to be cut off if India tests nuclear weapons. The deal does not explicitly impose that condition, though it is part of a 2006 law known as the Hyde Act, which gave the deal preliminary approval."3

While it is yet to be seen how the deal is implemented under President Barack Obama's leadership, the analysis presented here is based on the agreement as it exists on paper. The main goal of the article is to address some of the major critiques of the deal, namely that, first, the nuclear deal undermines the nonproliferation treaty and weakens nonproliferation efforts; second, that the deal sets a precedent for other countries like Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan; third, that it allows India to have the biggest nuclear arsenal possible as it frees up its domestic resources of uranium; fourth, that it does not ensure energy security for India and takes away its strategic sovereignty; and fifth, that it will lead to a nuclear arms race in south Asia. The article will review the benefits of the deal and examine who really benefits from it.

The main arguments here are that the deal has been the result of the realization that India will never sign the nonproliferation treaty and that sanctions that were imposed on India have not yielded any results; it will lead to a greater transparency in India's nuclear sector, which reduces the risks of proliferation, nuclear accidents, and nuclear meltdowns; it is a part of America's anti-China strategy; it provides India with the opportunity to reduce its energy deficit and does not compromise India's strategic sovereignty; and, finally, it will not significantly escalate tensions between India and Pakistan. There will be recurring tensions between India and Pakistan irrespective of the nuclear deal; intractable issues such as terrorism and the Kashmir dispute will continue to be the major causes of tension between these two countries. …