Dealing with India's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 28, 2008 | Go to article overview

Dealing with India's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions


Byline: Michael Krepon, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Michael Krepon

The global system designed to prevent and reverse proliferation was built on bedrock conservative principles. In designing this structure, U.S. presidents have methodically sought to establish norms through treaties and laws that penalize proliferation and incentivize responsible behavior. Establishing rules against proliferation hasn't prevented rule breaking, but it has helped to isolate and penalize bad actors. The foundation of this structure was built around the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty. Two of its key bulwarks are the International Atomic Energy Agency, which carries out inspections at nuclear facilities, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulates commerce. These bodies still have multiple weaknesses, but they have helped keep proliferation in check.

True conservatives don't undermine institutions and norms that serve essential purposes without having something better to take their place. The Bush administration chose a different course to promote nuclear power plant construction in India. The profits and jobs created will go elsewhere - primarily to Russia and France - but the downside risks of placing profit taking ahead of nonproliferation principles could be far-reaching and widely shared.

One mark of the Nonproliferation Treaty's remarkable success is how much attention we rightly pay to the few countries that do not play by its rules. More than 180 countries faithfully abide by the NPT's legal framework. IAEA inspection teams carried out more than 1,700 inspections at nuclear facilities last year alone, and regulations against nuclear commerce that could result in proliferation have been systematically toughened. One critical protection against proliferation is the IAEA's principle that safeguards are to be placed in perpetuity on nuclear facilities subject to inspection. Another is the NSG's principle that nuclear suppliers should operate by consensus before changing the rules of nuclear commerce. The consensus rule has made the NSG the world's most unusual cartel, designed to prevent profit taking when proliferation would likely result.

The Bush administration has bent these fundamental principles out of shape in lobbying the IAEA and the NSG to change the rules on India's behalf. There is no mention of the word perpetuity for safeguards in India, and New Delhi has consistently asserted that safeguards would be lifted if there are disruptions in foreign fuel supplies at power plants. The primary reason for disruption would be a resumption of nuclear testing by India.

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