India's Emergence as a "Responsible" Nuclear Power

By Sasikumar, Karthika | International Journal, October 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

India's Emergence as a "Responsible" Nuclear Power

Sasikumar, Karthika, International Journal

In 2005, India and the United States announced a nuclear "deal" that would seek to clarify India's ambiguous status in the nuclear order. The sole superpower appeared to be recognizing India's status as a nuclear-armed state by opening up the possibility of nuclear cooperation. This announcement represented the fruit of many years of careful Indian diplomacy aimed at establishing its identity as a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons and forging a closer alliance with the US. This article provides a concise description of the provisions of the 2005 India-US nuclear agreement, and analyzes its global, regional, and domestic implications.

While the nuclear deal, like most events, was the product of a convergence of circumstances (such as the ideological orientation of the administration in the White House and the recent revelations about nuclear transfers out of Pakistan), the main enabling condition was India's strategy constituting itself as a responsible nuclear power. The paper highlights the power of the concept of responsibility, to which the Indian government has repeatedly made reference. It will conclude by comparing the policy options available to the Canadian government in responding to this deal.

In July 2005, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was welcomed to the White House with a state banquet, and on 18 July 2005, a joint statement was issued by Singh and US President George W. Bush. The statement contains various expressions of common interest and pledges that the two governments will work together on counterterrorism, economic, and environmental issues. It also declares, "as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states." Many took this to mean that the US had accepted India's self-declared status as a nuclear weapon state (NWS).

Just over seven years earlier, Bush's predecessor President Bill Clinton had reacted to the news of India's nuclear tests with dismay. After ordering the explosion of five nuclear devices in the Rajasthan desert in the summer of 1998, then-Prime Minister Vajpayee had declared, "India is now a nuclear weapon state." Clinton had described the tests as putting India "on the wrong side of history" and "at odds with the international community" that was working towards nuclear arms control.

In 2005, however, it seemed that India had emerged on the right side of the nonproliferation regime. It had left its undefined and worrisome past behind and was now entering a new era with a validated nuclear identity. The next section will examine how India managed to pull off this feat. I will briefly outline the features of the India-US nuclear cooperation agreement. section three deals with the incentives on the part of the US, and section four discusses the global implications of the nuclear deal. sections five and six will include regional and domestic consequences, respectively. Lastly, I will discuss the policy alternatives available to Canada as it reviews its nuclear policy towards India.


The most significant part of the agreement, obviously, is the statement above by the US president that appears to acknowledge India as a de facto NWS. As per article ix of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), countries that exploded a nuclear device before é January 1967 are NWS and all other states are non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). Thus, the US, the Soviet Union (Russia), the United Kingdom, France, and China are the only legitimate NWS.

India was the first country to test a nuclear device after the NPT's identification of a nuclear explosion as the prerequisite for NWS status. However, since its 1974 explosion was presented to the world as a "peaceful" one-unrelated to the development of weapons-this first test did not challenge the global nuclear order in the same way as did the 1998 tests and the subsequent self-proclamation of NWS status. …

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