The Magazine

The India Syndrome

U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy melts down.

Aug 1, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 43 • By HENRY SOKOLSKI
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Second, if we are to take seriously India's pledge to behave just like the other nuclear weapons state members of the NPT, India's receipt of nuclear benefits should be conditioned on its behaving as if it were one. On this point, India has a ways to go, and we should not tire of pointing this out. Every one of the NPT's nuclear weapons states--Russia, China, France, Britain, the United States--for example, has stopped making fissile materials for bombs and has so declared. All but one--China--have declared at least some portion of their military fissile stockpiles to be in excess of their military requirements. India has been asked to do likewise, but has refused. It claims to support adoption of a formal treaty ending such production, knowing full well that this treaty has been under negotiation for years and is unlikely ever to be adopted. Neither the United States nor other nuclear supplier states should settle for this.

Similarly, every NPT nuclear weapons state has declared that all of its reactors that are connected to an electrical grid are civilian facilities subject to international inspections. India continues to mix its dedicated military facilities and its power reactors but has now pledged to separate them. At a minimum, we and other nuclear supplier states must insist that New Delhi declare that any reactor that's already hooked to India's electrical grid is a civilian facility. Following the lead of all other NPT nuclear states on this point should be made a condition to gaining free access to controlled nuclear goods.

Finally, as a practical matter, a majority of NPT weapons states--the United States, France, and Britain--allow foreign or private investment in, ownership, and management of their civilian nuclear utilities and facilities and have nuclear liability insurance arrangements sufficient to secure such investment. It would be a grave mistake for the United States to demand anything less of India.

In the best of worlds, the Bush administration should never have opened this nuclear door. The geopolitical and economic benefits to be gained are uncertain, while the costs to our nonproliferation policies will be high--and potentially dangerous. But the fateful step having already been taken, it is imperative that the administration and Congress make the best of it by insisting that, if India is to be treated as if it were an NPT nuclear weapons state for the purpose of transferring nuclear goods, it must at least live up to its past nonproliferation commitments and behave as other responsible nuclear weapons states do.

Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.