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Civilian Nuclear Cooperation

New Delhi's message to Washington: Drop Dead.

12:00 AM, Sep 6, 2006 • By HENRY SOKOLSKI
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SOME PEOPLE just can't take yes for an answer. A year ago, the White House proposed giving India civilian nuclear help in hopes of improving relations with New Delhi. That India had used earlier U.S. nuclear assistance to test a bomb in 1974 and then proceeded to test more weapons in 1998 was forgiven. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers went through the tedious task (over the loud objections of nonproliferation critics) of changing 30 years of U.S. laws so the White House could export sensitive nuclear goods to India. How has all this been greeted in New Delhi? With imperious contempt.

In a speech before India's parliament on August 17, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made it all too clear that India was not yet ready to accept America's liberality. U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation, he argued, was about getting rid of technology controls, rather than--as White House officials had been insisting--a way to strengthen nonproliferation. "The central imperative in our discussions with the United States," Singh said, "is to ensure the complete and irreversible removal of existing restrictions imposed on India through iniquitous restrictive trading regimes over the years."

What did he mean by "iniquitous restrictive trading regimes"? The short answer is all the strategic technology restraints the U.S. government has helped establish and still holds dear. These include export and end-use controls for sensitive high-technology transfers, the Wassenaar Arrangement to control militarily useful technologies and goods, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear safeguards system, the Australia Agreement on chemical and biological weapons-related commerce, and President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to interdict illicit international trade in strategic weapons-related goods.

Never mind that Congress has made no binding requirements on India in its enabling legislation for nuclear cooperation. Congress asked only that the State Department and the president report on India's willingness to adhere to its nonproliferation commitments and spelled out what U.S. policy should be regarding these restrictions. Still, Singh objects that even alluding to such external controls as the PSI, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group is an insult to India's sovereignty.

WITH REGARD TO President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative--which aims to get nations to enforce their own laws to stem illicit international weapons-related trade and which Secretary Rice hoped India would cooperate in--Singh was dismissively curt. This is "an extraneous issue," he said, that "we cannot accept." Singh also rejected the idea that Congress should receive any reports certifying India's compliance with its nonproliferation commitments. "We have made it clear to the United States our opposition to these provisions, even if they are projected as nonbinding on India," because "this would introduce an element of uncertainty regarding future cooperation and"--again--"is not acceptable to us."

Reporting requirements, it should be noted, are normally what Congress lays down when it is confused by complex issues and does not want to address them. How, then, might requiring State and the president to report on India's nonproliferation compliance "introduce an element of uncertainty"? Simple: An honest report right now would prove embarrassing. Over the last 20 months, the State Department has sanctioned no fewer than seven separate Indian entities for transferring strategic weapons-related technology or goods to Iran.

One of these entities--Balaji Amines Limited--was sanctioned late in July for selling Iran chemicals critical to manufacturing rocket fuel at the very same time Iranian-supplied missiles to Hezbollah were slamming into the homes of innocents in Haifa. State also sanctioned Y.S.R. Prasad, former chairman of India's entire state-run civilian nuclear program. He is reported to have visited with Iran's nuclear establishment several times and transferred technology to extract tritium, a material necessary to make smaller, more efficient missile-deliverable nuclear warheads. India is demanding that the United States drop its sanctions against Prasad, who is one of the most honored members of India's nuclear elite. He also is one of the eight leading Indian nuclear scientists who recently wrote Singh protesting the nuclear deal's encroachment on India's freedom to expand its nuclear arsenal and to conduct a foreign policy independent of Washington.