Bush, India, and the Future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty

In Slate.com, Fred Kaplan on Bush’s nuclear deal with India.

It began last July, when Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement pledging to “transform” their two countries’ relations—for many decades hostile, even now ambivalent—into a “global partnership.” This was a shrewd geopolitical maneuver. A grand alliance with India—the world’s largest democracy, one of the fastest-growing economies, a natural partner in the war on terrorism, a vast market already oriented toward American goods and services, a counterweight against the prospect of an emergent China—would serve U.S. interests in every way and help regain our standing on a continent where our influence has waned.

But there was a catch, or at least a knot that would have to be untangled. What India wanted out of this deal, above all else, was access to materials for nuclear energy. India faces staggering energy demands over the coming decade, yet it lacks the resources to meet them. The Nonproliferation Treaty obliges the existing nuclear-armed powers—including the United States—to supply such resources to the treaty’s signatories, under specific terms of inspection, as a reward for forgoing nuclear weaponry. However, India already has an arsenal of A-bombs, and it never signed the NPT.

Bush and Singh dealt with this dilemma last summer by simply ignoring it. India, their joint statement declared, would be treated “as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology” and should therefore be allowed to “acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states.”