The Common Good
January 2009

The Dangerous Trade-off

by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, Larry Pullen | January 2009

The U.S.-India nuclear deal fans the flames of the global arms race.

Last fall, large majorities in Congress approved a U.S.- India nuclear trade agreement that allows full civil nuclear cooperation—the sale of fuel, technology, and reactors—to India. This agreement may provide opportunity for the U.S. nuclear industry, but it is a myopic tradeoff: It benefits corporations but threatens to escalate the global proliferation of nuclear weapons.

One big problem with the deal is that India could reprocess plutonium from civilian nuclear facilities for use in weapons. India has the necessary production capability; in fact, India tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and again in 1998, and is estimated to have stockpiled between 50 and 250 such weapons.

For three decades, the U.S. restricted nuclear commerce with India because of its refusal to comply with international nonproliferation standards for nuclear weapons. India is still one of only three states never to have signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Under the NPT, which entered into force in 1970, non-nuclear powers agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons technology. In exchange, nuclear powers would help them obtain nuclear energy for peaceful uses—and would commit to eventually eliminating their own nuclear arsenals.

But, far from working toward a nuclear weapons-free world, the U.S. is now encouraging India to flout the NPT. Nor has India ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, unlike 145 other countries. By legitimizing India’s nuclear program outside the regime of the NPT—that is, outside the commitment to global nuclear disarmament—the recent U.S.-India deal undermines the world’s security and the rule of law.

In order to take this agreement to Congress, the Bush administration first had to gain the approval of the 45-member multinational Nuclear Suppliers Group. The group ultimately approved the agreement after India pledged to adhere to a unilateral nuclear weapons testing moratorium and to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency authority to ensure its nuclear materials and facilities were for peaceful, not military, purposes. The agreement provides for inspection of India’s civilian nuclear operations—but not its nuclear weapons facilities.

U.S. LAW mandates that nuclear trade with India cease in the event India tests another nuclear weapon, but at that point, the damage would have been done—and other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group would still be free to sell nuclear materials to India.

It should not be surprising, given the history of hostility between Pakistan and India, that just hours after the India exemption passed the U.S. Congress, Pakistan called for a similar arrangement—which will certainly not be forthcoming. But this kind of double standard demonstrates the instability generated when the U.S. acts as though nuclear weapons are acceptable in “responsible” hands. This calls into fundamental question America’s commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world and in turn encourages non-nuclear powers to develop their own arsenals—threatening the nonproliferation regime that is the bedrock of U.S. national security and global stability.

In order to free the world of nuclear weapons, as former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former defense secretary William Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn have proposed, Washington should do several things. First, the new administration should take all steps necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as 145 countries have already done. Second, the administration should conduct a nuclear posture review that is committed to the NPT goals. Third, the U.S. government should energetically pursue negotiations with Iran to dissuade that country from developing nuclear weapons.

As Christians, we have a vision of a time when nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). With this vision and God’s grace, all nuclear weapons will one day be destroyed. It is the faith informed by this promise that causes us to work for peace.

—Larry Pullen and Tyler Wigg Stevenson

Larry Pullen is advocacy director and Tyler Wigg Stevenson is policy director of Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger (www.faithful security.org).

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