The Dangerous Trade-off

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.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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