Minutes to midnight

Minutes to midnight

Congress must act to stop world-threatening nuclear deal

By John Grula 09/18/2008

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A deeply flawed US-India nuclear cooperation agreement that looked dead two months ago has suddenly sprung back to life. Three recent events have revived this once-moribund nuclear deal: In late July the Indian Parliament narrowly approved the deal in a highly contentious vote. Then, on Aug. 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) consented to an inspection regime that will allow it to monitor India’s civilian nuclear reactors. Finally, on Sept. 6, heavy-handed pressure from the US forced the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to also acquiesce to the deal.

This agreement, which must still be approved by Congress, would give India special worldwide access to nuclear technology and fuels such as enriched uranium. If adopted later this month, it would go into effect despite the fact that India is one of a very small number of renegade states that have never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation, India has instead built a nuclear arsenal of 60 to 120 weapons over the last 34 years. This stockpiling has greatly increased tensions in South Asia and triggered an arms race with its neighbor, Pakistan, which now has a similar number of nuclear weapons, according to the group.

By signing this agreement in December 2006, President Bush reversed nearly 30 years of American non-proliferation policy which began with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978. The agreement would also make India an exception to the US Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits the trade of nuclear materials with nations that have not signed the NN-PT. To reward with special favors a nation like India — which has been a major contributor to nuclear proliferation and a regional arms race — is a colossal step backward in the world’s struggle to stop proliferation and move toward nuclear disarmament.

For example, the deal creates a dangerous and hypocritical double standard that will make it more difficult to convince other nuclear nations like Pakistan to stop enlarging and improving their arsenals. It’s also important to remember that Pakistan, like its neighbor Afghanistan, is home to terrorist elements that no doubt seek nuclear materials and weapons. Thus, any expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear programs might result in nuclear materials and/or weapons falling into very dangerous hands. The likelihood of this threat now appears even greater in light of an Aug. 11 report by Newsweek that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is rife with Islamist sympathizers who played a role in the Taliban’s high-fatality July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan only underscores the threats posed by this unstable nation.

The double standard that would be set by ratifying the US-India nuclear deal will also provide an excuse for other nations that may aspire to develop nuclear weapons, including Iran, to ramp up their weapons programs. In this context, it is also disturbing that military ties between India and Iran were recently strengthened with the formation last year of a Joint Defense Working Group.

India and Iran have conducted joint naval exercises, and some Indian companies have been sanctioned by the US for delivering expertise and technology to Iran that could have very dangerous military applications, according to the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

While it may seem comforting that the deal allows the IAEA to monitor India’s 14 civilian nuclear reactors, India also has eight military nuclear reactors that will remain off-limits to IAEA inspections, according to Physics Today. These eight military reactors, therefore, could continue operating in secret to expand and upgrade India’s nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, as the agreement now stands, Indian officials have stated that it does not limit India’s right to conduct additional nuclear tests. If Congress approves this deal, it will essentially be giving India free rein to accelerate South Asia’s nuclear arms race. If the US exports nuclear fuels to India for use in its civilian reactors, as the deal makes possible, it will enable India to redirect all of its limited supply of native uranium to producing weapons-grade plutonium for use in warheads.

Is there anything good about this US-India nuclear agreement? Perhaps some big American corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse will make a lot of money selling nuclear fuel and equipment to India. But this is hardly a good enough reason to invite more nuclear crises. And although the agreement’s supporters, including President Bush, also claim it will strengthen US-Indian relations, there are many other, more constructive ways to accomplish that objective.
In the meantime, Congress needs to step up to the plate and reject this highly defective deal. As he has before in matters of nuclear non-proliferation, Pasadena Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff should take a leadership role in working to quash this latest foreign policy blunder by the outgoing Bush administration.
John Grula is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.

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