Wed, Oct 08, 2008 - Page 9 News List

India an exception when it comes to selling nuclear materials

By Shashi Tharoor

The ratification by the US Congress of the historic India-US Nuclear Agreement marks a remarkable new development in world affairs. Initially signed in July 2005, the agreement is a major milestone in the growing partnership between the world’s largest democracies.

That agreement signals recognition of what may be called “the Indian exception” — a decision by the world’s sole superpower, together with all other nations involved in commerce in nuclear-related materials, to sell such materials to India, despite India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its two nuclear tests.

India’s refusal to sign the NPT was based on principle, for the NPT is the last vestige of apartheid in the international system, granting as it does to five permanent members of the UN Security Council the right to be nuclear weapons states while denying the same right to others. A long-time advocate of global nuclear disarmament, India’s moral stand on the NPT enjoys near-unanimous backing within the country. Its weapons program is also widely (though far from universally) supported at home as a security imperative in a dangerous neighborhood.

Unlike Iran and North Korea, which signed the NPT and then violated its provisions through clandestine nuclear weapons programs, India has openly pursued its own nuclear development, and it has a stellar record on non-proliferation, never exporting its technology or leaking a nuclear secret. Moreover, its nuclear program is under strict civilian control.

All of this is implicitly recognized in the newly ratified India-US accord, which survived tough bilateral negotiations, codification of its provisions into US law, and unanimous approval in August by the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Finally, the Nuclear Suppliers Group of 45 countries, urged by the US President George W. Bush’s administration to follow the IAEA’s example, did so unconditionally.

US congressional was the last act of a long drama, and it cleared the way for US companies to bid for Indian nuclear contracts, an area in which they will face stiff competition from France and Russia. But the agreement’s main significance should be seen in terms of the burgeoning Indo-American relationship.

Estranged during the Cold War by US support for Pakistan and India’s leadership of the non-aligned movement, the two countries have been drawing ever closer during the last decade.

Bilateral trade is booming. US companies have quintupled their investments in India over the last decade. Indians are reading MRIs for US patients, providing call-center support for US consumers, and delivering world-class research and development services for US companies. Polls have repeatedly revealed that India is one of the few countries in the developing world where the US is still held in high regard.

India has also become a more visible presence in the US. There are more Indian students at US universities than those of any other foreign nationality. The successes of the growing Indian-American population have made it an influential minority in the US, including thousands of doctors and nurses, innovative Silicon Valley professionals (one of whom invented the Pentium chip, while another created Hotmail), the chief executive officers of Citigroup and Pepsi, two US astronauts, and the young governor of Louisiana — in addition to taxi-drivers, gas-station attendants, and clerks at all-night convenience stores.

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