President Bush’s announcement of a cooperative agreement with India on
nuclear power generation technology should have come as no surprise. As
early as 2001 the Bush Administration was looking at ways of expanding
the American relationship with India. The 2004 India-U.S. Next Step
initiative suggested a ‘presumption of approval’ for American dual use
nuclear equipment exports to India, and that policy is essentially what
the Bush Administration’s agreement with India attempts to accomplish.
However, the Administration’s initiative is not legal under current
American law, and poses a significant danger of collapsing the core
obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) – the
central source of authority for global non-proliferation, and the very
treaty under which the Administration currently seeks to refer Iran to
the Security Council. In order for the Administration to open India to
American exports of nuclear technology, the Congress will have to pass
a concurrent resolution waiving several provisions of the Atomic Energy Act. (for details Download CRS Report).
There are significant reasons why Congress should not do so. The most
salient being the damage it would do international reliance on core
commitments of the NNPT, and the resulting encouragement of nuclear
proliferation and regional escalation, especially in Asia.
No serious commentator thinks that the impact of Bush’s India agreement will be anything other than to risk the continuing efficacy of NNPT. What most people disagree about is the countervailing benefits that will come as a result of the agreement. The positive effect of the deal is often described in glowing general terms of economic benefit, greater cooperation with India, and better access to Indian facilities for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Economist even portrays it as a bold gamble in international atomic energy policy by Bush.
I have my doubts about the purported benefits of the India nuclear agreement. There is nothing in the agreement that guarantees that benefits will accrue to American firms. There will remain many Indian nuclear facilities outside of any regulatory framework. And there is no guarantee, or enforcement mechanism, to prevent further diversions of nuclear materials to India’s nuclear weapons program. The entire agreement practically invites China to extend the same sort of deal to Pakistan, whom we refused to deal with. The result of such a China-Pakistan deal could set off a destabilizing nuclear escalation in South Asia.
On the other hand, I have little hesitation in characterizing Bush’s motivations on the India deal as the same sort of short-term thinking that has characterized his entire Presidency. He is arbitraging the long-term benefits of a working, though ailing, NNPT against his narrow, short-term interest in buying Indian cooperation with an economic embargo against Iran (India being a major buyer of Iranian oil), and a blatant attempt to curry favor with preferred U.S. energy-related companies who stand to commercially benefit from the new market Bush seeks to open for them.
If Bush were working to open the Indian nuclear market as part of a push to re-negotiate the NNPT in a general fashion, I would see that as bold global leadership. Instead, Bush is trying to carve out a hypocritical little exception to the principles of the NNPT for his current geo-political favorite, at the expense of undermining global confidence in international law, and in the solemn agreements of the American government. Bush is balancing his immediate strategic goal to isolate and punish Iran, and the billions in new business that would open to his political allies against the long-term geo-strategic stability of the world’s nuclear arsenals and America’s prestige as a world leader, and, as usual, he is deeply discounting America’s long-term interests in order to promote his immediate political goals.
Bush has been and remains a small President, with limited, though acute, domestic political instincts, and no sense of the kind of leadership that has made America the leader of the free world. He has the ethics and vision of ward heeler who has been elevated suddenly to leadership of the greatest power in the world: the results speak for themselves. Bush feeds voraciously on the long-term welfare of the world, for his little morality plays and political coups of today. In this way, Bush is exactly what was promised when he ran in 2000: our first CEO President, concerned only with the quarterly returns.