I'm not ready to pronounce on the merits of the deal announced tonight on nuclear proliferation between Bush and Indian President Manmohan Singh, but I will offer some early musings.
The deal would open the door for the US and others to aid India in building its civilian nuclear power capabilities despite the country's refusal to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It provides for inspections of the 14 of India's 22 nuclear facilities that the country classifies as civilian, but leaves the remaining 8 military nuclear facilities to operate unimpeded. The agreement needs Congressional approval and some legislative amendments before it can go into effect, and whether it will get those is in question.
There's a lot to this, but let me just offer a few observations:
1. US-India Relationship. There's been a lot of pressure on Bush to demonstrate tangible progress is tightening ties to India, mostly as a counterweight to China's rising power. With talk of how Bush can salvage a foreign policy legacy despite the morass in Iraq, this agreement has the potential to pave the way for a realignment, strengthening the ties between two leading democracies and deepening American influence on the sub-continent. All this is good.
2. Future of the NPT. Many are pointing to this deal as the potential death knell for the NPT, in that it extends to India the same privileges that were formerly reserved for countries that renounced nuclear weapons development. This is true, but nothing new. The longstanding issues are discussed here. Bottom line is that the NPT has been hobbling along for years and its not clear that pretending otherwise has served the cause of nonproliferation. This is why IAEA Chair Mohammed El-Baradei has actually endorsed the deal. I don't see this as the worst of all things.
3. Legitimacy of the US's Non-Proliferation Efforts - While the contradictions inherent in the US's proliferation policy have been apparent for years, this deal would seem to mark end of US efforts to contort its policies to fit the NPT. While that may be justified, if we do not move to undergird the deal with India with a new, broader non-proliferation framework that would justify differential treatment of states based on some objective criteria we will have zero credibility in trying to crack down on proliferators like Iran. As we learned the hard way in Iraq, credibility in such efforts is a precondition for international support which, in turn, can be a prerequisite for success. But the Administration has failed to proffer a vision for a redesigned non-proliferation regime, leading others to conclude that we don't care whether our proliferation policies are seen as legitimate or no. In the absence of a credible effort to relaunch the non-proliferation regime, the accord with India will be viewed as just another circumvention of the rules. This will undoubtedly be damaging to the US.
4. Pakistan. The Pakistanis aren't happy about the Indians getting a sweet nuclear deal that they will never match. Will this snubbing further embolden the extremists that have already twice tried to assassinate Musharraf and take over the country and its nuclear arsenal? It could very well. This is a worrying wild card.
Suzanne Nossel is a Senior Fellow at the Security and Peace Initiative, a joint Project of the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation. She blogs regularly at www.democracyarsenal.org