Politics & Policy

Bush’S Triumph in India

Not all regimes are created equal. That has been the guiding insight of the George W. Bush’s foreign policy–and, this week, it produced a major diplomatic triumph for the United States.

That triumph is the agreement of Bush and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to a deal on India’s nuclear program. The deal would let India buy reactor components and nuclear fuel from the United States and other countries; in exchange, India would classify 14 of its 22 nuclear facilities as “civilian” and allow international inspections of them. (The remaining facilities would be considered military sites, and would not be subject to inspections.) The deal must be approved by Congress in order to take effect, and it deserves bipartisan support.

To understand the significance of this breakthrough, remember that India has long been a pariah state on matters of nuclear proliferation. Its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) poisoned U.S.-Indian relations, and Washington slapped sanctions on New Delhi after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The common wisdom was that India’s emergence as a nuclear power would destabilize southern Asia, and could not be considered anything less than a major defeat to the cause of non-proliferation.

In some quarters, that analysis still prevails. And it is strengthened–or so its proponents argue–by the nuclear aims of North Korea and Iran. How, it is asked, can the United States maintain that Iran and North Korea shouldn’t have nukes when it blesses Indian possession of the same? That thought found forceful expression in the words of Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat of Massachusetts, who called the deal “a historic failure of this president to tackle the real nuclear threats that we face.”

But it is Markey who doesn’t understand the nature of the threats. His analysis fails to discriminate between the governments in New Delhi, Tehran, and Pyongyang. India is a stable democracy with a history of working to promote stability (as witness its recent efforts, reciprocated by Pervez Musharraf, to thaw Indian-Pakistani relations). Despite not having signed the NPT, India has never transferred its nuclear technology to another state–and the deal, by bringing India under the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency, would give it a formal obligation not to do so in the future. While there is no plausible scenario in which India would use its nuclear power to threaten the United States, Iran and North Korea could not plausibly be expected to do otherwise.

“Far from undermining

U.S. interests, the deal will

likely bring important


It takes a high degree of naivety to think that the deal will somehow affect the calculus of Iran, North Korea, or other would-be nuclear powers. Those states have their own reasons for wanting the bomb, and the thought of Kim Jong-Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad poring over the U.S.-India agreement and shouting “Eureka!” as he spots the loophole that lets him build his nukes is charming but absurd. India, for its part, will continue its nuclear-weapons development, deal or no deal. We’re not worried about that–but if you are, President Bush hasn’t changed anything for you.

Far from undermining U.S. interests, the deal will likely bring important benefits. The priorities of the United States and India overlap in many areas, from trade (U.S. exports to India grew by over 30 percent in 2004, while Indian exports to the U.S. rose by roughly 15 percent), to the struggle against Islamic terrorism, to concern over the rise of Chinese power–which could be checked, if China ever bared its teeth, through a strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi. And with India’s economy growing at 8 percent per year, it will have a powerful thirst for energy. It’s consistent with our desire to keep oil prices low–and favorable to our national security–for India to slake that thirst without cozying up to Middle Eastern oil producers, and particularly Iran, with which it has traditionally had warm relations.

Bush’s detractors like to criticize his supposed lack of realism. But this agreement is an embrace of reality. Bush saw that the continued marginalization of India would do nothing to change the conduct of any state for the better–so instead he found a way to bring India into the international fold on nuclear-proliferation issues. In the same move, he strengthened our ties with India to the benefit of both countries, and he took the world a step closer to accepting that a regime’s character is far more important that its signature on a piece of paper in deciding whether it should be trusted with nuclear technology. Well done, Mr. President.


The Latest