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It’s No Game April 2, 2006

Posted by Matt Hurst in Uncategorized.
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(sadly, the following is no joke – April Fool’s Day is over).
In The Economist’s article “Dr. Strangedeal” the author criticizes the Bush administration’s proposal to allow the import of nuclear fuel and technology to India as a dangerous gamble that might still encourage proliferation. The author establishes the conflict not in India’s desire to acquire more nuclear fuel for civilian power reactors, but instead in the United States’ obligations to honor the Non-Proliferation Treaty while superceding other proliferation laws if India were to break them. To continue establishing the dangers of India’s vertical proliferation of weapons grade plutonium, The Economist argues that the bending of rules might encourage a horizontal proliferation of other states already or close to possessing nuclear status. In this final caution given, the author suggests that other countries in the nearby region (notably China and Pakistan) might escalate weapons proliferation as a result of realist self-interest in ensuring their own security. The conclusion drawn in the article is that the US Congress should deny the change proposed in anti-proliferation laws.
In many respects, this article makes clear the many dangers that American cooperation with an undeclared nuclear state poses to weapons proliferation. The author makes clear that while India has not singed the NPT, the United States has agreed to transfer weapons technology a state that is not made a de facto declaration of their power (and would be considered a non-nuclear state by the NPT). While it did ensure some safeguards in doing so, it did in effect violate the treaty by protecting a country that would otherwise be limited in their capacity in vertical proliferation. It also does not restrict the production of fissile material used in weaponizing any nuclear energy India could make with civilian enrichment.
The author also makes a convincing argument about the precedent set by bending the rules on vertical proliferation poses to other countries who have signed the NPT. Instead of encouraging India to begin disarming their own nuclear arsenal and ensure their security by working towards the same with Pakistan, the United States in effect encourages India’s own gamble on security in the region. As a potential result, this does move Pakistan (India’s rival) closer to the potential influence of China should they also adopt similar transfers of weapons technology to ensure their own security. This could be called horizontal proliferation by any other name. In a region that would benefit from an atmosphere of disarming, the strategic escalation of weapons set in motion by this initial transfer actually endangers the peace by begging the question of how big the threat could be.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the article’s argument is what this policy change represents to other nuclear proliferation challenges on the world stage in the immediate future. Sure, North Korea has publicly declared their violation of the NPT and other agreements made with the US, but their possession is held as a threat where India is not. Like India, Iran too has expressed an interest in establishing a civilian nuclear energy program (never mind that no such program has ever been profitable because of the costs), but instead the US acted to restrict said development while passively encouraging a nuclear Israel. These kind of threats are real, but at no point does India inherit the responsibility required by these countries that agreed the to NPT as a means of ensuring security through de-escalation. If anything, a change in policy with India is an encouragement of violation of anti-proliferation measures without consequences or responsibility, in ways that immediate threaten tentative regional security, by non-nuclear weapons states and de facto powers alike.

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