US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: What comes next?


On October 1, 2008 the US Congress passed the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. The long anticipated agreement would allow US companies to trade nuclear technology, information, and material to India. It has faced several hurdles, including first passing the US Congress in 2006, the Indian Parliament in July, the IAEA Board of Governors in August, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group in September. Controversy surrounds the agreement because, India is not an established member of the nonproliferation regime and it detonated nuclear devices in 1998. India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Despite the resistance, the agreement passed, and now is in its final stages of negotiations in India. The question now is, what next?

Several questions need to be asked when trying to figure out what is next. How does the United States bring India closer into the nonproliferation regime, when they did not require India to join the NPT or sign the CTBT in the negotiations for the agreement? Also, how does the United States ensure that India does not use the deal to further their weapons program? Finally, how could this agreement fit into the goal of getting to zero?

How could the United States bring India further into the nonproliferation regime? India has long talked about disarming and seeking a global nuclear free world, but could this agreement open the door for the US to gain more influence in India to try and move toward the goal? Could the next US leadership use the deal as an opening to say to India that they need to shift towards signing the CTBT or NPT in the future? Contrary to what some may be saying, the NPT regime may not be dead, but the US must use the new relationship to try and push India closer to the regime.

Next, how could the US ensure that India does not further their weapons program? On the floor of the Senate, both Senator Dodd and Senator Lugar noted that if India tested a new device, the agreement is off. The US should make that explicit to India that they cannot test any new devices. Also, the US should go a step further and insist that if any new weapons are built, that the US can review the deal, for fear of a possible violation of Article I of the NPT. This deal hinges on the fact that India needs nuclear material. However, if they produce new devices, then the deal should be terminated.

Finally, can this actually help in the long road in getting to zero? It is possible, in that it could provide an opening to western countries to try and reign in the Indian program. It could allow India to be a member of the discussion, not fully, but a member. Perhaps, this could lead to a more open discussion on India's nuclear program. It is true that only some of India's facilities will be safeguarded, but it is better than nothing.

The agreement is flawed, and is not what the nonproliferation community desired, but it is the new reality. Now, the question is how does the community react, and how can they shift the focus toward getting to zero? The key is to ensure that India lives up to the agreement, and is on board with the global disarmament movement. It is paramount that this does not live up to be a nonproliferation disaster.

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