How Indian Money Changed the Rules on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The work started by the Bush administration and US-Indian big business in undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is now coming to fruition. A joint report by Australia and Japan today recognised that Israel, Pakistan and India are never going to sign the NPT and that a new approach is needed (North Korea is the only other sovereign state that isn’t signed up to the NPT, but they’re something of a special case).

The reasoning behind the report is the simple answer that is always the simple answer to anything: money. Non-proliferation can wait. This is normative change in action.

In 2005, the Bush administration agreed to supply India with technology and materials for its civil nuclear programme on the condition that India separated it from the military programme and agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Administration. It took three years for the two countries to pass all the complex bits of legislation required to get this round international law (almost getting the Indian government booted out of power in the process).

The Bush administration sold this as a way of shoring up its interests in Asia, building a strong ally in the region that could check those goddamn Commies next door in China. That certainly aided the passage of legislation through Congress, but as this comprehensive study from the Council on Foreign Relations argues: “At its heart, the U.S.-India deal is really about big business, which has boomed since the agreement entered into force.”

It’s not often mentioned, but the Indian lobby in Washington is almost as big a player as the Israeli lobby, and it was forged in the fire of this nuclear deal. New Delhi is estimated to have spent somewhere in the region of $1.3 million on lobbying firms to get the deal passed. Meanwhile, the US nuclear industry went to town, promising that the deal would create 27,000 new American jobs and salivating openly at Indian promises to spend as much as $150 million on reactors, equipment and materials. The voices of disarmament advocates were quickly drowned out, as were those who wondered where India was getting all this spare cash from and whether anyone should really want to buy American nuclear equipment in the first place.

Having let the US do all the leg work, the rest of the world has quickly jumped on the bandwagon, with France and now Russia signing some fat contracts. For those who say India’s exemption was only ever about generating clean power, it must be slightly dispiriting that these deals always come packaged with promises to buy huge amounts of fighter jets, aircraft carriers and other things to kill people with.

Which brings us back to the Australia-Japan report, which is a demonstration of the normative change that the US-India deal has brought about in the non-proliferation debate. Despite the Obama administrations very vocal promises on this issue, his administration was quick to confirm that the nuclear deal would go ahead and even broaden during its tenure.

Today, Western governments have succeeded in separating the civil and military aspects of nuclear proliferation so that they can continue talking about making the world a safer place while ensuring that billions of dollars can still be made from sharing power plant technology. The catch is that someone has to decide who can be trusted with civil nuclear technology and who cannot. Today, the Australians and Japanese decided that Israel, Pakistan and India can be trusted. This is fortunate for Australia, which holds an estimated 23% of the world’s uranium reserves.

Of course, the obvious question – and one which Iran will immediately be asking – is “what gives you the right to decide who is trustworthy or not?” Given that the closest the world ever came to a nuclear war was when India and Pakistan almost annhiliated each other in 2002, they might have a point.

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