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U.S. and India Agree to Nuclear Partnership

March 2, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: The announcement of a nuclear agreement between President Bush and the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is the most visible sign of the dramatic change in relations that has evolved between the world’s two largest democracies.

Once officially neutral but pro-Moscow in the Cold War era, India has been moving rapidly to a political and economic partnership with the United States. President Bush said the nuclear deal showed that both nations were willing to overcome serious internal political objections to build their relationship.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear power. It’s not easy job for the prime minister to achieve this agreement, I understand. It’s not easy for the American president to achieve this agreement, but it’s a necessary agreement; it’s one that’ll help both our peoples.

What this agreement says is: Things change, times change, that leadership can make a difference, and telling the world — sending the world a different message from that which is — what used to exist in people’s minds.

KWAME HOLMAN: India, which tested a nuclear device as recently as 1998, never has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement and has been denied access to American and international nuclear cooperation projects.

Under the deal, once India has separated its civilian and military programs, it will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect 14 of its 22 reactors. The agreement would give India access to U.S. nuclear technology and fuel, which will help it meet its growing demand for energy.

The Indian leader explained his country’s view.

MANMOHAN SINGH, Prime Minister of India: I have conveyed to the president that India has finalized the identification of civilian facilities to which we had committed. We will discuss with the International Atomic Energy Agency in regard to fashioning an appropriate India-specific safeguards agreement.

KWAME HOLMAN: The U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna, Austria, welcomed the agreement. In a statement, the IAEA’s chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, called it “a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the nonproliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism, and strengthen nuclear safety.”

But the deal still needs to be approved by the U.S. Congress, where it will face bipartisan opposition. Democratic Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts said it sets a dangerous precedent.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This deal is a disaster for the nuclear nonproliferation regime on the planet. It blows a hole through any attempts in the future that we could make to convince the Pakistanis, or the Iranians, or the North Koreans, or for that matter any other country in world that might interested in obtaining nuclear weapons, that there is a level playing field, that there is a real set of safeguards.

KWAME HOLMAN: Though Mr. Bush’s trip was greeted by thousands of protesters, he was welcomed warmly by the government. International polling organizations said his approval rating is higher in India than in almost any other nation.

India’s 1.1 billion people represent a lucrative potential market, and two-way trade has grown from $14 billion to nearly $30 billion over the past five years, but that still is tiny compared to $300 billion in U.S.-China trade.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the nuclear cooperation deal and the changing U.S.-India relationship, we turn to Sumit Ganguly, professor of Indian cultures and civilizations and of political science at the Indiana University in Bloomington. He was born in India and is now a U.S. citizen.

Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Center at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Kurt Campbell, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific in the Clinton administration.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Sumit Ganguly, beginning with you, is this deal good for India and good for the U.S.?

SUMIT GANGULY: There is little question in my mind that the deal is both very good for India and for the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: And why?

SUMIT GANGULY: Principally, because, for India, which is a desperately energy-short country and a major producer of greenhouse gases, this will make a dent in the long term for India’s energy security and will also reduce greenhouse emissions from India.

And furthermore, it also brings in a significant portion of the Indian nuclear program under international scrutiny and safeguards and, most importantly, enables India to modernize its plants and equipment, which it desperately needs.

For the United States, also, this is a very good check, in terms of its policy, because the policy of the past 30 years, I’m afraid, did not accomplish its ends; it failed to stop India from pursuing a nuclear weapons program and in no way constrained the Indian program. So I believe that this marks a welcome shift in American policy.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, Joe Cirincione, the nuclear deal?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: If this nuclear deal stands, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is going to fall. The president has just blasted a huge hole through the framework that his predecessors worked for over 30, 40 years to help build up.

The Indian demands are well-known. We know they’ve wanted trade, they’ve wanted access to nuclear technology for years. But…

MARGARET WARNER: And you’re talking about a civilian technology?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: A civilian technology. They want to buy fuel from us, to buy reactors from us. But up until now, no previous president has given in to those demands, not Richard Nixon, not Ronald Reagan, not the president’s own father. The president, President Bush, has now given away the store. He did everything but actually sell nuclear weapons to India.

MARAGARET WARNER: But explain why it blows a hole in the NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, when India never signed the NPT. I mean, it’s not like Iran or North Korea, which signed and then either cheated or tried to get out.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Ah, but India did sign cooperation agreements to get those reactors in the first place. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, they promised that, if we sold them the reactors, Canada and the U.S. did, they would use them only for peaceful purposes. They cheated on that agreement.

In 1974, they took plutonium out of a reactor and detonated a nuclear weapon with it. That’s why this entire framework has grown up, to prevent any country from doing that again. The president, with one stroke, has now demolished that framework.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s your view of this, Kurt Campbell?

KURT CAMPBELL: I think it’s clearly an imperfect agreement; I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think, also, now that we are faced with it, I don’t see any other choice but to embrace it.

It comes at an inconvenient time. We’re going to be putting pressure on Iran in the coming months, and I think this sends the wrong message. But balanced against it is the fact that probably the most important bilateral relationship that the United States will have over the next 50 years is likely to be with India. And if we back away now, I think it could permanently damage a relationship that has an enormous promise.

MARGARET WARNER: Sumit Ganguly, go back to what Joe Cirincione said about, that this essentially rewarding bad behavior on India’s part and that really we’ll undermine the entire international framework of the nonproliferation regime.

SUMIT GANGULY: Well, obviously, I do disagree. First of all, I think it needs to be underscored, as you mentioned, that India was never a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, going back as far at 1968 and the 18-nation Disarmament Conference, which ultimately culminated in the NPT.

India’s obstructions were both based upon power and principle. It was concerned about its own security and, at the same time, made a principled objection that this was an inequitable treaty. And it remained precisely that.

MARGARET WARNER: But what about — excuse me. What about Mr. Cirincione’s point that it did mislead countries, Western countries, that sold them civilian nuclear reactors? Is that true?

SUMIT GANGULY: Well, quite frankly, it’s overstated. His position is overstated. There was some diversion of plutonium from a Canada-supplied reactor. But, on the other hand, there was nothing formally in that agreement that prohibited India from taking spent fuel from that reactor.

It may have violated the spirit of an agreement, but it did not violate the letter of an agreement.

JOSPEH CIRINCIONE: Well, that’s just absurd. And that’s what the U.S. Congress reacted to when Richard Nixon encouraged the Congress to pass new laws that prohibited the U.S. from doing anything that would help India or another country do what India had just done.

And that’s what the president is now violating; he’s not only giving up on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits us from assisting India with its nuclear weapons program, but he requires the change of five or six major U.S. laws.

MARGARET WARNER: And let me ask you one quick follow-up before we turn the corner to the broader relationship. Are you saying it means nothing, though, for the whole international system that India is finally going to separate its civilian from military program and is going to finally allow inspection of two-thirds, at least, of its reactors?

JOSPHEN CIRINCIONE: It’s the other way around. It’s one-third of its reactors are not subject to any inspection at all, and that’s the problem.

In essence, what this deal means is that India is going to be able to double or triple the number of nuclear weapons it can make every year. It can make about six to 10 now. With U.S. fuel going to the civilian reactors, it is free to turn its military reactors to triple that production.

And that could set off a nuclear arms race, because Pakistan’s not going to stand by idly and watch that happen. Neither is China. And what’s Japan going to do? That’s the problem for the region, as well as the regime.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you, Kurt Campbell, about what this move symbolizes and what it’s really about, because you said there’s a lot more at stake here. It is about a lot more than the nuclear deal.

KURT CAMPBELL: Clearly, if you look at the visit, the linchpin will be this nuclear deal. And there will be enormous criticism and support of it, and that will play out over the next couple of months.

And in addition, there’s this, you know, usual smorgasbord. He’s met with religious, politicals and CEOs, and we’re going to accept mangos after a 17-year hiatus. But in the backdrop…

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, they toasted with mango juice last night, right? Yes.

KURT CAMPBELL: That’s exactly right. In the background for both countries is China. Clearly, the China dimension figures prominently in the calculus of both Washington and Delhi.

I don’t think either country sees China as an enemy, but there is clearly a sense that China will be a major competitor and there will be areas that we will cooperate with China. I think there’s a belief in both countries that we will do a better job at working with China in the 21st century if we’re working together. And that’s a powerful, and I think very important, impetus.

MARGARET WARNER: Sumit Ganguly, give us your sense of how big a sea change this is for India and its own attitudes towards the United States and how much China figures in the calculus?

SUMIT GANGULY: This represents the culmination of a dramatic shift, in terms of Indian attitudes towards the United States. And what has been alighted over in much of this conversation thus far is the fact that Prime Minister Singh faced considerable opposition from the scientific community in India, which felt that India was giving away the store to the United States.

And the mere fact that India has agreed to place two-thirds of its reactors under international controls represents a significant shift in terms of policy. But to return to the central question, namely the improvement and relations with the United States, this represents virtually a sea change in Indian attitudes.

And China, of course, does play a role, as Mr. Campbell correctly pointed out. While neither country, neither the United States nor India, views China as an immediate threat, nevertheless there is a degree of concern, a degree of anxiety in New Delhi and in Washington about the nature and the growth of Chinese military and economic power and how that is going to be used in the foreseeable future. And consequently, it behooves both sides to consult each other about this new behemoth in Asia.

MARGARET WARNER: How much of a factor or how valid a factor do you find the China — sort of countering rising China as a reason — we understand you object on the nuclear deal, but the bigger picture?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Sure. First of all, the sea change in India-U.S. relations took place with Bill Clinton’s visit. He was treated like a king when he went there in 2000. There were no demonstrations against him, and he didn’t give up on U.S. principles or U.S. law.

China clearly plays a big role in this. This deal was basically put together by a small number of officials. Some of those officials are the neoconservatives who see China as a looming threat. For them, the problem isn’t that India has nuclear weapons; it’s that they don’t have enough nuclear weapons. They want to encourage nuclear as a nuclear ally against China.

MARGARET WARNER: What did the U.S. get out of this deal, Kurt Campbell, and how much of it is an economic and business consideration?

KURT CAMPBELL: Well, I think, as your earlier program pointed out, that trade and foreign direct investment from the United States to India has grown, but it’s still very small, particularly in comparison with China.

I think the hope is that this will open up whole new ramparts of energy cooperation, software, you name it, between the United States and India. And I think that’s, indeed, likely.

I also think, for us, in many respects, this agreement is about the future, but I think it’s what we’ve heard so far. For Indian friends, it is about the past and the perception of the United States not dealing in a way of mutual respect with Indian friends. And I think getting over that issue will be very significant.

And I do think, in our next meetings with Indian friends, you’re going to see a change in their attitudes. And they’ll be less suspicious of the United States and more willing to work with us. And then the potential for defense cooperation and for broader…

MARGARET WARNER: Which has already picked up, has it not?

KURT CAMPBELL: That’s right. But what we really want now, again, if this agreement is imperfect, we’re going to really need to see enormous Indian support on a range of issues, transnational challenges, even nuclear-related issues and proliferation, to make this agreement worthwhile.

On balance, there are real concerns, but I would be, again, against the wall, forced to make a decision to move ahead. I think it could be very significant and it could lead to one of the most important partnerships that the United States has ever had.

MARGARET WARNER: Sumit Ganguly, do you think India is interested in this much, much broader partnership? And do you think it’s willing to open up its markets for, for instance, to American retail stores, which I think has been one bone of contention?

SUMIT GANGULY: There’s little question in my mind that India is interested in a broad-based partnership with the United States. India has given up its sort of neuralgic and reflexive hostility towards to the United States. There are pockets of it that remain, that were visible during the president’s visit, but I think those pockets are increasingly shrinking.

And, yes, the opening up of the retail sector is on the anvil, but in a democratic country where populist politics frequently prevail, people have to proceed with a degree of care before, you know, moving ahead on a subject which could be politically quite fraught.

India has already taken a step in that direction by allowing individual retailers to open stores; now the question will be how to open up their retail sector to sort of large supermarket chains and the like…

MARGARET WARNER: The Wal-Marts and the K-Marts. Let me jump back…

SUMIT GANGULY: Precisely. He’ll sign off on the nuclear deal

MARGARET WARNER: … my two guests here in the remaining minute or so we have. OK, what are the prospects on the Hill? Briefly explain, first of all, why the Hill has to sign off on the nuclear deal, that is, Joe Cirincione, and, secondly, what you think the prospects are?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, the president’s deal changes four, five, six major U.S. nonproliferation laws. Congress has to make those changes. This is going to take years. Nothing is going to happen on this deal this year.

We’re going to have hearings, and they’re going to be heated hearings. The Senate chairman, Senator Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has already said he’s got concerns about this. Henry Hyde, his House counterpart, has said it. You heard Ed Markey. There’s going to be a lot of questions, some amendments to this deal before it gets approved.

MARGARET WARNER: How much of a fight do you expect?

KURT CAMPBELL: Two things to keep in mind. For the first time in a long time, Congresspeople on both sides of the House are really speaking up and standing up to the White House on a range of issues. And I expect that this will be another issue that they’re going to raise some concerns about.

And secondly, India is a proud and occasionally prickly nation. I do not think they’re going to enjoy the process of the inevitable roughing-up that they’re going to get through the process of negotiating this very important agreement with Capitol Hill, between the executive branch and Capitol Hill.

And so I would agree with Joe; stay tuned. There’s still quite a lot to play out over the course of the next several months and years.

MARGARET WARNER: So it could make Dubai look like small potatoes?

KURT CAMPBELL: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you, all three, very much.