India a step closer to nuclear trade
The Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed Saturday to lift a 34-year ban on selling nuclear technology to India, even though it hasn't signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
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Yet there is hardly universal accord that approving the deal was a smart move – either in or outside India. What seems clear at this early stage is that this was a diplomatic coup for India and the US. As recently as last Friday, the deal was reportedly on the verge of collapse.Skip to next paragraph
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Challenges still lie ahead. To realize the full potential of the deal, the US Congress must approve American trade of civilian nuclear technology with India. It is uncertain if that can be done before the current congressional session ends in a few weeks.
Still, much was accomplished in Vienna this weekend. Austria, New Zealand, and Ireland had reportedly wanted an addendum that civilian nuclear trade would be suspended if India resumed weaponized nuclear testing. The US opposed this, knowing that such a caveat would ruin the deal in India.
Even within India, some analysts oppose the deal because they see in it a hint of neoimperialism: that the international community will play with India only if India behaves and doesn't test any more nuclear weapons. "The deal is very divisive in India, and that divisiveness will not end," says Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
While the US feels it has taken a crucial step toward cementing a new partnership in China's backyard, Mr. Chellaney suggests it was unnecessary. "The relationship doesn't need this deal," he says. "The momentum has already been set."
A similar attraction could be the potential opening of a $150 billion market for civilian nuclear technology. India, too, is eager for it. Chronic power shortages are one major infrastructure shortcoming that could endanger India's 9-plus percent growth.
With a lack of domestic technology and fuel, the country has never been able to turn to nuclear energy to help fill the gap. Now it can. India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has estimated that under this agreement, India's nuclear power plants could increase output by more than five times by 2022 and by more than 13 times by 2032.
Yet even in that, critics have reservations. Both the Bush administration in the US and the current coalition government in India had invested so much time and energy in the deal that they needed to push through something at any cost, says Chellaney. The result is a deal with few specifics – like what will happen with the spent fuel from Indian reactors."There are key issues left unresolved," he says.