In June 2005, the United States announced that it would enter into a nuclear agreement with India, departing from prior policies of not sharing nuclear fuel or technology with states that had not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It showed that the United States not only viewed India as a market into which it could develop nuclear energy facilities and help sustain growth in India (with energy needs in rapidly growing developing countries creating a bottleneck effect), but also as a responsible nuclear nation, albeit without signing any of the international treaties that deal with the use and development of nuclear material.
Furthermore, it meant that the United States (as a symbol of the possession of nuclear weapons by the permanent members of the UN Security Council) was going to ease up on preaching the gospel of nonproliferation to India. For Indians, giving up nuclear power would be tantamount to giving up national sovereignty, especially since their country is located in a volatile region of the world where only nuclear weapons see to be an effective deterrent. India views itself as a superpower in the making and knows that to win respect on the international stage, it has to be accepted by a current superpower and therefore has to improve relations with the United States, the most natural ally that India would have within the permanent members of the Security Council. The final deal has been approved in October 2008.
Like much of international politics, this exception by the United States has been to counter another power. The increasing influence of China in the region (coupled with the large number of government bonds that the Chinese government possess, holding the American economy de facto hostage) required the US to have a strong counterweight that could serve as a foil to growing Chinese ambitions. India has viewed China as a threat for a long time, harkening back to the 1960s, with developments such as the Indo-China war in 1962 (in which India suffered a humiliating defeat by China) and China becoming a nuclear nation in 1964. With India ending three decades of opacity concerning its nuclear stance with the 1998 tests, it was a clear demonstration of capabilities to China that India was now a strong competitor in the region. It is interesting to note that India’s growing military capabilities has come at the same time as its burgeoning economy, both of which are a threat to China’s possibilities of future dominance.
India’s other nuclear neighbor has also raised concerns with the United States as well. Both states are concerned about the implications of Pakistani nuclear proliferation. Which is why today’s announcement from Beijing that China was going to help Pakistan build nuclear reactors was met with much apprehension. Technically, the agreement is supposed to have been grandfathered in before China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (which deals with the dual-use of nuclear fuel in civilian reactors) in 2004. And how different is what China extending to Pakistan from that of the US-India nuclear deal? Developing civilian nuclear energy sites are within the rights of sovereign states, with its promise of clean and sustainable energy.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Pakistan does have dire energy needs. But Pakistan also has dire security problems, especially with regards to proliferation (anyone forget A.Q. Khan?). I completely understand US concerns with this deal but between a pipeline and a civilian reactor, I think I would have to go with the reactor. One reactor is easier to protect than miles of pipeline. Say what you want about the Chinese, but they’re not stupid. I find it hard to believe that they would build nuclear reactors with the threat that it can turn against them. Sure, the kind of bad guys in Pakistan that would want to build their very own nuclear arsenal are more likely to target India and the United States than China, but that’s the problem with proliferation. You never know whose hands these things can fall into.
Disclaimer: Some of this post has been from my on-going thesis.