The deal is finalized: now stop bomb building

So it seems that India’s nuclear deal with the US is almost finalized. Most people in India who care will agree that the deal bodes well for the country; it will create jobs, bring much needed technology needed for expanding clean, safe and efficient nuclear power and hopefully put India in the league of nations like France and Japan who get most of their energy from nuclear. The deal will also bring India dual-purpose technology which can be used for other civilian benefits. This will be a double boon for the country, considering the great energy demand that’s going to materialize in modern and globalized India in the next twenty years.

Critics of the deal of course point out that it will undermine the NPT. But the NPT was undoubtedly undermined right at the beginning when it unfairly pitted countries like India against countries like the US and the Soviet Union which had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. While the provisions of the treaty called for the US and USSR to significantly reduce their arsenals in the coming decades, in practice the two countries simply expanded them in a frenzied arms race and even now, more than twenty five years after the end of the Cold War, possess thousands of weapons on hair-trigger alert. Given these facts, it was unfair for India or most other nuclear power-seeking countries to accept the treaty as it was conceived.

What might be a valid criticism is the allegation that this deal is part of the Bush administration’s unilateral worldview where it alone decides who to give a pass and who to put up on the firing line when it comes to nuclear matters. As in other matters regarding the administration, the move seems to signify blatant hypocrisy. The usual complaint is that the deal clearly plays favourites. But the fact is that playing favourites in fact is legitimate, because some countries like India have been responsible nuclear powers while others like Pakistan have simply not been. How can you talk about treating countries the same if they are not the same in reality? This is one of those ironic situations where the Bush administration seems to have taken the right step even if it was part of a wrong philosophy.

Now, playing favourites certainly creates an imbalance and prompts countries like Pakistan to build more weapons, and that’s a real concern in the minds of many. But there are two arguments here; first of all India has a good deterrent ability and Pakistan’s building more weapons is not going to pose any additional threat to it. Secondly and more importantly, climate change has taken us so far to the brink of destruction that obtaining clean and carbon-free energy is much more important than even worrying about some inevitable proliferation that’s going to happen. Thirdly of course, going by what is happening in Pakistan, it’s unfortunately always going to pose a problem for India whether it does anything or not.

But what India can do to minimize proliferation is to stop building any more nuclear weapons. It has achieved a minimum deterrent capability. More weapons are only going to lead to an arms race between it and the Pakistanis without providing real strategic benefits. As Robert Oppenheimer would say, “India’s two-thousandth weapon will not in any deep, strategic sense offset Pakistan’s two-hundredth weapon”. In the future India can focus on delivery systems and stockpile maintenance. That could send the clearest possible message to Pakistan. It will say that India is a responsible nuclear power who has achieved the minimum arsenal necessary for deterrence and will now only practice peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It will ask of Pakistan whether it can step up to the challenge and do the same. Pakistan can make of this peaceful message what it wants to. But India will have played its responsible part.

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