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President Bush’s recent visit to India was brief but momentous. The nuclear agreement between the two states represents a clear effort by the Bush administration to bring India into a greater role in the management of world affairs. There is much that is wrong with the Bush administration’s foreign policy, but the new relationship with India is a major step in the right direction.


By recognizing India as a nuclear weapons state, the U.S. administration has updated the nuclear non-proliferation regime, making it more viable in the future. The original Non-Proliferation Treaty left a very large and potentially powerful state with neither nuclear allies nor nuclear weapons. The new order would be more stable. There are no other states nearly as large and strong as India that need nuclear weapons for security.
The nuclear accord says that 14 of India’s 22 nuclear reactors will be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The remaining eight, including the breeder reactor, will be classified as military. Future breeder reactors will also be classified as military. Foreign resources will go only to the civilian reactors.

To understand this accord one must examine the nuclear power situation in India. A breeder reactor is one that produces more nuclear fuel than it consumes. India has a small breeder reactor working successfully in Tamil Nadu, and a bigger one under construction. India has limited deposits of uranium. This is India’s main motive for negotiating the nuclear accord. Using the established technology of nuclear reactors, India can extract an increase of less than 10 percent of its total electricity output from its uranium reserves. A new fast breeder technology is emerging in India and elsewhere, which can in theory extract several times that amount.

An even more promising technology is that of fast breeder reactors using thorium. India has about one-third of the world’s thorium deposits. At present, no nuclear reactor uses thorium as fuel. The Indian nuclear establishment has been working for decades on a technology to use thorium in fast breeders. There are promising computer models for this, but realistically this technology is some 20 years off.

While these technologies are promising, the timing of their achievement in India is not predictable. Hence, it behooves India to make some concessions to secure supplies for established nuclear power technologies.

The nuclear nonproliferation regime has left India facing a uniquely difficult choice between energy availability and nuclear weapons capability. This choice is not very pressing at present since nuclear power accounts for only about 3 percent of India’s total electricity output. It is not likely to exceed 10 percent in the next 20 years under any level of international cooperation. However, if Indians are to consume the electricity per capita that Americans now use, then electrical power generation in India will have to grow around 20- to 30-fold over the next five decades. From a global perspective, universal prosperity cannot be achieved using current coal and natural gas-based power generation technologies. While the rise of new technologies is impossible to predict, at present the wisest course for India is to pursue nuclear energy options that will provide major portions of electrical power beyond the next 20 years.


It is clear that President Bush has set a high priority for building ties with India. This decision has been reinforced by trends in America’s global standing.

In his first term, Bush’s first priority was invading Iraq. By his second term, new priorities came to the fore.

American global influence remains strong, but is gradually declining. Not only is a rising China eroding America’s importance in Asia, rising energy prices mean that Russia is establishing itself again as an independent power. Russia also remains the world’s second strongest military power. Its nuclear arsenal alone gives it a seat at the table of great powers. U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated due to America’s aggressiveness toward Russia. Many American public figures have falsely accused Russia of abandoning democracy.

In the case of China, trade statistics exaggerate the decline of American influence. Although China is now South Korea’s largest export market, a sizable part of those exports are components in Chinese-assembled products bound for America. About half of China’s exports are actually the exports of other countries passing through China. Nonetheless, even half of China’s exports give it greater weight in the world’s power structure.

Bush’s strategy towards Muslim lands west of India has been profoundly unsuccessful. The Iraq intervention is locking down American ground forces. Meanwhile, the Taliban are rising again in Pakistan and Afghanistan and 12,000 American soldiers are tied up in Afghanistan with little prospect of reinforcements. America has helped to transform Iran from a theocracy confronting a liberal populace into a theocracy restraining a radical populace. American efforts to restrain Iranian nuclear fuel processing have not succeeded and it appears to have few options. Today Iran and the West are threatening each other with the same scenario—the halt of Iranian oil and gas exports. America’s best hope is that it may take Iran several years to actually develop a bomb.

America and Western Europe had grown apart in Bush’s first term, but are reconciling as Western Europe grows fearful of Muslim radicalism and demographic expansion. But Europe’s economic stagnation makes it less valuable as an ally than before.

America needs new friends.

India is what is available. Upon closer inspection, India turns out to have qualities with long term benefits for America and for the kind of world the United States would need as a less dominant power. Giving India recognition as a sixth quasi-legitimate nuclear weapons state is a way of using America’s still great prestige to initiate a new relationship that could give American global influence insurance for the future.


A vociferous debate has arisen in America about the nuclear deal with India. Major newspapers, non-proliferation NGOs, and some scholars have come out against the deal. A few members of Congress have opposed the deal. At this time, there is no evidence of broad opposition. There were many more voices against the port management deal with Dubai. Members of Congress said the Dubai ports deal was the biggest issue they were encountering among their constituents. There is no sign of energetic mass opposition to the nuclear deal with India. In addition, the business lobby also favors the nuclear deal to stabilize the political relationship between America and India.

The arguments in America for and against Bush’s nuclear deal with India have taken characteristic forms.

The rival arguments disagree mainly in their conceptualization of India. Bush recognizes the ethical and practical significance of India’s size. He also recognizes the significance of its preservation of democracy and nuclear responsibility. From this he concludes that India has a right to security comparable to other great powers. The non-proliferation liberals continue to see it as just another Third-World country. That is the basis of their argument that if America recognizes India as a nuclear power many other countries, despite being less accomplished at the reconciliation of diverse interests on a similar scale, will claim the same with equal legitimacy. In this debate, it is George Bush who is the flaming liberal.

The New York Times on March 3 editorialized that Bush’s visit to Pakistan was a chance to bridge “the chasm between Muslims and Westerners” but missed the chance due to his nuclear pact “with Pakistan’s blood enemy, India.” Four days later the paper again wrote that a significant problem with the nuclear deal with India is that it would embarrass Musharraf. The implication of this line of reasoning is that a major improvement in security cooperation with India is of modest value to America. This point has not been explicitly argued by the opponents of the nuclear agreement. Rather, it is implied in their arguments. In contrast, Condoleezza Rice argued explicitly in an op-ed column on March 13 that India is a vital partner for America for several profound reasons. This difference in argumentation is likely to play in favor of the nuclear agreement.


Contrary to the editorials of The New York Times, nuclear issues are not at the heart of U.S.-Pakistani relations. Fundamentalism within Pakistan is the only issue. Pakistan is indeed America’s crucial ally in the war on terror. All other countries are unqualified for that role due to their inadequate terrorist pools. There are three major trends in Pakistan that will engage American attention.

The first is that General Musharraf is pulling back sharply from the Kashmir jihad. There has been a progressive falling out between Musharraf and the Kashmir-centric jihadis. This is a remarkable development.

However, the second trend is the growing protests against Musharraf led by fundamentalists. The fundamentalists’ attention has been turning away from Kashmir and toward power in Pakistan, and their optimism is rising. The passivity of the Pakistani masses creates an opening for this energetic minority to seize power and the nuclear arsenal. The banning of the pre-Islamic festival of Basant in Pakistan’s Punjab province under fundamentalist pressure is indicative of this trend.

The third trend is the revival of the Taliban. They have an exchange program with al-Qaeda in Iraq and are learning valuable lessons for fighting American troops. They appear to be planning a major offensive. A sharp rise in American casualties in Afghanistan would create a very awkward predicament for America and Pakistan. The American missile strikes on some houses in Pakistan are a taste of things to come. President Bush’s decision to visit Afghanistan on this trip was a necessary symbol of America’s continuing opposition to the restoration of the Taliban.

Due to years of allowing Pakistan to play a double game with terrorism—before and after Sept. 11, 2001—and the blunder in Iraq, America today has few options in relation to Pakistan. Bush did the best he could during his visit to Pakistan. However, the combination of rising fundamentalist influence in Pakistan and the Taliban insurgency can bring a threat to American security much greater than those from Iran and Iraq.

India, despite getting a breather in Kashmir, is even more threatened by fundamentalist power in nuclear Pakistan. America and India will have to cooperate in resisting the fundamentalist tide in Pakistan.


America’s place in the world is changing. It no longer commands the unipolarity of the early 1990s. That is mostly due to deeply rooted developmental processes in Asia. There are also substantial self-inflicted wounds.

In Bush’s second term the influence of Condoleezza Rice is ascendant in the administration. This is the best news in years in U.S. foreign policy. Both by the president’s own thinking and Rice’s analysis, cooperation with India is a new imperative. The India initiative is coming when America is waking up to the scale of the disaster in Iraq. Congress may hesitate on India, but it will follow in due course.

Sanjoy Banerjee teaches international relations at San Francisco State University. He writes about India, America, and the world.