After both houses of Congress accepted the US nuclear deal with India and President Bush signed the necessary bill into law on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of both countries are set to formally sign the agreement in Washington on Friday. The agreement, which has been controversial in both countries as well as internationally, paves the way for India to import technology for its nuclear power plants.
Some Indians celebrate India-US nuclear deal
The nuclear deal with the United States marks the end of more than three decades of nuclear isolation for India, which had faced restrictions ever since testing a first nuclear device in the 1970s.
Internationally, many critics have argued that the deal legitimises India’s acquiring of nuclear weapons and thereby weakens the cause of non-proliferation.
But others point out that the deal also means India will have to open up most of its nuclear installations to international inspection. On balance, the advantages for the international community outweigh the risks, said Christian Wagner, an expert on India at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“In my opinion, it makes the world a safer place as it will no longer be possible now for India to, say in 20 years from now, think about exporting nuclear technology. I think that if a country, which has not signed the non-proliferation treaty, is brought closer to a control regime and made to accept certain restrictions, then the world becomes a safer, rather than less safe, place.”
Smooth acceptance of the deal
The world’s five recognized nuclear powers, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), all agreed to the deal, which paved the way for its smooth acceptance by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Many members might also have been motivated by commercial interests, thought Christian Wagner: “The nuclear industries of various countries naturally don’t want to miss out on the potential offered by India’s gigantic new market.”
In India, the nuclear deal has attracted criticism from nationalists on both ends of the political spectrum.
“The deal makes it clear that India won’t be able to test nuclear weapons in future. If India does test nuclear devices, then this agreement with America will come to an end,” explained Kamal Mitra Chenoy, who teaches international studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Fears India will become an American ally
Other Indian critics fear that India is becoming an ally of America thanks to the deal. This perception has also caused some anxiety in other countries in the region, notably Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari recently asked the United States for a similar deal with his country.
This is unlikely to happen given Pakistan’s proliferation record. But, overall, improved US ties with India need not be at the expense of Islamabad, said German expert Christian Wagner.
“For several years now, we have observed that America has been dealing with India and Pakistan independently of each other. The US grants India much more attention and privileges these days, and President Bush has said he wants to help India on its way to becoming a superpower.”
No impact on domestic political scene
The Left parties, which had propped up Manmohan Singh’s minority government, recently withdrew their support over the deal, triggering a political crisis. But Singh has already found new political allies.
Overall, Christian Wagner did not think the deal would have any major implications for the domestic political scene in India: “I think Singh definitely has secured his place in the history books by leading India out of the isolation, into which the country had manoeuvred itself with its policies. But I rather doubt that this will benefit him in any way domestically, as foreign policy is not that crucial when it comes to elections.”
The next general election in India is due next year.