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India Nuclear Deal Puts World at Risk

By Jimmy Carter

This article was published in the Sept. 11, 2008, edition of the International Herald Tribune.

Knowing since 1974 of India's nuclear ambitions, other American presidents and I have maintained a consistent global policy: no sales of nuclear technology or uncontrolled fuel to any country that refuses to sign the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. To imbed this concept as official national policy, I worked closely with bipartisan leaders in the U.S. Congress to pass the Non-Proliferation Act of 1978.

More recently, in 2006, the Hyde Act was passed and signed by President George W. Bush to define appropriate terms of the proposed U.S.-India nuclear agreement. Both laws were designed to encourage universal compliance with basic terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been accepted by more than 180 nations. Only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not participating, the first three having nuclear arsenals that are advanced, and the fourth's being embryonic. Today, these global restraints are in the process of being abandoned.

In recent years the U.S. government has not set a good example, having abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty; binding limitations on testing nuclear weapons and development of new ones; and a long-standing policy of foregoing threats of "first use" of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states. These decisions have encouraged China, Russia and other nuclear powers to respond with similar retrogressive actions.

This has sent mixed signals to North Korea, Iran and other nations with the technical knowledge to create nuclear weapons. The currently proposed agreement with India compounds this challenge and further undermines the global pact for restraint represented by the nuclear nonproliferation regime. If India's unique demands are acceptable, why should other technologically advanced NPT signatories, such as Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Japan — to say nothing of less responsible nations — continue to restrain themselves?

I have no doubt that India's political leaders are just as responsible in handling their country's arsenal as leaders of the five original nuclear powers. But there is a significant difference: the original five have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and strive to stop producing fissile material for weapons.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group is a 45-nation body that — until now — has barred nuclear trade with any nation that refuses to accept international nuclear standards. Tremendous political pressure from the United States and India has recently induced the group's members to reverse their historic position; they even declined to clarify penalties in the event of a resumption of nuclear testing by India. No one knows what secret deals were made to gain the necessary votes. Specific information about all facets of the agreement needs to be shared with the U.S. Congress to assure full conformance of the U.S.-Indian agreement with the Hyde Act and other laws.

There is a farcical disparity between public and private claims being made to the U.S. Congress about imposed nuclear safeguards and those being made, at the same time, to the Indian parliament that no such restraints will be acceptable. When Congress passed the Hyde Act endorsing the exception to Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines for India, there were specific conditions, including clear penalties in the event of a resumption of Indian nuclear testing, constraints against selling equipment used to make bomb-grade material and limits on the refueling of Indian nuclear power plants. A key condition under the law is immediate termination of all nuclear commerce by the group's member states if India detonates a nuclear explosive device.

Indian officials publicly deny that they will accept these restraints. I have discussed these conflicting claims with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his response, with a smile, was that U.S. and Indian politics are different.

India's leaders' accepting the NPT and joining other nuclear powers in signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would greatly strengthen the global effort to control proliferation. Instead, India insists on unrestricted access to international assistance in producing fissile material for as many as 50 weapons a year, perhaps doubling what is believed to be India's current capacity. Meanwhile, other major nuclear powers, including the United States, Russia, France and Britain, are moving to limit their production.

It would be advantageous to have improved diplomatic relations between the United States and India that could result from a clearly understood nuclear agreement, and I would fully support such a move. However, different interpretations of the same pact can lead only to harsh confrontations if future decisions are made in New Delhi that contravene what has been understood in our country. The time for the U.S. Congress to clarify these issues is now, before a tragic mistake is made.

Former President Jimmy Carter is founder of The Carter Center, which works to advance world peace and health.

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