Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bet on India

An editorial in today's Washington Post gets it right:

IN LARGE PART, modern U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy began with India. India received U.S. aid under the "Atoms for Peace" program of the early Cold War era -- only to lose its U.S. fuel supply because India, which had refused to sign the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), exploded a nuclear "device" in 1974. Decades of U.S. noncooperation with India's civilian atomic energy program were intended to teach India, and the world, a lesson: You will not prosper if you go nuclear outside the system of international safeguards.

Friday marked another step toward the end of that policy -- also with India. The Bush administration and New Delhi announced the principles by which the United States will resume sales of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, as promised by President Bush in July 2005. The fine print of the agreement, which must still be approved by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and by Congress, has not yet been released. But the big picture is clear: The administration is betting that the benefits to the United States and the world of a "strategic partnership" with India outweigh the risks of a giant exception to the old rules of the nonproliferation game.

There are good reasons to make the bet. India is a booming democracy of more than 1 billion people, clearly destined to play a growing role on the world stage. It can help the United States as a trading partner and as a strategic counterweight to China and Islamic extremists. If India uses more nuclear energy, it will emit less greenhouse gas. Perhaps most important, India has developed its own nuclear arsenal without selling materials or know-how to other potentially dangerous states. This is more than can be said for Pakistan, home of the notorious A.Q. Khan nuclear network.

You can call this a double standard, as some of the agreement's critics do: one set of rules for countries we like, another for those we don't. Or you can call it realism: The agreement provides for more international supervision of India's nuclear fuel cycle than there would be without it. For example, it allows India to reprocess atomic fuel but at a new facility under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision, to protect against its diversion into weapons. The case for admitting India to the nuclear club is based on the plausible notion that the political character of a nuclear-armed state can be as important, or more important, than its signature on the NPT. North Korea, a Stalinist dictatorship, went nuclear while a member of the NPT; the Islamic Republic of Iran appears headed down the same road. Yet India's democratic system and its manifest interest in joining the global free-market economy suggest that it will behave responsibly.

Of course we have, or should have, a "double standard". Just as parents will give more liberty and responsibility to their 18-year-old child than to their 8-year-old the US and the rest of the civilized world needs to evaluate nations based upon their form of government, its stability and their past behavior.

India has a great deal to offer to the US and the US has a great deal to offer to India. Enabling and encouraging them to move as much of their energy production to nuclear as possible helps us, them and the world by reducing demand for petroleum.

Democratic India with nuclear arms provides a valuable counterbalance to both Pakistan and China in the region.

Industrially developed and prosperous India becomes an alternate source of low cost goods for the US economy, at least partially replacing China. And India becomes a vast market for US goods. Throughout the era of the Cold War India, which was attempting -unsuccessfully - to make socialism work, aligned its foreign policy with the USSR and bought the bulk of its military hardware from them as well.

As the various conflicts the world has seen in the years since the USSR folded have amply demonstrated when Russian weaponry comes into conflict with US weaponry the results bring to mind the proverbial "hot knife through butter" with the American hardware filling the role of the hot knife. This fact cannot be lost on the Indians as they seek to upgrade their military to meet the needs of the 21st century.

We also make better commercial aviation aircraft and our automobiles are competitive with much of what Europe and Japan are producing now as well. India and the US could form a strategic partnership which would provide vast benefits to both nations.

The key is going to be energy. The US consumes vast quantities of energy and as the economies of India and China continue to grow they will only increase their already large appetites for energy as well. If the US get behind nuclear power for electricity production and coal liquefaction for motor fuel as well as relaxing domestic oil exploration restriction (ANWAR and the Gulf of Mexico - including the coast of Florida) it can once again become energy independent and even a net exporter of energy. After all our coal reserves are the largest in the world.

If the US can prove itself as a reliable supplier of India's energy needs we will have a powerful ally, an emerging superpower actually, for the next century at least.

To achieve this we will need a president and congress which understand, and do not feel threatened by, capitalistic profit seeking, new technology and full development of America's natural resources.

While I am sure that there are individual exceptions I do not believe that these qualities find their home in the Democrat Party. I urge all who read this to remember this next November.