The Collegian
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Nuclear hypocrisy

On Dec. 18, 2006, the U.S.-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Promotion Act became law, having been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. This law, inspired by President George W. Bush and sponsored by 36 Republicans, will facilitate trade in nuclear technology between the world's two largest democracies. President Bush was quick to point out the law's economic benefits to the U.S. economy, while its larger effect on international nuclear law has been fundamentally ignored. This law will undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the regulations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), while damaging American credibility as it attempts to curtail proliferation in Iran. Sensible attempts to carry out the "war on terror" will escape damage only because they do not exist.

The U.S. and Iran are signatories of the NPT. Those who sign must give up their ambitions for nuclear weapons (or reduce their stockpiles, in America's case). Iran appears in violation, and the U.S. is leading the drive to get it in line. While America demands that Iran obey the NPT on one hand, it is disobeying it in regards to India. The NPT holds that the U.S. cannot give nuclear aid to any country that doesn't renounce nuclear weapons and open its programs to full inspection. India has nuclear weapons and has only agreed to permit inspections at 14 of its 22 nuclear facilities. Furthermore, Congress states in the law itself that trade in civil nuclear energy with India "represents a significant change in United States policy regarding commerce with countries that are not party to the NPT, which remains the foundation of the international non-proliferation regime."

Trade in civil nuclear technology has been controlled in part by the NSG since its inception in 1975. The NSG was founded in response to a nuclear test by India. That test in 1974, brought home the reality that much nuclear technology designed for civilian purposes can be easily converted for military use. This new treaty, if enacted in the manner envisioned by its creators, will create indubitable de facto benefits to the Indian nuclear weapons program. Congress demonstrated foresight by stating that exceptions to NSG guidelines must not be made for India, but in his signing statement President Bush declared these portions of the law "advisory." (Presidential signing statements < sometimes issued by a president as he signs a bill into law — have historically been of little significance. President Bush's usage of the signing statement has made its constitutionality a subject of great debate, as he has used it to alter the meaning of laws, as in this case.) Efforts are already underway to create an "Indian Exception" in the NSG, thereby facilitating trade in nuclear technology to the country whose nuclear weapons program it was designed to control 32 years ago.

Why is President Bush pushing for an Indian exception? Realpolitik is one reason. He sees India as a useful ally to balance against a more powerful China. In addition to strategic concerns, the president explicitly stated that the economic benefit to the U.S. was an important rationale. Indeed, corporate lobbies were key to the law's formation, and those corporations stand to gain multi-billion dollar contracts. These may seem to be understandable and legitimate reasons to forge a nuclear partnership with India, but when one considers the long-term costs, they are not.

The president and Congress should think critically about the "war on terror" for a moment. Although this violation of international law has made no headlines in the U.S., there is no doubt that Muslims around the world are paying attention. The U.S. will soon be giving nuclear aid to Hindu India, archenemy of Muslim Pakistan, to whom the U.S. has refused similar aid. At the same time, America is threatening Muslim Iran with sanctions through the U.N. if they don't halt their own nuclear program. If the U.N. can't make that happen, President Bush has not ruled out military action as a "last resort."

This dual standard in its nuclear policy is one more reason why Muslims around the world feel threatened by the United States. This is evidenced by statements from Muslims across the spectrum, from members of the Al-Qaeda leadership to moderate members of the Indian government. They all regularly cite U.S. foreign policy in regards to Muslims and their enemies as important reasons for their conflict with the U.S. The energy treaty between the U.S. and India is only adding fuel to the fire. So, should the U.S. go easy on Iran? Absolutely not, but America ought to obey international nuclear law itself before asking others to do so.

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