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Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal--One Year Later

Author: J. Sri Raman
October 1, 2009

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J. Sri Raman revisits the controvel U.S.-India Nuclear deal signed in 2008 and explains how it appears to be "solidly entrenched"in long term U.S. policy.

October 8 marks the one-year anniversary of former President George W. Bush signing into law the so-called U.S.-India nuclear deal. The deal proved controversial from its inception because it ended a 34-year U.S. ban on nuclear trade with India, a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And yet despite heavy criticism of the deal--especially from arms control and disarmament advocates--one year later, it appears solidly entrenched as long-term policy.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the U.S.-India Business Council's Synergies Summit in June, "The first stage of Indo-U.S. relations was ushered in when President Bill Clinton opened a new chapter of engagement with India. Then President George [W.] Bush took it to the second level with the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement. The Obama administration is determined to take it to the third stage, which would allow the countries to move beyond concerns about the status of India's nuclear program to a framework of economic and technical cooperation."

At its heart, the U.S.-India deal is really about big business, which has boomed since the agreement entered into force. In fact, intensive lobbying by corporate sectors in both the United States and India helped overrule the concerns of the arms control community. For Ron Somers, the president of the U.S.-India Business Council, the calculus was simple: "[The U.S.-India nuclear deal] will present a major opportunity for U.S. and Indian companies," he promised in July 2007. He added that the deal would create up to 27,000 "high-quality" jobs per year over the next decade in the U.S. nuclear industry. And so, Somers and U.S. and Indian corporations took to Capitol Hill and sold the deal hard. According to the Washington Times, New Delhi spent about $1.3 million on two lobbying firms, one of which, Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, was headed by former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill until July. Meanwhile, the Confederation of Indian Industries funded numerous trips to India for U.S. congressional delegations. Modest estimates placed the total cost at about $550,000.

Those investments have already paid off. Reportedly, the Indian government recently told Washington that it was ready to buy $150 billion worth of U.S. nuclear reactors, equipment, and materials. (See "India Says Lift Ban on Dual-Use Items; Dangles $270 Billion Business".) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy Shyam Saran also has promised that U.S. companies would "benefit for decades" from Indian orders for military hardware orders, ranging from fighter jets and aircraft carriers to anti-nuclear missile shields. As with the run-up to the deal's approval, any criticism of these transactions is being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the money involved. For example, almost no one of any influence is paying attention to Indian academic and activist Dhirendra Sharma who has questioned how such long-term, large deals can be made "without clearance from the Reserve Bank of India and without engineering and technical assessment of old American reactors."

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