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New Council Report Urges Two-Stage Compromise on U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

Related Bios: Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, and Charles D. Ferguson, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Science and Technology
June 7, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations


Congress Should Support Deal While Reinforcing Nonproliferation

June 7, 2006—If Congress does not approve the U.S.-India nuclear deal, “it would damage the bilateral relationship,” concludes a new Council Special Report. Congress should adopt a two-stage approach: formally endorsing the deal’s basic framework, while delaying final approval until it is assured that critical nonproliferation needs are met. “Patience and a few simple fixes would address major proliferation concerns while ultimately strengthening the strategic partnership,” says the report.

“The Bush administration has stirred deep passions and put Congress in the seemingly impossible bind of choosing between approving the deal and damaging nuclear nonproliferation, or rejecting the deal and thereby setting back an important strategic relationship,” say the authors, Michael A. Levi and Charles D. Ferguson, both Council fellows for science and technology. But this is a false choice, they argue.

Levi and Ferguson advise Congress to “reserve the bulk of its political capital for a handful of top-tier objectives. It should focus on preventing Indian nuclear testing and fundamental changes in Indian nuclear strategy, rather than on blocking growth in the number of Indian nuclear weapons. It should focus on obtaining cooperation—from India as well as other countries—in controlling the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies, instead of on measures that would shape the development of nuclear technology in India itself.”

“Congress should issue a set of bottom-line requirements for the formal U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement, for India’s inspection agreement with the IAEA, and for new [Nuclear Suppliers Group] rules that would allow nuclear commerce with India, and enforce those requirements by refusing to pass final legislation enabling nuclear cooperation until the agreements are in place and are satisfactory,” says the report, U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation: A Strategy for Moving Forward.

Levi and Ferguson explain that the deal—allowing U.S.-India nuclear cooperation for the first time in more than thirty years—would help create a stronger U.S.-Indian relationship that would, in turn, improve America’s position in Asia and the world. U.S. policymakers of both parties have long been concerned about a rising China; by strengthening relations with China’s next-door neighbor, the United States has the potential to improve its strategic position. Meanwhile, as U.S. policy increasingly focuses on promoting democracy worldwide, the appeal of a deeper relationship with the world’s largest democracy is undeniable.

“American exclusion of India from nuclear commerce has long grated on New Delhi, proving an irritant in the bilateral relationship, and removing this point of friction would no doubt strengthen the relationship,” says the report. While it criticizes the administration for conceding too much in its negotiations with India, Levi and Ferguson conclude that, as long as Congress can reinforce a handful on nonproliferation bottom-lines, it would be unwise to scuttle the deal now.

The report calls for Congress and the administration to focus on five principles as the basic framework for solidifying the deal:

  • “Congress should ensure that, if India breaks its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, nuclear cooperation will cease.”
  • “To reinforce [India’s] commitments [to strengthening export controls], Congress should ask the administration if it requires any money or legal authority to assist India in improving its export controls, and it should provide whatever is needed. This support would most likely fund American experts to work cooperatively with Indian authorities, rather than comprise direct transfers to India.”
  • “U.S. legislation, while not mandating the future shape of the Indian nuclear complex, should provide incentives to steer India in the right direction.”
  • Future cooperation should be freed from the “formal annual review [that could] undermine the confidence-building purpose of the U.S.-India deal. Instead, in exchange for giving up its annual right of review, Congress should provide less-intrusive incentives for India to label future reactors as civilian and place them under inspection.”
  • Congress should accept that India will not “unilaterally cap its nuclear arsenal.”

While proponents of U.S.-India engagement have opposed any delay for fear of undermining the deal, Levi and Ferguson argue that “an enduring strategic partnership cannot be founded only on rapport between a single pair of leaders and upon legislative action taken grudgingly. Legislation passed with broad support will benefit both the United States and India in the long term.”

Contact: CFR Communications,; 212-434-9888

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