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DU Prof Downplays Indian Proliferation

University of Denver Professor Ved Nanda said in the Denver Post that India was pleased with George Bush’s re-election, in part because Bush “is not seen as ideologically stuck on a non-proliferation agenda and, hence, India’s nuclear status is likely to gain acceptance without its formally signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty.” Later he said, “India has found U.S. cooperation in high technology, nuclear energy, space exploration and missile defense to be very positive steps.”

Although our ignoring the fact that India became a nuclear power, despite the U.S. best efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear proliferation, is good for bilateral U.S.-India relations, it is not good for the worldwide non-proliferation regime. Other countries, Iran and North Korea in particular, will see India’s flouting of the non-proliferation regime as evidence that they can do it, too. Already people are saying that the lesson of Iraq (which failed) and India (which succeeded) is that you have to build your atomic bomb before you challenge the U.S., and that this is what North Korea and Iran may be doing.

There are efforts to strengthen and reform the NPT and the IAEA, in particular to get rid of IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei. But these efforts ignore the fact that the NPT and similar treaties require the offending country to join voluntarily. If these countries perceive that the NPT or its successor is entirely one-sided, that it only requires sacrifices by non-nuclear countries and none by nuclear countries, like the U.S., then they will not join. The NPT requires the nuclear countries to negotiate disarmament, but there have been no serious, binding disarmament talks among the nuclear powers for years.

By removing any international opprobrium for going nuclear, and by making nuclear weapons a sign of great power status, the Bush Administration, Ved Nanda and other pro-Indian writers may be clearing the way for Iran, North Korea, and some other countries (Brazil or South Korea, for starters) to become nuclear powers in the near or mid-term future.

A recent interview, reported by AFP, given in South Korea by Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, in which he urged North and South Korea not to follow India’s example by becoming nuclear powers, illustrates how confusing this situation has become. “Natwar’s N-speak baffles New Delhi,” said a front page headline in Thursday’s Indian Express. The Express said Singh “virtually expressed regret over India’s current nuclear status” and contradicted the stand taken by former Congress premier Rajiv Gandhi who sanctioned in 1989 pursuit of a nuclear weapons program. The newspaper quoted a senior unnamed Indian foreign ministry official as saying Singh’s remarks reflected “his personal view.”

A clarification issued about a day later, and reported in said that the Foreign Minister had said (or meant to say) that the two Koreas should not go nuclear because they had signed the NPT, unlike India. India has refused to sign the NPT because it considers it unfairly discriminatory between countries that had nuclear weapons when the NPT was negotiated, like the U.S., and those that did not, like India, which went nuclear too late to be exempted by the treaty.

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