While everyone has been abuzz about Georgia, the Beijing Olympics and Sarah Palin, perhaps the most important development in the world has been unfolding with almost no attention. India and the United States, along with deep-pocketed corporations, have been steadily pushing along a lucrative and dangerous new nuclear pact, the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Both governments have been working at a fever pitch to get the pact approved by the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group, which governs the world's trade in nuclear materials, and before Congress for a final vote before it adjourns this month.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the deal will let his country, which refuses to sign either the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, take "its rightful place among the comity of nations." I entirely understand why today's democratic, globalized and modernizing India wants recognition and respect, and I agree that it needs more energy. But this foolish, risky deal is not the way to get any of these things. India's democracy has already paid a crippling price, and now the planet may too.
The historic deal will allow U.S. nuclear companies to again do business in India, something that has been barred since 1974, when New Delhi tested its first atomic bomb. (India tested nuclear bombs again in 1998, spurring Pakistan to follow suit with its own tests days later.) The pact will also lift restrictions on other countries' sales of nuclear technology and fuel to India, while asking virtually nothing from India in return. All of that will undermine the very international system that India so ardently seeks to join.
The deal risks triggering a new arms race in Asia: If it passes, a miffed and unstable Pakistan will seek nuclear parity with India, and China will fume at a transparent U.S. ploy to balance Beijing's rise by building up India as a counterweight next door. The pact will gut global efforts to contain the spread of nuclear materials and encourage other countries to flout the NPT that India is now being rewarded for failing to sign. The U.S.-India deal will divert billions of dollars away from India's real development needs in sustainable agriculture, education, health care, housing, sanitation and roads. It will also distract India from developing clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and from reducing emissions from its many coal plants. Instead, the pact will focus the nation's efforts on an energy source that will, under the rosiest of projections, contribute a mere 8 percent of India's total energy needs -- and won't even do that until 2030.
So what will the deal accomplish? It will generate billions of dollars in lucrative contracts for the corporate members of the U.S.-India Business Council and the Confederation of Indian Industry. The Bush administration hopes that it will help resuscitate the moribund U.S. nuclear power industry and expand the use of this "non-polluting" source of energy, one of the pillars of the Bush team's energy policy. The deal will let the real leaders of the global nuclear-power business -- France and Russia, both of which eagerly support the deal -- reap huge profits in India. And the pact will provide spectacularly profitable opportunities to India's leading corporations, which are slavering to get their hands on a share of the booty. How much booty? This newspaper estimates more than $100 billion in business over the next 20 years, as well as perhaps tens of thousands of jobs in India and the United States.
This is what the U.S.-India nuclear deal is really all about. This is what the nonproliferation regime that has kept the world safe from nuclear Armageddon for decades is being risked for: cash