Friday, December 18, 2009

India and the NPT

I'm embarrassed (again) to have missed this development when it happened, but I just learned this afternoon, from David Fidler and Sumit Ganguly's Newsweek column ("India's Bombshell," Dec. 14) about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement on November 29 that India is willing to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nuclear weapons state. India, of course, has never signed the NPT (neither have Pakistan or Israel).

Singh's move comes as a considerable surprise, and as Fidler and Ganguly note, it puts the current NPT nuclear weapon states, especially the U.S. and China, in something of a quandary:
"To admit India as a nuclear-weapons state, NPT members would have to amend the treaty -- specifically, the provision that defines nuclear-weapons states as those that detonated a weapon before 1967. Opponents will argue that bringing India inside the nuclear club could set a dangerous precedent, dangling the possibility of legitimacy in front of other would-be nuclear states. But, given India's responsible behavior as a nuclear-weapons democracy, it would also strengthen the NPT at a moment when the treaty is under attack for its apparent ineffectiveness in curtailing nuclear violations in North Korea and Iran.... [T]he U.S. and China will have particularly hard choices to make. For Washington, opposing the NPT amendment would hurt its relationship with India.... And opposing Indian membership would make Beijing look selfish, more concerned with its own narrow interests than with non-proliferation."
I haven't figured out yet exactly what I think about this, but I have one gloss on this passage: India is effectively already a member of the nuclear club. Even though it's not in the NPT, India was the beneficiary of a deal with the U.S. on civilian nuclear power entered into last year. And it's not as if one hears much of an outcry from any of the current NPT nuclear weapon states about India's nuclear status. Moreover, how would India's joining the NPT affect its none-too-satisfactory relations with Pakistan? Might it not heighten resentment in Islamabad about perceived international favoritism toward India? And, in the long run, would that be good for India? All in all, I'm not sure I entirely agree with Fidler and Ganguly that joining the NPT "would confer enormous benefits on India." It will be interesting, in any case, to see what happens with this.

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