The item “US–India Nuclear Pact Gets Mixed Reaction” (Physics Today, February 2007, page 24) makes for amusing reading. I am dismayed at the one-sided and unbalanced coverage. I strongly disagree with the contention of Matthew Bunn from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University that the US stands to gain “between not very much and nothing” from this pact. That India has opened 14 of its civilian nuclear reactors to International Atomic Energy Agency oversight is surely a step in the right direction; before the deal the reactors were all off bounds. Mohamed El Baradei, the IAEA’s director general, welcomed the pact enthusiastically. Surely, if the leader of the United Nations body whose mission is to prevent global nuclear proliferation endorses the agreement, it can’t really be the death knell of nonproliferation. ElBaradei speaks with much credibility, which the writer of the article blissfully ignored, instead giving free rein to obscure think tankers.
Michael Krepon’s good guys–bad guys argument essentially echoes the chorus of the nonproliferation pundits who rule the numerous moribund think tanks of Washington, DC, and the Democratic party. Where is the comparison between India, a responsible non-proliferating democracy whose nuclear weapons are under civilian (not military) oversight, and Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea? Having nuclear weapons and yet not proliferating weapons or the associated technology is not “bad behavior” on the part of India. Unfortunately, “bad guys” such as Pakistan—thanks to nuclear scientist Abdul Q. Khan—have exported nuclear weapons development technology and rocket design to North Korea and possibly Iran. It’s a no-brainer, then, that the Bush administration has categorically refused a similar nuclear deal with Pakistan.
Most important, the article utterly ignores the geostrategic and geopolitical ground realities in both South Asia and East Asia. India’s strategic attack-preparedness planning is concerned with China, not Pakistan. Current Indian
military readiness can ensure that India can take a first strike from Pakistan, its neighbor to the west, and retaliate massively. India can never realistically sign the nonproliferation treaty until it first has a bilateral treaty with China to cap that country’s nuclear weapons production and perhaps dismantle existing warheads.
For nonproliferation, the world badly needs a better framework than the NPT, which has been dying a steady and slow death thanks to Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea. Nonproliferation, as it has been enforced, has not worked, and it is time to think of new approaches. Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea should not be allowed to enrich uranium and plutonium. They should be given nuclear fuel for supervised use in civilian reactors under the strict supervision of the IAEA, with all spent fuel taken back promptly by the suppliers so that it cannot be enriched for weapons production. The appropriate response for bad behavior is not knee-jerk economic sanctions that hurt only the general populace and not the governments, but the freezing of all assets held by those countries in foreign banks. Without foreign exchange, nefarious proliferation activities become much more difficult.