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'No N-deal if there's arms race'
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | June 06, 2006 18:14 IST
South Asia expert Stephen P Cohen has informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would not favor the US-India civilian nuclear deal if he believed India was seeking to become a 'major' nuclear power -- that is, 'develop forces larger than those of, say, China, and were it to build a nuclear delivery system that would enable it to strike targets in Europe and America.'
Cohen, director of the South Asia Program at The Brookings Institution, however noted that 'At the moment, the Indian strategic and nuclear communities would not favor such a capability, but I would be alarmed if circumstances were to lead to such a policy.'
The statement last week was in response to a specific question on record, by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Committee following several hearings held by the panel that is considering pending legislation that will consummate the deal.
'Based on your contacts with the Indian nuclear and strategic community, would you still favor this deal if you did not have confidence that India is unlikely to exercise its maximum rights to increase its production of fissile material?' Biden asked Cohen.
In the ensuing back and forth, that was made available to rediff-India Abroad, Cohen said 'My confidence in the modesty of Indian plans rests upon some assumptions about India as a state -- democratic, secular, globally --interconnected culturally and economically, and not eager to enter into an arms race with major strategic rivals.'
The policy expert however added that 'a very different India cannot be ruled out entirely. After all, India was under authoritarian rule for 18 months during the period of the Emergency under (then Prime Minister) Mrs (Indira) Gandhi.
'I would regard such an India as very unlikely for the foreseeable future, and hence my conclusion that our recognition of India as a nuclear weapons state, and support for its civilian nuclear program, if coupled with a renewed arms control diplomacy, will be to our advantage, especially if we can persuade India to become a partner in such diplomacy. This deal makes such a partnership possible, although it does not ensure it,' Cohen told the committee.
Asked if the US was right or wrong to seek a new status for India with respect to the NPT, Cohen said 'We are right to do so, and India should be treated as a nuclear weapons state.
'An analogy is the recent bill for amnesty and the regularization of illegal immigrants: India has had to wait; it will have to demonstrate that it will be a responsible nuclear weapons state; and it will receive no special advantage, but its fundamental status will change.'
Cohen faulted the Administration for not thinking this out carefully 'as it still insists that India will not be a nuclear weapons state under the treaty.'
He said the standards that India should be required to meet should not be the safeguarding of reactors, because India will have more reactors under safeguard than all the nuclear weapons states combined.
'That really is an irrelevant issue. We should be more concerned about India's behavior in terms of cooperation on nonproliferation � membership and adherence to various regimes � and its restraint in terms of developing a nuclear arsenal in such a way that it does not trigger an arms race with its neighbors.
'It is in India's economic interest to be seen as a responsible global stakeholder; this will shape, on the margins, the willingness of many important companies to invest in India.'
Cohen advised that the US 'should continue to stress the importance of India's membership in such regimes, and link this to the argument that a globally-engaged and responsible India is a good place to put American investments.'
Congressional sources told rediff-India Abroad that Biden's question, and the continued questioning of other experts and witnesses who have testified before the Committee over the past several months, showed that "members still have a number of concerns over the deal, and several unanswered questions that they need clarified both by the Administration and experts like Professor Cohen, before it can be voted out of Committee for debate on the full Senate floor."
One source said that Biden, who has indicated in principle that he supports the agreement although he has not co-sponsored the legislation, believes he needs comprehensive answers to his concerns so that when the debate begins on the full floor of the Senate, "he will be able to defend the agreement when concerns and amendments are brought up by those who strongly oppose the legislation, largely because of nonproliferation concerns and its precedent-setting exclusive exemption for India, a non-signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty."