Dr. Strangedeal Redux

By Anja Manuel & Lauryn Williams

Former president Bush and Prime Minister Singh on the day the U.S.-India civilian-nuclear agreement was reached. Source: U.S. Embassy New Delhi's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Former president George W. Bush and Prime Minister Singh on the day the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement was signed, March 2, 2006. Source: U.S. Embassy New Delhi’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Eight years after its inception, the civilian nuclear deal between the United States and India has seen some early successes, but not in the way many anticipated.

On March 2, 2006, Prime Minister Singh of India and President Bush agreed on the key principles of the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal. That deal brought India’s civilian nuclear program under the IAEA inspection regime. In return, the United States removed sanctions and permitted India to construct nuclear power plants with foreign assistance. India has great ambitions for the deal:  it plans to build new nuclear reactors with 25GW of capacity before 2020, enough to power four cities the size of New York, and to begin weaning itself from its dirty coal-based electricity grid.

Returning from this historic summit, both leaders were greeted with a barrage of criticism. Critics – including the Economist, in an article title “Dr. Strangedeal” — argued that the  deal would undermine the international nonproliferation regime by granting India de facto nuclear status while requiring minimal concessions.

Fast forward eight years, two full presidential administrations, and let’s take stock of where the “civ-nuke deal” stands.  While the outcome on the non-proliferation side is so-far mixed, it has already shown substantial success in two areas: cementing a strategic partnership with India and alleviating the country’s energy shortages in a sustainable way.

Since the Nuclear Supplier Group unanimously voted to allow India to enter the global civilian nuclear trade in 2008, India has entered into nuclear pacts with the United States, Russia, France, Kazakhstan and Canada and is currently in negotiation with Japan. Russia in particular has embarked on an ambitious plan to construct between 16 and 18 new civilian reactors in India before 2030.

So, has the agreement been a success?

Non-proliferation. Critics of the deal argued it would undermine the nuclear Non-Proliferation  Treaty (NPT). Advocates argued the system would be strengthened. The outcome so far is mixed. It is a clear win that India’s civilian nuclear program has been brought under IAEA safeguards. There is no clear evidence that India is building additional nuclear weapons with uranium that was “freed up” by permitting it to receive civilian nuclear fuel from foreign suppliers, as critics alleged.

India has chosen to produce far fewer weapons than its indigenous uranium supplies would permit.  Its nuclear program has remained focused on the Chinese threat, rather than on Pakistan. However, as critics predicted, Pakistan seems to be bolstering its nuclear arsenal in response to the deal. It is also true — and unfortunate — that China has recently flouted international efforts to limit nuclear trade by supplying Pakistan with three civilian reactors.

Strategic Partnership. Both India and the United States understood that the nuclear deal was designed to fundamentally transform the strategic relationship between our two countries. In that area, it has been a success already. The deal became a “joint venture” embraced by both governments at the highest levels. It established trust that has unlocked further cooperation. In 2006, for the first time India joined the United States in condemning the Iranian nuclear program at the IAEA. India has steadily reduced its reliance on Iranian oil over the last six years. In 2011, during its Security Council term, India endorsed the previous six UNSCRs sanctioning Iran.

India and the United States have conducted numerous joint military exercises and remain committed to fostering stronger defense ties – including a recent defense trade initiative that includes the sharing of sensitive high-tech information. India is now the largest foreign buyer of U.S. weapons. Post-2006, the United States and India have also embarked on a deeper level of scientific collaboration. The two countries established a Joint Committee for scientific and technological collaboration, which as of 2012, has developed a two-year action plan for joint projects in a variety of fields, ranging from environmental to health to computer applications.

The Environment.  Another key goal was to alleviate India’s chronic energy shortages, in a way that reduced its potential carbon emissions. The Indian government is still confident that it will build reactors with the capacity to produce 25GW of energy (although the timeline may have slipped). By comparison, India had only 3GW of nuclear energy in 2006. In 2006, a Stanford scientist estimated that by increasing the production of clean nuclear energy to just 20GW, India would reduce its carbon emissions by over 130 million tons each year. For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year – a massive win for the environment.

Thus, while the non-proliferation result of the civilian nuclear deal is mixed – as most observers suspected, the substantial wins for the environment and in forging a closer U.S.-Indian partnership, make it a clear success.

Ms. Anja Manuel is a Co-Founder and Principal at RiceHadleyGates LLC, along with Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley and Robert Gates. She also teaches at Stanford University, and served in the U.S. State Department from 2005-2007. Ms. Lauryn Williams is a senior at Stanford.

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