On January 30, 1948, just a few hours before his assassination, Mahatma Gandhi answered one of his last—and perhaps most important—questions: "How would you meet the atom bomb…with non-violence?" The question was asked by Margaret Bourke-White, a photojournalist for Life magazine. Gandhi turned Bourke-White’s question on its head, demonstrating how the world could not do anything but meet the atomic bomb with non-violence. He explained: "The atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained mankind for the ages. There used to be the so-called laws of war, which made it tolerable. Now we know the naked truth. War knows no law except that of might…. The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter-bombs even as violence cannot be by counter-violence…. Hatred can be overcome only through love."
In the years following Gandhi’s death some of his wisdom had been taken up by the international community—albeit cautiously. In 1961 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the use of nuclear weapons was a violation of the UN Charter. In 1968 the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—the definitive legal statement on nuclear non-proliferation—was written. And, in 1996, though not completely outlawing nuclear weapons, the International Court of Justice unanimously decided that there "exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament." Despite this progress, nuclear proliferation has continued. On October 8, President Bush signed into law the Indo-U.S. Civilian Nuclear Agreement. Despite the lack of media attention, the agreement has serious implications. Not only could it very well spark a new nuclear arms race, but it has also completely gutted much of the NPT.
After the initial shock of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 wore off, many states around the world scrambled to fill the "bomb gap" that was created by the United States. Indeed, in the post-war world, to a large extent, national security itself had been "nuclearized." The ability to make and use nuclear weapons became the pinnacle goal that—if reached—guaranteed a degree of military superiority over one’s neighbors. Nuclear weapons were—and still are—the prime instruments of diplomatic intimidation. The threat of nuclear proliferation was so real that in 1962 John F. Kennedy predicted that by 1975 as many as 20 nations would have nuclear weapons.
Fortunately, Kennedy’s prediction was wrong and steps were taken to halt nuclear proliferation. The most noticeable example was the drafting of the NPT. Though seriously flawed, the NPT has been universally adopted except by India, Pakistan, and Israel who have refused to sign it. North Korea remains the only country that has withdrawn from the treaty. India’s refusal to sign is not without its rationale. It claims that the treaty is biased towards those countries able to attain nuclear weapons prior to 1967—the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China—allowing them to maintain a nuclear monopoly over the rest of the world.
Though the criticism is accurate, nations without nuclear weapons have signed the treaty, acknowledging that the less nuclear weapons in the world the better. And contrary to India’s argument about fairness, the number of states that have forsaken nuclear weapons exceeds the number of states that maintain them.
In 1974 India successfully completed operation Smiling Buddha, its first nuclear weapons test. India developed their nuclear weapons from technology that was exchanged with Canada for supposedly peaceful purposes. The test—though widely celebrated in India—was not welcomed by the international community. The United States took a nuclear isolationist position toward India, refusing to exchange technology with the country even if such technology were for peaceful use. The isolation of India may have slowed its nuclear weapons ambitions, but it did not stop them. In 1998 India successfully completed five more nuclear weapons tests at the Pokhran range. During these tests India’s underlying ambition to propel itself to superpower status was made clear. Two weeks after India’s tests Pakistan completed its own nuclear weapons testing.
For over 30 years U.S. policy has been to isolate India’s nuclear programs. However, in June 2005 President Bush announced his New Framework for U.S.-India Defense Relations, replacing isolationism with a policy of engagement, allowing the United States to exchange "dual use" nuclear technologies: technologies that have both peaceful and military potential. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, this New Framework includes "materials and equipment that could be used to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, potentially creating the material for nuclear bombs."
By 2007 President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalized a bilateral agreement on nuclear cooperation. Proponents of the deal claimed that the agreement helped integrate India’s nuclear program into the non-proliferation community. The new deal allowed the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) access to 14 of India’s 22 nuclear facilities. However, there was a major loophole that rendered this reform ineffective. Inspections by the IAEA are only over civilian facilities, while the distinction between civilian and military facilities is left to the discretion of the Indian government. As Prime Minister Singh commented, New Delhi "retains the sole right to determine such reactors as civilian…. This means that India will not be constrained in any way in building future nuclear facilities whether civilian or military, as per our national requirements." Without inspections over India’s entire operation there is no way to tell if they are actually using the technology for peaceful purposes or to develop nuclear weapons like they did with Canada before 1974.
The most unfortunate aspect of the U.S.-India agreement is the lack of protest by the international community. Despite the fact that the agreement is in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172, which prohibits the exporting of technology that could "assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons," there has been no objection to the deal within the UN. The general director of the IAEA Mohammed El Baradei supports the deal, referring to the agreement as a way to bring India into the non-proliferation community. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an international consortium of 45 nuclear energy producing nations, also approved the deal by consensus in early September. NSG members went so far as to grant India a "clean waiver" from its rules prohibiting nuclear trade with a country that has not signed the NPT. The only country that has offered any noticeable protest is Pakistan whose prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, sent letters to various international organizations warning that the deal could spark an arms race in Asia.
The lack of dissent on the international level at first seems perplexing. One would expect that countries that would appear to have a strategic interest against India amassing nuclear weapons—like China or Russia—would put up a bigger protest. However, global strategic interest is not the only factor driving the plan. Many countries see the precedent set by the deal as a lucrative opportunity to enrich their own nuclear industries. As Leanor Tomeroe of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation explained, "The U.S. nuclear industry has pushed hard for the deal…. Japan, Russia, and France will also gain from this because they think more nuclear competition is profitable." Although the deal may put certain countries in Asia at a military disadvantage to India in the short-run, many see themselves being able to catch up quickly based on the new precedent for nuclear exchange. "Other countries will be looking at this deal as a model that will serve their own interest," said David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. "If the United States can do it with India, why not China with Pakistan? Or Russia with Iran? Or Pakistan with Syria?"
The U.S.-India nuclear agreement is both glaringly hypocritical and dangerous. With the invasion of Iraq the Bush Doctrine established the right of preventive war on the condition that a state is developing weapons of mass destruction. The Administration has carried on this doctrine with Iran. President-elect Obama supported taking an aggressive posture with Iran, and indicated no genuine commitment to overturn the Bush Doctrine. Iran has signed the NPT, opened all their facilities to inspections, and received confirmation by the IAEA that they are using their nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Nevertheless, Iran continues to be threatened and punished for its nuclear program. Meanwhile, India—which has refused to sign the NPT, denies IAEA access to facilities, and has not only developed but tested nuclear weapons—is rewarded with lucrative dual-use nuclear technology. The eagerness that other nations have shown in supporting the U.S.-India deal is a sign that the international arena is heading in a less civil, more aggressive direction. Through prodding by the international nuclear lobby, we may see not an Asian arms race, but a global arms race. If such gruesome speculations become a reality then Gandhi’s wisdom becomes a necessity. Our choices are not between war and peace, but between peace and survival.
Marco Rosaire Rossi is a former Olympia, Washington resident and a current student at the University of Peace in Costa Rica.