The Senate has handed President Bush probably the last foreign policy victory of his presidency, easily approving, 86-13, a measure to end a 34-year ban on nuclear trade with India. The House had earlier approved it, 298-117.
As easy a sell as it was here, the agreement almost brought down the government of India because its prickly nationalist and communist parties insisted that its requirement that India’s civilian nuclear program be open to international monitoring impinged on national sovereignty.
India has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has been banned from international nuclear trade since 1974 when it tested its first nuclear bomb. This agreement is de facto recognition of India as a nuclear power and that nothing that happened over the last 34 years is likely to change that.
India last tested a weapon in 1998, and U.S. lawmakers have made clear that if it tests another one, the deal is off.
There is some danger that, as critics charge, other nations seeking nuclear weapons might take the deal as some kind of go-ahead. But India is a stable democracy, a growingly important U.S. trading partner and one with whom we have steadily improving relations after years of Indian resentment.
And there is a pecuniary motive as well. India’s booming economy is short of power and the country plans to spend $14 billion on nuclear reactors and equipment next year and perhaps $175 billion over the next 25. This could help sustain the U.S. nuclear industry until such time as our energy planners get over their fantasies about wind and solar panels and realize that nuclear power is essential to any sensible national energy policy.
Bush has been pushing this agreement since the start of his second term. It’s a victory he should savor.