Forbes Magazine
September 30, 2008
The India Nuclear Deal: The Merits
By William S. Cohen
A remarkable thing happened in the first week of September.
Thanks to an extensive diplomatic effort by the U.S. and sustained work by India, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), whose job it is to control and protect nuclear materials, voted unanimously to lift the ban on nuclear trade with India, clearing the way for civilian nuclear cooperation between India and countries around the world.
For America to take full advantage of the NSG's decision, the U.S. Senate needs to act immediately to approve the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Swift, positive Senate action will tie India more tightly into global nuclear non-proliferation norms, create opportunities for American businesses and workers, fight climate change and strengthen America's ties with the world's largest democracy, an increasingly important American ally in a dangerous world.
It is worth noting that the NSG debated this issue intently. Some members initially raised concerns about a positive vote, but India's formal commitment to strengthen its non-proliferation regime and maintain a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing paved the way for the NSG's unanimous vote.
The NSG is not the only important international body that has now come out in favor of fuller Indian participation in the international non-proliferation conversation. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has said that, "Allowing India to make full use of nuclear energy and state of the art technology is good for the world. It ensures safety, security and development."
America will benefit if the Senate can act quickly. The U.S. State Department estimates that India plans to import eight 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors by 2012. If the United States wins bids for just two of these reactors, it would result in 3,000 to 5,000 direct jobs and 10,000 to 15,000 indirect jobs in the U.S. French and Russian companies are already lined up to sell their nuclear technology to India. It would be an unfortunate irony indeed if bringing India into the world of nuclear trade and non-proliferation--a goal of U.S. diplomacy--would result in no economic benefits for American companies and workers.
All concerned with climate change should also support the U.S.-India agreement. Denying Indians the ability to make full use of nuclear energy will force that country to continue to rely heavily on coal, oil and gas. Now that the NSG has acted, India can replace an estimated 20 gigawatts of its coal-fired energy with nuclear power, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by more than 145 million tons per year. To connect this to my previous point, some of those nuclear reactors should be American-made.
India is a vital partner of the United States, and the fact that we are two vibrant democracies profoundly cements that relationship. Some in Congress have been frustrated that India took so long to approve its end of this arrangement, limiting the time available for the U.S. Congress to act. We wish India had acted earlier, but rather than punishing India for its democratic process, we should applaud New Delhi for creating the domestic consensus required for such a momentous agreement. As Americans, how could we want it any other way?
This is not a new issue for our Congress. In 2006, Congress carefully considered all strategic and non-proliferation issues in extensive hearings before passing the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act--the first step in conditionally approving the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement--by overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Since the NSG acted earlier this month, both presidential candidates have expressed their support for the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord, and the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday approved the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-Proliferation Enhancement Act with a clear majority.
One democracy has acted, and it is time for ours to respond. The remaining step to successfully complete the U.S.-India nuclear agreement is approval by the U.S. Senate. Prompt, positive approval will provide substantial economic, environmental and strategic benefits to America. There is no time to lose.
William S. Cohen, a former U.S. secretary of defense, is chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group