IDSA Issue Brief
IDSA ISSUE BRIEF
If India Tests? The Implications for the Indo-U.S. CivilNuclear Deal Justine Isola
Justine Isola is Visiting International Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi August 26, 2010
By some calculations, the chances that India will test a nuclear weapon in the coming years are not high. But if India again surprises the world as it did in 1998 with five nuclear explosions in the desert of Rajasthan, then conversations on the implications for the Indo-U.S. civil-nuclear deal will begin. The record of debate on testing during negotiations reflects the depth of American concern that testing will lead to unstable nuclear escalation and the lengths the U.S. went to in order to deter India from conducting new tests. But it also underscores U.S. resolve to forge a new relationship with India despite evident disagreement on a thorny issue. Studying the finely wrought language of the deal reveals some persisting ambiguity about how the deal would be affected if India were to resume testing. However, in the event of a test, it’s a safe bet that several factors will play into determining U.S. response: the preferences of U.S. leaders, domestic lobbying, and geopolitical balance of power considerations. This response will be constrained by the strength of the U.S.-India relationship. Further, due to India's deepening nuclear ties with the rest of the world, any U.S. response may have only a modest impact on India.
If India Tests? The Implications for the Indo-U.S. Civil-Nuclear Deal
e The conclusion of the Indo-U.S. civil-nuclear deal in the fall of 2008 marked the end of three years of negotiations between the U.S. and India. Completion of the deal should not, however, obscure the history of domestic debate within the U.S. and India on how the terms of the deal apply. One issue on which lack of consensus notably persists within the U.S. is how the deal would be affected by India testing a nuclear weapon. As a Carnegie Endowment publication released during the thick of negotiations predicted, on the topic of nuclear testing, “[t]he ambiguities of this agreement invite future disputes and recriminations.”1 More recently, a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder on the deal echoed this sentiment, referring to the repercussions of testing as “a potential area of dispute.”2 Examining U.S. laws on nuclear exports and cooperation suggests that the President would have to take some mandatory steps in response to a test. But (s)he would also have some discretionary authority. Looking at public statements and government debate on the issue of testing when Congress was negotiating the terms of the deal only underscores this lingering uncertainty about what India can expect from the U.S. if it resumes testing. However, several factors will certainly play into determining whether testing would jeopardize the agreement: who is in power in Washington, the strength of domestic interest groups, and balance of power geopolitics. Analysis of these factors suggests that the increasingly close ties between the U.S. and India may leave the U.S. with limited options for influencing India’s behaviour. Burgeoning nuclear ties between India and the rest of the world may further mean that the end of U.S. nuclear cooperation would have only a modest impact on India.
The letter of the law
U.S. President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Singh’s July 18, 2005, joint statement on civilian nuclear cooperation ushered in a heated debate between their two governments on the terms of this partnership.3 Testing emerged as one of the most contentious issues from the start. Despite Prime Minister Singh’s promise in the joint statement to continue India’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, many non-proliferation advocates in the U.S. were unhappy that the proposed agreement on cooperation did not explicitly prohibit Indian testing. The stakes were nuclear escalation in an...
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