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An open letter to the Members of Congress from a group of eminent scholars, diplomats and former US Government officials calling for an endorsement of the India- US civil nuclear cooperation agreement

Washington,  DC
March 10, 2006 

The Administration will soon present to the Congress a request for action to implement the agreement between President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh providing for civilian nuclear cooperation with India. The signatories to this letter urge your support for the necessary legislation. This recommendation is based on our extensive experience and expertise relating to non-proliferation policy, security issues in Asia, the domestic economic and political environment in India and India-U.S. relations.

Congress should support the agreement to promote U.S. strategic interests, U.S. non-proliferation goals, U.S. energy security and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming. Failure to implement it would be a body blow to the development of the strong relationship with India so important to achieving U.S. goals in Asia and beyond. We present herewith the case for the agreement and our response to the arguments put forward in Congressional testimony by critics of the accord. 

As Mohammed El Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said following the President’s visit to New Delhi, “this agreement is an important step towards satisfying India’s growing need for energy. It would also bring India closer as an important partner in the non-proliferation regime… It would be a step forward toward universalization of the international safeguards regime.”

The Strategic Case

The implementation of this agreement is necessary to promote a strategic partnership with a dynamic, self-reliant India that is playing an increasingly significant regional and global security role. Such a partnership has already begun to develop as a natural consequence of shared democratic values, compatible market economies, growing technological interdependence and a congruence of geopolitical interests. Extending this partnership to cooperation in civilian nuclear technology has now become urgent. With its population now past one billion, India needs a massive expansion of its civilian nuclear program in order to cope with an escalating energy shortage that could in time threaten its economic and political stability.

Against the background of China’s rise, including the projected expansion of its naval reach in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, a strong, stable India will advance the traditional U.S. objective of an Asian balance of power in which no one nation is able to exercise overwhelming dominance. Since both the United States and India are seeking constructive relations with China, neither Washington nor New Delhi wants their new partnership to become an anti-Beijing security alliance. At the same time, as a series of joint naval exercises have shown, the U.S. and Indian navies are positioned for growing cooperation from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca. In the event of disruptions in the movement of critical energy supplies through Asian sealanes resulting from wars or piracy, this cooperation will enhance the ability of the United States to respond effectively. Apart from such direct military cooperation, the United States and India have a common strategic stake in combating Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Two previous administrations have attempted to move toward a strategic partnership with India while keeping in quarantine any dealings related to civilian nuclear technology or dual-use technology with possible applications to Indian nuclear or missile programs. This approach has failed because India, a subcontinental giant with a middle class larger than the combined population of France, Germany and Britain, is endowed with a wealth of indigenous talent in science and technology and feels confident that it will achieve major power status with or without external help. 

The Non-Proliferation Case

Implementation of the US-India civil nuclear agreement will advance the objectives of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by opening the door to India’s participation in the global non-proliferation regime. Contrary to the Congressional testimony of some specialists:


  • The NPT does not bar the United States and other signatory nations from providing civilian nuclear technology under safeguards to non-signatories such as India. It is for this reason that the United Kingdom, France and Russia have endorsed the agreement. Congress went beyond the NPT by requiring safeguards on all of a country’s nuclear installations as a condition of U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation. This has had consequences that conflict directly with U.S. nonproliferation goals. The United States can sell civilian nuclear reactors to China, which signed the NPT but has supplied nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan. At the same time, the United States has barred such sales to India, which did not sign the NPT but has never transferred nuclear technology to others. 

    The technical and legal justification put forward for this paradoxical result is that China’s 1964 test took place before the cutoff date for classification as a “nuclear weapons state” specified in the NPT, while India’s 1974 and 1998 tests did not.

    We recognize that critics of the agreement have legitimate concerns about possible unintended consequences that cannot be foreseen. On balance, however, we believe that such concerns are less compelling than the clear, tangible, immediate benefits to the non-proliferation regime that will result from the agreement. 

  • The agreement will expand safeguards coverage of the Indian nuclear program by requiring India to place all existing and projected reactors designated by India as civilian under international safeguards in perpetuity. Initially, India insisted that reactors built without foreign involvement be exempt from safeguards, but withdrew this proviso during the negotiations with President Bush. These safeguards will remain in force in perpetuity and will be linked to assurances of continued supply for safeguarded civilian nuclear facilities. With or without U.S. help, India will be forced by burgeoning population growth to expand civilian nuclear power exponentially for electricity generation, and it is important to bring this expanded capacity under international inspection.

  • Prime Minister Singh has fulfilled his commitment in the accord that India would “identify and separate civilian and nuclear facilities in a phased manner.” After bitter internal battles with nuclear nationalists in India, the Prime Minister has presented a credible eight-year timetable designating which of India’s existing nuclear facilities are now restricted to nuclear power generation, which ones will be shifted over to civilian purposes at specified stages, and which ones will be left for military use. India’s nuclear hawks wanted a much shorter civilian list. By 2014, 65 percent of India’s existing installed thermal nuclear capacity, 14 of 22 reactors, will be restricted to civilian purposes. As Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns stated on March 2, safeguards will apply to all future civilian power reactors, thermal reactors and “breeder reactors that are classified as civilian” by India. The reactors to be placed under safeguards include several that India built with its own know-how and resources. In the past it has refused to place them under safeguards, but will do so now in order to be able to get foreign fuel and components.

    Critics object to the fact that the agreement gives India the freedom to build new military reactors and exempts key research and development facilities with a military potential from safeguards, such as any breeder reactors not classified as civilian. Given the magnitude and projected growth of its energy needs, however, India appears likely in its own self-interest to use fast-breeder reactors it may subsequently build for civilian purposes, as its current plans envisage. 

    Another often-expressed objection is that the agreement will enable India to use its indigenous uranium for military reactors, since civilian reactors will be able to rely increasingly on imported uranium fuel. But as The Washington Post has pointed out, “leaving a potentially large plutonium-making program outside the scope of multilateral inspections is not a setback relative to the status quo,” since India would have been free to continue making as many nuclear weapons as it deemed necessary regardless of the July accord, using breeder reactors as well as uranium-fueled reactors. 

    The critics object to the very concept of a civilian-military separation plan that implicitly acknowledges the military component of the Indian nuclear program. But this acknowledgement was long-overdue. India has been a de facto nuclear weapons state since 1974, and U.S. policy under two administrations has already given de facto recognition to this reality. 

  • Critics also argue that the accord will lead countries that accepted the NPT and gave up their own nuclear aspirations to consider reactivating their weapons programs. In our view, what could put pressure on these countries is not the deal with India but the geopolitical situation in their own regions. Thus, Brazil and Argentina would appear unlikely to reopen their NPT adherence, and should, in any case, have access to nuclear technology, given their compliance to date with Article One. 

    By contrast, North Korea, an NPT signatory, says it has developed nuclear weapons, pointing to perceived security threats that have nothing to do with the U.S.-India agreement. Similarly, if South Korea, Taiwan or Japan were to convert their U.S.-aided civilian nuclear programs to weapons development, it would not be in response to the agreement but to changing geopolitical factors. 

    Finally, critics believe that the bargain with India may invite countries that already have nuclear weapons, like North Korea and Pakistan, or are seeking to develop a nuclear weapons option, like Iran, to demand equal treatment. But India’s record of observing Article One stands in sharp contrast to Pakistan’s role as a wholesale proliferator and to the failure of Iran and North Korea to abide by their International Atomic Energy Agency commitments. 

  • The agreement will strengthen India’s commitment to participating in international efforts to prevent proliferation. India has not exported nuclear material or technology, but because it has been treated as an object of suspicion by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other nonproliferation institutions, it has not directly participated in their work. The agreement not only commits India formally to align its export rules and practices with those of the Nuclear Suppliers Group: it also opens the way for Indian participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative, and in efforts to guard against nuclear leakage. India’s decision to support the majority in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent vote to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council shows how important this enhanced nonproliferation posture can be.

    The Energy Security Case

    The agreement opens the way for India to meet its energy needs in ways that will advance long-term U.S. energy security goals. At present India gets only 2.6 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, but it is likely to increase this percentage at least ten fold in the next two decades. Even if it only gets part way toward this goal, this would be a significant reduction in its potential need for oil and gas, most of it now obtained from the Persian Gulf. 

    As more and more Indians drive automobiles, its demand for oil is rapidly growing. India will increasingly be competing with the United States and other consumers for petroleum from the Gulf and other sources. President Bush emphasized energy security in his press conference with Prime Minister Singh at the conclusion of his recent visit to India. “Congress has got to understand,” he said, “that it is in our economic interest that India have a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off the global demand for energy. Increasing demand for oil from America, from India and China, related to a supply that is not keeping up with the demand, causes our fuel prices to go up and so to the extent that we can reduce the demand for fossil fuels, it will help the American consumer. This is what I’ll be telling our Congress.”

    The Global Warming Case

    As India industrializes, its greenhouse gas emissions are steadily increasing, making it one of the world’s major polluters, albeit far behind the United States. India, like China, argues that it is in a developmental stage, seeking to catch up with more advanced industrial powers, and cannot be held to the same standard as the developed countries in any global warming agreement. To the extent that India shifts away from fossil fuels, its negative impact on global warming will be reduced, and the prospects for international limitations on greenhouse gas emissions will improve. 

    To sum up, the arguments made against the agreement are outweighed by the arguments in its favor. Civilian nuclear cooperation with India will strengthen its political and economic stability; further U.S. strategic interests, U.S. non-proliferation goals and U.S. energy security, and help to combat the growing danger posed to mankind by global warming. 

    This letter reflects the personal views of the undersigned and does not represent the views of the institutions with which they are affiliated.


    Asia Program
    Center for International Policy
    Senior Scholar
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


    Associate Director, South Asia Studies
    School of Advanced International Studies
    Johns Hopkins University
    Former Director for South Asia
    Bureau of Intelligence and Research
    Department of State


    Center for International Trade and Security
    University of Georgia
    University Professor of Public and International Affairs
    University of Georgia


    Chicago Council on Foreign Relations
    Former Director for Policy Analysis, Near East and South Asia 
    Department of Defense


    Former U.S. Ambassador to India
    Former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs


    Senior Fellow
    The Brookings Institution
    Former Member, Policy Planning Council
    Department of State


    Resident Fellow in Defense and National Security
    American Enterprise Institute
    Member, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission


    Professor Emeritus of History and former Director of the Southern Asian Institute
    Columbia University
    Special Consultant to U.S. Ambassador to India Frank Wisner


    Visiting Scholar 
    University of Virginia


    Senior Research Associate
    Southern Asian Institute
    Columbia University


    Visiting Scholar
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Former Counselor for Cooperation and Culture
    Embassy of France, Islamabad, Pakistan


    Director, Asia Program
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
    South Asia specialist, Foreign Affairs Committee,
    U.S. House of Representatives


    Professor Emeritus of South Asian History 
    University of Virginia


    Director, International Affairs Programs
    Elliott School of International Affairs
    George Washington University
    Former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs


    Senior Fellow
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


    Senior Scholar 
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
    Former U.S. Ambassador to the Ivory Coast


    Senior Advisor
    Center for Strategic and International Studies
    Former consultant to the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council
    The State Department and the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force.


    Professor Emeritus of South Asian Anthropology
    Department of Anthropology
    University of Chicago


    The University of Chicago


    William Benton Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science Emerita
    The University of Chicago


    Deputy Director 
    Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
    Georgetown University
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh


    Director, South Asia Program
    Center for Strategic and International Studies 
    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka


    Former U.S. Ambassador to India