Nuclear Pig in a Poke

Terrorism with nuclear weapons represents the gravest security threat to our nation and the world. President Bush has said so. The 9/11 Commission and its co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton have said so. We know that terrorists are seeking nuclear materials -- enriched uranium or plutonium -- to build a nuclear weapon. We know that if they get that material they can build a nuclear weapon. We believe that if they build such a weapon, they will use it. We know terrorists are not likely to be deterred, and that the more this nuclear material is available, the higher the risks.

That is why we are working with Russia and others to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. It is under these circumstances that the Bush administration's recent nuclear agreement with India must be judged. Unless Congress attaches conditions, the agreement is likely to make securing nuclear materials around the globe and preventing nuclear terrorism more difficult because:

  • While India has agreed to allow monitoring of 14 nuclear reactors to ensure nuclear fuel at these sites is not used for weapons, eight other reactors -- and an unlimited number of future reactors--can produce material for bombs, free of any controls. There is every reason to suspect that Pakistan and China will react to this deal by ratcheting up their own suspicions and nuclear activities--including making additional weapons material and weapons.
  • Other nations -- if not today, certainly tomorrow--will want the same deal as India. How will we explain to other friends--like Brazil, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan and South Korea--that India is trusted with nuclear material production but that they are not? India's well-known uranium shortage may have been a significant constraint to India's nuclear weapons potential; however, by removing the barriers so that the U.S. and others can provide fuel for India's civilian reactors, India will no longer be forced to choose whether its own limited uranium stocks should be used to support its civilian nuclear program or its nuclear weapons program.
  • The U.S.-India deal will likely make it more difficult to get other nations to join us in stopping threatening nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. In making this deal, the Bush administration has dealt Congress a tough hand: approve this agreement or possibly put at risk U.S.-Indian ties--this at a time when everyone agrees improved relations are very important and can benefit both nations and the world.

That said, there are many -- I suspect even a majority in Congress -- who are deeply troubled by the deal. The question: Can Congress reduce the serious risks of the deal without rejecting it? The answer: Yes, if Congress requires both the Bush administration and the Indian government to take specific steps to prevent the further spread of nuclear materials and weapons in South Asia and beyond. Congress should link congressional approval of the U.S.-India deal with progress on stopping the production of enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons in India and in the world.

Both the U.S. and India have already stated in their agreement that they will work together "for the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty." Each should be held to this commitment. Congress should require a two-stage process. First, before any export of nuclear reactors, components or related technology are provided to India, the president would have to certify that both India and the U.S. are taking specific steps to lead a serious and expedited international effort to conclude a verifiable fissile material cut-off treaty. This would require the administration to go beyond the draft treaty introduced in Geneva last week and include provisions that would provide for effective verification. Second, before any exports of nuclear reactor fuel or its components are provided to India, thereby freeing India to use its limited uranium stocks to expand its nuclear weapons program, the president would be required to certify that India has stopped producing fissile material for weapons -- either as part of a voluntary moratorium or multilateral agreement.

With these conditions, India and the U.S. can provide joint global leadership to reduce the likelihood of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists. Would these conditions cause a delay in implementation? Yes. Would there be killer amendments? No, unless you believe that India will continue its weapons-usable nuclear material production and that U.S. and Indian pledges to work for a fissile material cut-off treaty are insincere, meaningless gestures.

Finally, Congress should not buy a pig in a poke. The implementation of the nuclear deal will depend on the negotiation of a separate U.S.-Indian agreement on nuclear cooperation and a safeguards agreement between India and the IAEA. Both agreements could contain surprises. Congress should not provide authority to implement this deal until these essential agreements are concluded and reviewed by Congress.
We have entered a new nuclear era of great peril: The longstanding foundation for global nonproliferation policies--the NPT--is eroding at both ends. The major nuclear powers are not even talking about further steps to reduce the danger of their nuclear arsenals as they have pledged to do under the NPT. North Korea, contrary to its pledge to abandon nuclear weapons, now claims to have them. Iran is developing capabilities to have weapons in the future. Other nations may follow suit. In this context, Congress has a crucial choice: It can unconditionally approve the U.S.-India deal and watch the world get more dangerous--or it can impose principled conditions that would make the world safer and help prevent our worst nightmare.

Mr. Nunn, a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

May 24, 2006
About

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal, Sam Nunn discusses the U.S.-India nuclear deal in the broader context of our greatest security threat—nuclear terrorism—and proposes a way to reduce the risks of the deal without rejecting it.

Authors
Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn

Co-Chair, NTI