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      Bush's bold new gamble

      Posted AtIndian Express.com

      The Bush administration is known for gambles, and MondayÂ's about-face on nuclear cooperation with India qualifies as such. By declaring that it would help India build nuclear power plants and import advanced weapons, the administration has made good on its statement that it wants India to become Â"a major world power in the 21st century.Â" But it has simultaneously set aside the principle that countries refusing to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should be denied civilian nuclear assistance and, in many cases, face a weapons embargo...

      Start with the potential benefits. India, with a population of just over 1 billion, is already the biggest democracy in the world and will eventually overtake China as the most populous of all nations. Its economy has grown rapidly in the past decade, and it has become a global player in software, computer services and pharmaceuticals. As an emerging Asian superpower, India may serve as a counterweight to China. As home to a large and tolerant Muslim population, it may serve as an ally against Islamic militancy...
      ItÂ's fair to ask what Â"closer tiesÂ" may mean in practice. Although IndiaÂ's rising power may constrain China in a general way, India does not share the US commitment to defend Taiwan and would probably stand aside in other potential US-China rows that do not affect Indian interests. Equally, cooperation on terrorism or economic relations will take place when it suits the interests of both countries and not otherwise. IndiaÂ's noisy democracy tends to feature coalition governments that include anti-American voices, just as AmericaÂ's noisy democracy features protectionist members of Congress who blame India for the loss of US jobs. So the Bush administration is right to want close ties with India, but these will have limits.

      India does promise some concrete concessions in return for nuclear cooperation. It will commit itself to abstain from further nuclear tests, to open its civilian nuclear reactors to international inspections, and to withhold nuclear technology or material from illegal proliferators...

      Now consider the risks in the administrationÂ's gamble. Pakistan, IndiaÂ's neighbour and rival, will seek a similar de facto blessing for its nuclear status. Given PakistanÂ's record as a nuclear proliferator, the United States ought to refuse this. A rebuff could help to turn PakistanÂ's anti-Indian nationalism into an anti-India-and-America nationalism; pro-Western secularists may lose ground to militant Islamists...

      The administrationÂ's efforts to contain the nuclearisation of Iran and North Korea may also suffer.

      July 21, 2005


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