THE UPGRADE in US-India relations on display during this week's visit to Washington by India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a shrewd act of statecraft. India is a rising power in Asia, a democracy integrating into the global economy, a foe of terrorist fanatics, and a potential counterweight to China. Nevertheless, the new arrangement for nuclear commerce that President Bush announced Monday in the company of the Indian leader raises very troubling questions.
Breaking with a longstanding ban on such commerce that was meant to penalize India for testing nuclear weapons, Bush agreed to sell to India desperately needed nuclear fuel for the US-built civilian reactors in Tarapur and to provide components for such reactors.
There are sound measures India has agreed to accept in return for this recognition of its status as a de facto nuclear power. Among these are placing its civilian nuclear reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, prolonging its moratorium on nuclear weapons tests, accepting guidelines of the international Nuclear Suppliers' Group that ban the proliferation of fissile material, and adhering to the Missile Technology Control Regime. Valuable as these restraints may be, they do not go far enough. And they establish a disturbing precedent.
India is still not permitting full-scope IAEA safeguards for its military as well as civilian facilities, nor has it agreed to curtail development of its nuclear weapons and delivery systems. By allowing India to have the advantages of being one of the acknowledged nuclear powers without signing onto the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Bush passed India's litmus test -- its price for permitting a true strategic partnership with Washington. Bush's recognition of the value of such a partnership may be a reassuring sign that he and his advisers are coming to understand that the United States cannot go it alone in the world. However, the message of Bush's nuclear deal with India to other countries that might be pondering a pursuit of nuclear weapons could hardly be worse. They are being shown that acquiring those ultimate terror weapons can be a steppingstone to recognition as a major power and that, after a decent interlude, they can expect to be pardoned for developing and testing those weapons.
For good reason, Pakistan is sure to ask for the same considerations Bush has extended to India. And Iranian officials can be counted on to point to Bush's nuclear deal with India as proof that they are being subjected to a double standard.
Bush is wise to partner up with India while it is beginning its ascendancy as a swing state in the geopolitics of Asia, but he is paying too high a price.