Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Max Postman: Arms Industry to Lobby for NPT-Busting U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

*Another great guest post by Max Postman, intern-extraordinaire at the Center

This week, a top-level delegation from India is in Washington to continue negotiations on the U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement. Congress cleared the way for the deal last year by authorizing an exception to laws against transferring sensitive nuclear technology to states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This exception, however, threatens to undermine the basic premise of the treaty, which is that civil nuclear cooperation is a reward that states receive in exchange for not developing nuclear weapons.

The finalization of the agreement has been delayed by India’s refusal to accept provisions of the deal that ban reprocessing of Indian fuel and mandate the return of U.S.-origin nuclear fuel if India tests a nuclear weapon. This disagreement has made a second, compromise agreement necessary.

But here’s where it gets especially interesting. The Asian news service Press Trust of India reported on Sunday:

“Major American companies like GE and Boeing…are ready to launch a big lobbying campaign to persuade the Congress to bless the Indo-US civil nuclear deal as soon as any compromise between the two governments is nailed down.”

While it makes sense that a company like GE, with its fingers in both energy and defense, would be chomping at the bit to open up the Indian nuclear market, how did the Indian government manage to get free lobbying work out of the U.S. arms industry?

The answer lies in the Indian government’s intention to link future conventional weapons contracts with nuclear energy cooperation. Though no official statement has been made, the Asia-Times Online reported that there are “indications New Delhi may peg big-ticket business decisions and purchases on the nuclear pact.”

One such “big ticket” item is the Indian government’s $9 billion order for 126 fighter jets—the largest order for combat aircraft in the last 15 years. India is currently accepting bids from American, European, and Russian companies.

The revelation of the Boeing lobbying campaign suggests that the rumored linkages between the nuclear deal and the fighter deal are more than just rumors. Boeing would not be mobilizing such a lobbying effort unless it was confident that the U.S. defense industry will receive a bigger slice of Indian weapons contracts if the nuclear deal goes through.

What are the implications of this arms industry lobbying campaign?

First, when a compromise nuclear deal goes before Congress, opponents of the deal (i.e. advocates of strong non-proliferation policy) will be going head-to-head with one of the most influential and well-funded lobbies in Washington.

Second, the influence of arms manufacturers shifts the paradigm of the debate somewhat from security to economics. Non-proliferation advocates should be able to explain why the U.S.-India nuclear deal is not economically desirable in the long run.

Third, in the future, states seeking exceptions to U.S. non-proliferation policy can be expected to use arms deals as leverage. It may become more difficult to enforce non-proliferation rules against countries that are also important markets for U.S. weapons dealers.

The news this week that Boeing and GE are planning lobbying campaigns in support of U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation comes close to confirming a rumored linkage that has been suspected for some time. If the Indian delegation to Washington successfully reaches a compromise agreement with the White House this week, the new deal will move again to Congress, where the defense industry’s lobbying power will be key. Understanding the defense industry’s interest in the deal will prove important to understanding the political fate of the deal itself.

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