THE BLOG

The White House's Final Folly

11/10/2008 04:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After invading Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, turning the Muslim world against America, alienating our allies, authoring the fiasco in Georgia, and presiding over the meltdown of Wall Street and America's banks, it would seem impossible the Bush administration could produce another epic disaster. But it has.

In its final days in office, the White House has engineered an historic nuclear deal with India that Congress, unaware of the import, approved last week.

President George W. Bush has been pressing for this treaty since 2005. Its passage by Congress is being hailed as a major foreign policy triumph by Republicans. Many Democrats also supported the deal under intense pressure from industry lobbyists.

Far from a triumph, this short-sighted strategic agreement with India could very well come back to haunt America. Many Indians feel the same way: furious debate over the nuclear deal almost brought down the coalition government of India's prime minister Manmohan Singh and barely scraped by India's parliament.

The agreement will now allow the U.S. to sell nuclear fuel, reactors and technology to India, supposedly for `peaceful energy use.' India has been under a U.S.-led nuclear trade embargo since it tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998 and refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has long complained it was a victim of western `nuclear apartheid' that allowed the great powers weapons of mass destruction but denied them to other nations.

India agreed to open 14 of its civilian reactors to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But its eight nuclear reactors producing plutonium for nuclear weapons are exempt from any inspection under this lopsided agreement.

Like many rapidly developing nations, India suffers chronic shortages of power. It has long lacked enough nuclear fuel to power its 22 reactors, some of which this writer has inspected.

Severe shortages of fuel have held back India's nuclear weapons program, which is estimated at 200 warheads and annual production of more than 286 pounds of enriched, weapon's grade plutonium, according to former high-ranking officer of India's intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing.

President Bush's `foreign policy triumph' means that U.S.-supplied nuclear fuel will now keep India's civilian reactors running, allowing Delhi to divert precious nuclear fuel to its weapons program.

This deal negates thirty years of US efforts to prevent the spread and development of nuclear weapons.

Advanced U.S. nuclear technology will now flow to India, supplementing that already supplied by India's second largest arms supplier, Israel. The gates have also been opened to U.S. arms exporters to sell state of the art military equipment to India, and to major heavy equipment suppliers like General Electric. Some business groups, giddy at the prospect of this commercial cornucopia, have estimated potential sales to India at $175 billion over the next 25 years, but that figure appears a gross exaggeration made to sway Congress.

So Washington has now blessed former pariah India as a legitimate nuclear power state. This radical change in U.S. policy comes at a time when Washington is threatening war against Iran for possibly thinking about nuclear weapons, doing its utmost to get North Korea to disarm, and talking about 'taking out' Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. This blatant double standard has further enraged the Muslim world against America which was already furious over Washington's closing a blind eye to Israel's large nuclear arsenal, much of it built with purloined U.S. technology and materials.

Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was developed in response to India's 1974 nuclear tests. A U.S. conventional arms embargo on Pakistan forced it to rely increasingly on nuclear deterrence. India developed nuclear weapons after China tested its first nuclear devices.

Bu underwriting and expanding India's nuclear arsenal, the Bush administration's born-again Cold Warriors were clearly trying to build up India as a counter-weight to China. My book, 'War at the Top of the World,' postulated that India and China would clash over their disputed Himalayan border and Burma sometime in the first half of the 21st Century. Bush's nuclear gambit has raised the prospects of such a clash of Asian titans.

Beijing has reacted with quiet fury to the U.S.-India nuclear deal, calling it an example of growing U.S. hostility and a dire threat to China's national security, which it certainly is. A nuclear and conventional arms race between China and India has been under way for years, and is accelerating. Washington is pouring gasoline on these fires.

Instead of playing off India against China, Washington should be striving to create the strategic and diplomatic environment to peacefully accommodate the emergence of these new great powers.

Not only does the U.S.-India nuclear deal undermine nuclear non-proliferation and regional stability, it also raises a serious new strategic threat to the United States.

The Senators and Representatives who voted for this profoundly unwise deal simply had no idea that India is fast-emerging as the world's newest strategic nuclear power -- and one whose increasingly long reach will soon threaten the U.S. While fulminating against Iran, which has no nuclear weapons and no long-ranged delivery systems, Washington will now aid India to build nuclear armed inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM's).

For the past decade, India has been quietly developing a series of ICBM's under cover of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The GSLV-III heavy space launcher, which India has used to put numerous satellites into orbit, has been transformed into its new, three-stage Surya ICBM with a range of 6-7,000 miles. A missile that can launch heavy satellites can also deliver warheads at long range.

Why does India need ICBM's? India's Agni-III medium range nuclear-armed missile can cover nearly all potential enemies, such as China, Iran, and Russia. India's short-ranged Prithivi missiles can cover all of Pakistan.

Over 60% of Indians subsist on less than $2 daily. About 75% lack indoor plumbing. Yet India, one of the world's poorest nations, has embarked on a buildup of hugely expensive strategic arms that has made it the world's third or fourth nuclear weapons power after the U.S., Russia, and Israel.

Since India is most unlikely to war with Europe, Australia, or Latin America, the only other conceivable target for India's long-ranged ICBM's would be the United States. Thanks to President Bush and the powerful pro-India lobby, the US will now help India with the high-speed computers and electronics to make its missiles more accurate, powerful and long-ranged.

India is also rapidly developing a new sea-launched missile with a 450 mile range, `Sagarika.' This nuclear armed weapon will complete India's nuclear triad of air, land, and sea-launched weapons. `Sagarika,' carried on up to five new strategic missile submarines India is building, must also be counted a potential threat to North America.

India's growing fleet of Russian-supplied attack submarines, like the formidable 'Akula' are armed with the world's fastest and deadliest anti-ship missile, 'BrahMos,' a weapon designed to sink aircraft carriers. Besides India, the only nation operating carriers in the Indian Ocean is the United States Navy. Indian strategists claim this ocean as India's `Mare Nostrum.'

India is emerging as a great power and has every right to nuclear self-defense against hostile neighbors China and Pakistan. India is also a stable democracy with a cautious government that is not about to launch nuclear war. But it seems clear, at least to this long-time regional strategist, that one day soon, India's growing power will bump into that of the world's receding hegemony, the U.S. This is most likely, as India expands its power into the oil-rich Gulf and Indian Ocean.

Selling India nuclear fuel and technology that could one day threaten US national security is dangerous and counter-productive. It's also folly driven by short-term financial greed that blinds the deal's proponents to the nation's security.

The first target of India's ICBM's will be Washington. As Marx so rightly observed, the capitalists will sell the rope with which to hang them.

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