Security for Sale

The Great Game of the U.S. - Indian Civil Nuclear Cooperation Treaty and its Implications for China and Pakistan

Agni-II missile (Republic Day Parade 2004)
Security for Sale : The Great Game of the U.S. - Indian Civil Nuclear Cooperation Treaty and its Implications for China and Pakistan - Patrick Mendis & Leah Green


In this analysis of the evolution of the U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation pact, the authors argue that the bilateral treaty marked the beginning of a new era for global non-proliferation as envisioned by the Bush administration and subsequently endorsed by President Barack Obama. An exploration of the forces at work reveals powerful special interests that scored massive commercial and trade deals to supply India with parts and technology. The unintended consequences of such action included a precedent for Chinese support of Pakistan’s nuclear program and the potential detriment to American interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

Introduction: The Bush World

Using key allies appointed to the U.S. Department of State and an aura of secrecy, President George W. Bush struck an unprecedented agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with India in October 2008. Forcefully backed by the Indian Diaspora, K Street lobbyists and powerful corporate interests, industry giants—such as Boeing, Raytheon and General Electric—scored massive contracts to supply the subcontinent with reactor parts, space and defense related components and technologies. The Council on Foreign Relations characterized the deal as a “watershed” moment in U.S.-India relations, introducing “a new aspect to international non-proliferation efforts.”1 In the wake of the agreement, “hotspot” countries like North Korea, Iran and Pakistan continue to pose a serious challenge to the foreign policy aims of the Barack Obama administration as well as the international non-proliferation regime precisely at a time of weakened credibility due to the Bush accord.2

As the most powerful and responsible member of the global nuclear regime, the United States permitted an exemption to the rules of access to civilian nuclear development for former outsider India. This allowed New Delhi to achieve its nuclear ambitions within relatively lax global governing conditions, and thus weakened international oversight of the nuclear trade. Within the framework of established global non-proliferation norms, countries like Brazil, Egypt, South Africa and Turkey either give up or abstain from nuclear weapons development programs in order to stabilize regional balances of power. Yet, no such requirements were made of India. Now, the increased profile of aspiring nuclear powers in regional hotspots (i.e., Iran and North Korea) combined with seemingly bendable global rules for nuclear supply may see the U.S.-India pact usher in a new age of nuclear power, whether for civilian purposes or military posture. As the United States introduced the possibility of nuclear favorites—granting access privileges to states outside the global non-proliferation regime—other nuclear weapons states capable of playing the role of benefactor (such as China) are poised to follow in kind with their preferred ally (such as Pakistan). Indeed, it appears that a new wave of nuclear proliferation—the likes of which has not been witnessed since the years immediately following WWII when the USSR, the United Kingdom, France and China confirmed their nuclear status in relatively rapid succession could most certainly lie ahead.

The Bush administration’s decision to negotiate the pact with India concluded nearly three decades of nuclear isolation for the subcontinent following India’s 1974 nuclear test. After India joined the nuclear club, relations with the United States remained weak and often antagonistic. Former President Bill Clinton’s 2000 trip to New Delhi marked both the first visit by an American president in 22 years and the beginning of friendlier U.S.-Indian relations. Determined to solidify these ties, the Bush administration proposed a nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countries in 2005.  

President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh worked out the terms of this proposal; however, before a formal agreement could be negotiated, U.S. laws had to be adjusted to allow for the possibility of nuclear commerce with India. Congress revised relevant legislation in 2006, but required renegotiation of terms as well as Congressional oversight. The deal was finally approved in 2008, permitting the United States to supply the one-time nuclear outsider with vital technology, parts and fuel. How was a such a change in longstanding policy realized in such a brief period of time?

Policy Orientation: A New Worldview in the White House

When George W. Bush assumed office, U.S. policy toward India shifted dramatically.  While the Clinton administration had attempted to improve relations with New Delhi, its global vision was driven by economics—and in Asia, especially focused on China.3 At the time, the slow “Hindu” economic growth rate had only just begun to accelerate and Clinton did not view India as a potentially significant ally relative to China. In conjunction with the Clinton team’s geopolitical orientation, New Delhi’s declared nuclear policies precluded any possibility of extensive bilateral nuclear cooperation.  

Such policies were related to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), the definitive document that identifies five nuclear states (the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France and the former Soviet Union, all of whom had developed or acquired nuclear weapons before the treaty was opened for signature in 1968) as well as regulates their trade with non-nuclear states.4 Though India had participated in negotiating the terms of the NPT, Indian diplomats protested the treaty on the grounds that it discriminated against countries that might develop nuclear weapons after 1967. India felt that the NPT created a privileged group of 1960s-era nuclear “haves” against whom all other states were “have-nots,” and declined to sign. As U.S. and global regulations were strengthened over the years through tighter export controls and the establishment of international watchdog and trade monitoring groups like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India found itself permanently sidelined from global nuclear commerce. Nearly every country signed on to the NPT, which became a norm for access to nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes. India’s marginalization was only further cemented with two nuclear tests, one in 1974 and another in 1998. Given this record of nuclear testing, U.S. domestic law prohibited any nuclear trade with India.

Three months after taking office, President Bush announced that U.S. foreign policy on missile defense, and thus non-proliferation, would be pursued in the context of a new strategic framework that would reshape Washington’s relations with Moscow, in particular. The framework would leave behind the era of mutual-minded, formal arms controls treaties that maintained nuclear balance; the United States needed the freedom to rethink its previous non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, and defense postures in order to adapt to a rapidly changing post-Cold War security environment in which Russia was no longer an enemy.5 The White House quickly furthered their agenda by appointing John Bolton as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, a position he would hold from 2001 to 2005. Bolton, who later became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was a widely known critic of arms treaties and international organizations.6 He soon formally introduced the details of the nascent framework; the United States would remain committed to non-proliferation aims even as the need to rework traditional defenses and resources related to international security was made clear.7  In the meantime, President Bush declared it was necessary for the U.S. government to “move beyond the constraints” of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty signed with the former Soviet Union as the treaty did not allow the United States to defend itself properly against the growing threat of nuclear proliferation.8

In fact, leaving the treaty allowed the United States to embark on constructing a national missile defense system that would have abrogated ABM commitments. The majority of the international community including Russia was unreceptive to the news of such a system. Yet, India expressed surprisingly ardent support, praising the move as “seek[ing] to transform the strategic parameters on which the Cold War security architecture was built.”9 Administration officials were similarly accommodating in their statements towards New Delhi. Days before the 9/11 terror attacks, U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill delivered a speech in Mumbai, saying, “The president has a big idea about U.S.-Indian relations . . . he is seeking to intensify collaboration with India on a whole range of issues that currently confront the international community writ large.”10 The administration moved quickly before the conclusion of its first year in office to “intensify dramatically the level of engagement with the Government of India” by inviting a number of Indian officials to visit Washington.11 According to aides cited in the Wall Street Journal, the president had “taken particular interest in India going back to 1999, viewing India’s democracy and its massive yet moderate Muslim minority as a stabilizing force for Asia and the Middle East.”12

Ambassador Blackwill outlined his role in generating new U.S. policies toward India and the general path of policy direction as follows:


Knowing that Prime Minister Vajpayee believed that the United States and India were natural allies, we [Blackwill and Vajpayee] developed a roadmap in early January 2001 … to accomplish the strategic invigoration of the bilateral relationship, which we presented to the president and which he approved. We were on our way, with the two respective bureaucracies to be driven by top-down direction by the two heads of government.13

The implications of Blackwill’s remarks are significant. Instead of initiating high-level review and evaluation of U.S.-Indian relations and non-proliferation objectives, the ambassador indicates that the Bush administration possessed pre-determined policy intentions.14 Just as important was what the ambassador did not say during his address: Blackwill was neither critical of India’s 1998 tests nor did he mention the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, two issues highlighted by President Bill Clinton during his visit the previous year. Thus, observers noted that the “tenor and substance of the ambassador’s remarks signaled a calm recognition of India’s nuclear status.”15 This was a turning point in U.S.-Indian relations.

Incremental Policy Changes: Expanding U.S.-Indian Ties

The revitalization of significant U.S.-Indian ties was realized through a series of steps that broadened collaboration in a variety of areas once constrained by Washington’s geostrategic vision. In the past, the United States and India had cooperated to varying degrees on space research and development. But space technology can be applied as missile technology, as evidenced when India subversively replicated parts of its nuclear-capable Agni missile from 1960s-era American rocket blueprints and information requested from NASA.16 Subsequent mistrust of Indian intent in Washington meant that prospects for collaboration in these areas had not previously been bright. This changed as high-level dialogue under the auspices of cooperation groups steadily reduced the barriers that prohibited Indian access to high technologies. U.S.-Indian relations in defense and space technology were steered by bilateral groups such as the Defense Policy Group, which saw a major upgrade in U.S.-Indian military ties when a ten-year defense pact was signed in 2005. The deal included unprecedented support in terms of joint weapons production, missile defense, high-tech sharing, and economic and energy cooperation.

Around the same time, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodeman formed the “U.S.-India Energy Dialogue” to establish five working groups that discussed nuclear technology exchange;17matters under consideration included fusion science and related research topics. This mid-2005 dialogue proved particularly relevant because it was preceded by only a few weeks the official White House announcement of its intent to negotiate a formal civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

Policy Push: Taking over the State Department

In fact, 2005 proved a critical year marking the executive branch’s ability to advance policy implementation at a pace that would see clearing hefty legal barriers to the agreement before the end of President Bush’s term in office. The administration relied on key appointments, especially at the State Department and the White House’s National Security Council, who de-prioritized arms control regimes.18 Prior to these key personnel and organizational shifts, notable interagency conflict and internal State Department disputes existed within the administration.

The quick pace of non-proliferation policy changes can be traced to the departure of Secretary of State Colin Powell and the arrival of Condoleezza Rice at the Foggy Bottom helm.19  The State Department under Secretary Powell had been conflicted over changes in non-proliferation policy. During his tenure, the Non-proliferation (NP) and Arms Control (AC) Bureaus within the department had generally opposed high-technology transfers to India that might damage U.S. non-proliferation objectives.20 (The NP is responsible for deterring the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, while the AC negotiates and implements arms control agreements). Internal resistance from those bureaus necessitated the incremental concessions made from 2002-04. When Rice was appointed as U.S. Secretary of State in 2005, these organizational dynamics changed.  

Dynamic shifts coincided with personnel turnover within the State Department. In 2004, the Office of the Inspector General (IG) recommended merging the AC and NP offices. Newly appointed Secretary Rice announced on July 9, 2005 the implementation of a major departmental reorganization that would include the union of both bureaus. The merger was carried out with remarkable speed in the fall of that year and saw around a dozen senior experts and career employees leave the department.21  Consequently, it eliminated most public evidence of the internal conflict that had characterized Secretary Powell’s tenure, often positioning it against other elements of the administration. The resolution of this tension may be explained by the allegations of former employees, who claimed, “Some State Department weapons experts from offices that had clashed with Undersecretary Bolton were denied senior positions in the reorganization, even though they had superior qualifications.”22 The Philadelphia Inquirer later reported that one political appointee even looked outside of the department to fill office jobs by circulating an email that listed “loyalty to Bush and Rice’s priorities as a qualification.”23Though later rescinded for reasons of protocol, the letter pointed to the politically-charged atmosphere at Foggy Bottom.

By design or stroke of luck, John Bolton was soon appointed as ambassador to the United Nations, thus removing one potential opponent to the agreement. The Asia Times reported that Bolton had been “vehemently opposed to any concessions to India on the nuclear front,” and had “blocked a key Indian plan to acquire the Arrow anti-missile system from Israel.”24Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Secretary Powell’s frequent adversary Donald Rumsfeld “fully backed closer relations with India.”25 Thus, after the appointment of Secretary Rice, the departmental reorganization, and a corresponding reduction in internal department and interagency tension, the stage was set for the Bush administration’s preferred policy of nuclear cooperation with India to advance rapidly.  

Policy Breakthrough: Co-opting U.S. Congress

On July 18, 2005, during an Indian state visit to Washington, President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh jointly announced the formal expansion of bilateral cooperation in areas of civil nuclear energy and dual-use technology. The Bush administration argued that strengthening the United States’ ties to India in this manner would advance four key aims:

  •  Assist India in meeting its energy demands
  •  Reduce potentially enormous amounts of fossil fuel emissions
  •  Promote economic growth and development by attracting foreign direct investment
  •  Integrate India into the non-proliferation regime by bringing its civil nuclear program under an international framework.26

In order to accomplish this last objective, President Bush announced that he would, “Work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India as it realizes its goals of promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security.”27 The terms under which this cooperation would occur still needed to be clarified through top-level negotiations. By March 2006, the administration was ready to approach Congress with the Bush-Singh proposal, an outline of how civilian nuclear cooperation might be realized. The proposal allowed India to determine which of its nuclear reactors would be placed under international safeguards and inspection, but stipulated no significant changes to India’s domestic or foreign policy. Critics noted that this was not a win for American negotiators as India remained responsible for determining which facilities would be classified as civilian and military.28 This permitted New Delhi to keep its current and future fast-breeder reactors unsafeguarded and beyond the reach of third-party verification of non-military use––an issue viewed by the nation as “a matter of pride and sovereignty.”29

Lobbying efforts intensified in Washington as onlookers anticipated a congressional vote on the proposal. The Indian-American community was particularly energized by the deal and, along with New Delhi, actively sought support from Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The U.S.-India Business Council was also heavily involved, and worked with what New Delhi’s Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies analyst Ashok Sharma termed “one of the leading and most expensive lobbying firms in Washington, DC,” Patton Boggs. The Indian government reportedly hired the same firm for $1.3 million to spearhead a “concerted lobbying campaign.”30 Former Ambassador Blackwill fronted the effort, which U.S. business interest groups also backed.31

However, not everyone in the Republican administration or party, which held a majority in Congress at the time, was amenable to the idea of regular nuclear commerce with India on irregular terms. Concerns arose from incidents of technology transfers between the two countries, as well as reports that India’s navy was assisting the Iranian military. In the fall of 2006, American non-proliferation expert Henry Sokolski wrote that State Department officials tried “every which way to deny” the fact that Indian Navy was not only helping Iran construct a base with access to the Indian Ocean, but also conducting joint naval exercises with Tehran.  Additionally, “over the last 20 months, the State Department [had] sanctioned no fewer than seven separate Indian entities for transferring strategic weapons-related technology or goods to Iran.”32 In fact, revered Indian nuclear scientists Dr. Y. S. R. Prasad and Dr. C. Surendar had both been censured under the 2000 Iran Non-proliferation Act for transferring sensitive technologies to Tehran.33  

The Bush-Singh proposal to Congress in March 2006 circumvented ordinary procedure for nuclear cooperation agreements. As per the stipulations of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act (AEA), agreements must meet a list of criteria outlined in Section 123 of the AEA (bilateral cooperation accords are thus dubbed “123 Agreements”). Their terms are negotiated by the secretary of state along with the “technical assistance and concurrence” of the Secretary of Energy, and the language of any agreement is reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.34 Following presidential approval, the proposed accord is submitted to designated congressional committees. In turn, the committees may hold hearings and request information on the proposed cooperation agreement for a period of sixty days. Then, the committees recommend a course of action to their respective bodies. The agreement will come into force automatically unless Congress acts to prevent it. Occasionally, the president may submit a 123 Agreement that does not fully meet requirements; in those cases, the agreement will not automatically come into force unless Congress approves it. This allows Congress to condition approval of any unordinary accord.

To avoid such legal hurdles, the president instead asked Congress to pass legislation simply exempting India from the AEA provisions that prohibited nuclear trade with India. This would allow the White House to finalize a formal bilateral agreement with India as if it were an ordinary accord that met all the requirements of Section 123, required no Congressional approval, and would automatically go into force following the sixty day review period—as if a nuclear deal with India were no different than with Canada. In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, non-proliferation expert Leonard Weiss called this a “prime example of Executive Branch distrust of Congressional judgment and Congressional prerogatives under current law.”35 Congress likewise proved hesitant to acquiesce to the administration’s demands.

Congress was firmly divided on the fact that if they approved the Bush-Singh proposal as submitted, a 123 Agreement with India could then be formally drafted and implemented without subsequent Congressional review. Eventually, Congress struck a compromise (later termed the Hyde Act after the late congressman who supported it) by conditioning the administration’s initial proposal in requiring that certain measures be met, such as updates on negotiations between the administration and New Delhi on a credible plan for the separation of Indian civilian and military facilities that met IAEA approval and an NSG waiver for India before a final Congressional vote of approval in both houses.36 For the next seven months, an aura of secrecy surrounded the actual agreement. By the time protracted negotiations were concluded a year later, no one knew the terms that had been reached—not even lawmakers who expected to be privy to the stipulations they had intended to oversee.

While negotiations ended on July 27, 2007, both parties sat on the terms for a week before releasing them publicly. The delay in unveiling the text fueled concerns among American lawmakers who suspected Prime Minister Singh needed time to rally support in New Delhi, where the media viewed nuclear concessions to Washington as ceding sovereignty. By October 2007, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs had submitted a lengthy set of questions on the less specific terms of the agreement to the State Department. The department responded to the inquiry, but asked the committee to keep its answers secret even from other lawmakers. Approval in New Delhi was tenuous and Indian legislators were threatening to withdraw support, forcing a vote of confidence in Parliament over the terms of the deal. Five months later, non-proliferation experts called on the State Department to make the responses public.37 A revealing Washington Post article commented on the well-kept secrecy and concluded that these answers had not been leaked, “in part because only a handful of congressional officials [had] been able to read them.”38 A House Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson additionally allowed, “Some of the data [revealed by State] might be considered diplomatically sensitive.”39 

Over the course of next year, Prime Minister Singh battled serious opposition to the agreement at home. New Delhi embarked on selling the deal to its own constituents and reaching agreements with the NSG and the IAEA. On September 11, 2008, the White House sent the 123 Agreement to Congress for approval; two days later, the State Department released a fact sheet on the accord. On the more controversial aspects that had been vital in ensuring Indian support, such as guarantees of fuel supply, the White House stated no legal obligation existed. As the burgeoning financial crisis engulfed media attention, the agreement was rather anti-climactically rubber stamped by Congress and signed into law in October 2008. The era in which India was viewed as a nuclear pariah came to a close with finality: India had finally managed to join the global nuclear trade regime on its own terms.

Policy Rewards: “Selective Proliferation” Yields Lucrative Gains

Despite widespread criticism from non-proliferation experts, lawmakers with solid non-proliferation stances came around to the administration’s point of view in record time. The momentum behind this sudden reversal of long-held policy was a broad coalition of merged special interests, not least of which was the India lobby. “Savvier than ever about playing the Washington game,” wrote Mira Kamdar at the Washington Post, “the Indian American community is just coming into its own, and powerful business interests see India as perhaps the single biggest money-making opportunity of the twenty-first century.”40 The Wall Street Journal also reported, “industry executives estimate India’s nuclear-energy market will require $100 billion of foreign direct investment in coming years.”41 The broader aim, however, was not to simply pursue profitable deals with India, but to open up a rapidly expanding Indian economy to American businesses by clearing “regulatory obstacles to investment and sales in India.”42  

Pushing hard at the center of the Indian nuclear deal was former Ambassador Robert Blackwill, then at the lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers LLC working alongside former State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow. The Indian government hired the firm in 2007 to push the deal; at the same time Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumann retained the firm to secure multi-billion dollar contracts with the Indian Air Force. Pakistan’s Daily Times reports that Blackwill used his involvement in the deal and proximity to the Indian government to help several American companies sign contracts for defense and radar equipment, as well as in other sectors such as telecommunications.43

The U.S.-India Business Council and the U.S.-Indian Political Action Committee achieved high-profile status pushing the agreement while corporations like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin attempted to keep a lower profile. Top executives at JP Morgan & Chase, Boeing and General Electric (GE) also lobbied lawmakers in the wake of 123 Agreement approval; the United States promptly sent its largest-ever trade mission to India to lure as much of the reported $100 billion New Delhi will need to invest in civilian nuclear energy from 2007-2027 away from French and Russian suppliers.44 In the meantime, Indian-American Ambassador Karan Bhatia—who served as President Bush’s deputy trade representative and also held two senior behind-the-scene political appointments at the Departments of Transportation and Commerce—took a top job at GE in the late 2007. Describing the former trade official as an “avatar,” a veteran Washington reporter revealed that Bhatia was “the driving force behind pushing for more transfer of high technology to countries like India, which set in motion the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement.”45 In praise of Bhatia, his supervisor Ambassador Susan Schwab, cited his “great” contribution to “the President’s international trade agenda” and “launching the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum” at the White House Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).46

By January 2009, the Indian Navy had signed a $2.1 billion agreement to purchase maritime surveillance aircraft from Boeing. This agreement was a follow-up to an earlier $962 million Lockheed Martin deal for Indian Army transport planes. Both companies were in the race for a $12 billion contract to sell fighter jets to the Indian Air Force—the largest of such defense contracts in sixteen years.

President Barack Obama’s late 2010 visit to India solidified several lucrative defense deals worth a reported $5-6 billion. Eight months later, Boeing signed a contract to supply the Indian Air Force with ten military transport aircraft to the tune of $4.1 billion, making the agreement the largest ever Indo-U.S. defense deal and surpassing the value of the total Indian defense contracts held by the entire trio of Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation and Boeing. For its part, GE will provide over a hundred aircraft engines worth $820 million. In fact, American companies have won over 40 percent of all Indian defense deals struck since 2008. India is expected to spend more than $100 billion upgrading its defense capabilities before 2020, and this undoubtedly suits American interests.47

As the defense cooperation envisioned by the Defense Policy Group and other dialogue in 2005 came to fruition, Raytheon casually remarked that it anticipated collaboration with once-blacklisted Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to put U.S. satellites on Indian launch vehicles and manned missions. Not to be outdone, Boeing also indicated its willingness to join forces on future space missions with the controversial ISRO, which had played a key role in India’s 1998 nuclear test. At the time, the international community had been especially taken off-guard because U.S. satellites failed to detect preparations on the subcontinent. A Jane’s Intelligence Review report noted that this was because ISRO headquarters in Bangalore “had supplied a vast pool of data about the orbits and timings of various spy satellites,” which allowed India’s team of nuclear scientists and engineers to avoid detection.48 The American response to these actions was to add ISRO to the Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which “inform[ed] the public of entities whose activities imposed a risk of diverting exported and re-exported items into programs related to weapons of mass destruction.”49 ISRO was somewhat contentiously removed from the list in September 2004, and—hardly a decade after India made global news for detonating a nuclear device—within eight weeks, signed with Raytheon to develop India’s GAGAN Global Positioning Satellite system. By the summer of 2009, ISRO extended an additional $82 million for Raytheon to modernize India’s air navigation system.50Not only had the Bush administration’s “new view” of India yielded exceptional nuclear cooperation, but it also provided unprecedented access to the best of American technologies. Yet while India’s returns are evident, the United States’ newly secured geostrategic advantage is somewhat murky at best.

Policy Endgame: Less or More Regional Stability?

In March 2010, the United States and India signed an agreement on the reprocessing rights of spent nuclear fuel—an issue that had long preoccupied lawmakers on both sides in the run up to the 123 Agreement. The two countries consented to Indian reprocessing rights at multiple facilities under IAEA supervision, which grants India status that not even Japan or European countries enjoy. China now finds itself in the rather awkward position of being surrounded—with Japan to the east and India to the west—by countries that have nuclear deals with the United States. In return, India need not even sign definitive global non-proliferation treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CBTB) or the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

After India’s 1974 nuclear test, the international community became convinced that non-weapons specific or dual-use items, which can be used for both civilian and military purposes, could lead to weapons development. Such items had been available to India before 1974 due to less strict export controls. To discourage the improper exploitation of dual-use materials, the United States implemented greater restrictions on nuclear trade. In direct response to the Indian nuclear test, Washington formed the NSG, which today is a 45-member, international body. The group formally coordinates individual nuclear-related export policies and strengthens safeguards on existing nuclear materials. In supporting the NSG, the U.S. government and other founding nations—Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom—hoped that the body would help bring non-NPT states under the umbrella of an international nuclear export regime.

In order for the U.S.-India nuclear agreement to go forward, the NSG had to unanimously approve an exception to its rules for India. As a member of the NSG, China could have withheld approval and scuttled the agreement but declined to do so. Instead, China followed up its vote for the U.S.-India deal by proposing to supply Pakistan with two nuclear reactors during a June 2010 NSG meeting. China has long occupied the U.S. role of nuclear benefactor within Sino-Pakistan relations to the point where some opine, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is essentially an extension of the Chinese one.”51 While Washington opposed the agreement (having vacillated on offering Pakistan a similar version of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal given Pakistan’s history of proliferation via the infamous A. Q. Khan network, which had credited China as an invaluable source of technologies and information), Pakistan formally announced the deal in November 2010. By March 2011, China pressed ahead with plans to sell Pakistan two 1970s-era reactors to complement the two Beijing had already provided—a deal that Washington mutedly observed was “inconsistent” with Beijing’s NSG commitments.52

Still, in February 2012, China and Pakistan were in the final stages of a deal to set up six nuclear power plant sites.53 Non-proliferation experts are heavily critical of Sino-Pakistan nuclear cooperation, saying that the United States brought its case before the NSG and publicly asked for a waiver for India while the Chinese deal was secretly concluded and claims a grandfather right under a 1980s-era Sino-Pakistan contract.54 In other areas of cooperation, Pakistan has not hesitated to play China as a “powerful alternative ally”55 to the United States following the loss of millions of dollars of American foreign assistance in the wake of the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Completed in 2007, a geo-strategically useful port at Gwadar, Pakistan was signed over to management by Singapore’s PSA International under a forty-year contract. Pakistan’s defense minister announced following a May 2011 visit from Beijing that China had quietly agreed to assume management operations. Major news outlets picked up the story.56 China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson quickly responded, saying that the issue had not been discussed.57 When it was revealed that Pakistan had invited China to build a naval base at Gwadar to complement the port Chinese investment had funded, Beijing again moved to distance itself from Islamabad and confirmed no plans existed for permanent Chinese military bases abroad.

In the midst of U.S.-Pakistan tensions over military operations and counter-intelligence activities in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, is a subtle but enduring Sino-Pakistan alliance now rising? If so, it would be inherently less stable than a U.S.-India one, considering corresponding levels of economic development, internal security and political stability in Pakistan. Pakistan’s developing civilian nuclear program lies in proximity to one of the most dangerous regions of the world, in which the United States has maintained a costly, long-term presence fraught with frustration with Pakistan’s government over border-area security and Taliban infringement. Yet, China may now intend to emulate the bar set by the United States—calculating China’s own border and terrorism issues with Pakistan—in comprehensive strategic cooperation with India. Washington has stated its intentions to integrate India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and eventually the UN Security Council; clearly, being picked as a strategic U.S. ally has its own rewards. With a growing web of complex dynamics within these geopolitical and geoeconomic relationships, time will tell if the same can be said of Beijing’s preferred partners in the new great game of global nuclear relations in the Indian Ocean region.

Notes & References

  1. Jayshree Bajoria and Esther Pan, “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” Council on Foreign Relations, New York, November 5, 2010, accessed March 5, 2012,
  2. Patrick Mendis and Leah Green, Dealing with Emerging Powers: The U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (Chapter 4), in Richard Weitz (ed.), Project on National Security Reform, Case Studies, Volume, 1. (Washington, D.C.: National Security Reform Commission, 2008), 173-318, accessed February 26, 2012,
  3. Lalit Mansingh, Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership: Are We There Yet? (New Delhi: IPCS, 2006), 3, accessed February 12, 2012, Strategic Partner ship.pdf.
  4. For a brief background on the Treaty and its history, see the press release by the U.S. Department of State about the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, accessed March 15, 2012, isn/trty/16281.htm and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs about the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,
  5. Office of the White House Press Secretary, “Remarks by the President to Students and Faculty at National Defense University,” May 1, 2001, accessed February 12, 2012, /05/20010501-10.html.
  6. Bolton appears to have been a sort of problematic ally for the administration in that he shared their distaste for arms control regimes but was not as amenable to their vision for nuclear cooperation with India.
  7. John Bolton, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: A New Strategic Framework,” U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda, 7.2 (July 2002): 5-6, accessed March 5, 2012, policyjournal-0702.pdf.
  8. Office of the White House Press Secretary, “Remarks by the President to Students and Faculty at National Defense University” May 1, 2001.
  9. Ashley J. Tellis, “The Evolution of U.S.-Indian Ties,” International Security, Vol. 30, No.4 (Spring 2006), 116.
  10. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD),, “Text: Ambassador Blackwill on Shared U.S.-India National Interests,” September 6, 2001, accessed February 12, 2012, wmd/ library/news/india/2001/india-010906-usia1.htm.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Jay Solomon and Neil King, Jr., “Holding High Hopes for India; Singh’s U.S. Visit May Help Political Ties Catch Up to Business Links,” Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2005, accessed February 16, 2012, http://online.wsj. com/article/0,,SB112137612645286055,00.html.
  13. U.S. Department of State, “Ambassador to India Robert D. Blackwill: The Future of U.S.-India Relations,” July 13, 2003, accessed June 10, 2008,
  14. Ibid.
  15. Jay Solomon and Neil King, Jr., “Holding High Hopes for India.”
  16. Centre for Non-proliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Jennifer Kline, “U.S.-India Space Cooperation Reaches New Heights, Despite Lingering Proliferation Concerns,” WMD Insights, July 21, 2006, accessed February 12, 2012,
  17. For a list of working groups and dialogue topics, see Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, “U.S.-India Energy Dialogue,” July 18, 2005, accessed February 12, 2012, 49724.pdf.
  18. Leonard Weiss, “U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation: Better Later than Sooner,” The Non-proliferation Review, 14.3 (November 2007): 429-457, accessed February 12, 2012,
  19. Glenn Kessler, “India Nuclear Deal May Face Hard Sell,” Washington Post, 3 Apr. 2006, A01. The writer describes the Bush administration’s foreign policy during its second term as “largely driven by Rice and a close circle of advisors, not White House staff.”
  20. Ashley J. Tellis, “The Evolution of U.S.-India Ties: Missile Defense in an Emerging Strategic Relationship,” International Security, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Spring 2006), 145.
  21. Warren P. Strobel, “State Department Sees Exodus of Weapons Experts,” Knight Ridder, February 8, 2006, accessed February 12, 2012,
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Kaushik Kapisthalam, “India's U.S. Nuclear Deal Hangs by a Thread,” Asia Times Online, May 16, 2006, accessed February 12, 2012,
  25. Glenn Kessler, “India Nuclear Deal May Face Hard Sell.”
  26. Office of the White House Press Secretary, “Joint Statement between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” July 18, 2005, accessed February 12, 2012, http://georgewbush-whitehouse
  27. Ibid.
  28. Elisabeth Bumiller and Somini Sengupta, “Bush and India Reach Pact That Allows Nuclear Sales,” New York Times, March 3, 2006, accessed February 16, 2012, /asia/03prexy.html?pagewanted=all.
  29. Steven R. Weisman, “Dissenting on Atomic Deal,” New York Times, March 3,2006, accessed February 16, 2012,
  30. Ashok Sharma, “Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal: Intense Lobbying,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, June 24, 2006, accessed February 12, 2012,
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Both scientists were also former heads of the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
  34. See Section 123(9)a of United States, General Consul, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Legislation, 109th Cong., 2nd session, Vol. 1, No. 7, Rev. 1, Washington, DC: GPO, 2006.
  35. For transcript, see Leonard Weiss, “Testimony on the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” House International Relations Committee, Washington, DC, May 11, 2006, accessed February 12, 2012, http://legacy.arms
  36. “Non-proliferation Experts Call on State Department to Come Clean on Questions Concerning U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal,” Arms Control Association, March 5, 2008, accessed February 12, 2012,
  37. Glenn Kessler, “State Department Asks Congress to Keep Quiet About Details of Deal,” Washington Post, May 9, 2008, accessed June 12, 2008, 2008/05/08/AR2008050803427.html.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Mira Kamdar, “Forget the Israel Lobby. The Hill’s Next Big Player is Made in India,” Washington Post, September 30, 2007, accessed February 12, 2012, 2007/09/28/AR2007092801350.html.
  41. Peter Wonacott, “Politics and Economics: India Nuclear Pact May Create a Broad Opening for U.S. Firms,” Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2006.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Iftikhar Gilani, “Indo-U.S. N-deal Headed for More Political Turmoil: Lobbyist Hired by India on U.S. Arms Dealers’ Payroll,” Daily Times, December 27, 2007, accessed February 12, 2012, http://www.dailytimes.\12\27\story_27-12-2007_pg7_33.
  44. Justin Rathke, “Growing Prospects for Sales of Civilian Nuclear Technology to India,” Department of Commerce ITA Newsletter, February 2007, accessed March 15, 2012, publications/ newsletters/ita_0207/india_0207.asp.
  45. Aziz Haniffa, “Karan Bhatia Lands Top Job in GE,” Rediff India Abroad, April 07, 2008, accessed March 5, 2012,
  46. U.S. Trade Representative, “Schwab Announces Departure of Deputy USTR Karan Bhatia,” The Executive Office of the President, The White House, accessed March 5, 2011,
  47. Neena Shenai, “India, the United States, and High-Tech Trade,” The American, March 14, 2010, accessed March 15, 2012, . See also Steve Herman, “India Increasing Defense Spending as Economy Grows,” The VOA News, February 15, 2010, accessed March 15, 2012,
  48. Cited in “Country Overviews: India: Nuclear Chronology 1998,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, October 2003, James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, accessed February 12, 2012,
  49. Bureau of Industry and Security, U.S. Department of Commerce, The Entity List, May 3, 2005, accessed February 12, 2012,
  50. “ISRO Extends Raytheon Contract for GAGAN GPS Augmentation System,” Inside GNSS, July/August 2009, accessed February 12, 2012,
  51. Harsh V. Pant, “China-Pakistan Nuclear Deal: Why the Surprise?”, June 22, 2010, accessed February 12, 2012,
  52. See Stephanie Ho, “China to sell Outdated Nuclear Reactors to Pakistan,” Voice of America, March 24, 2011, accessed February 17, 2012,
  53. See “Pakistan, China Mull Ambitious Nuclear Power Deal: Sources,” The Mainichi Daily News, February 17, 2012, accessed February 18, 2012, 0in116000c.html.
  54. Ashley J. Tellis, “The China-Pakistan Nuclear ‘Deal’: Separating Fact from Fiction,” Policy Outlook, July 16, 2010, accessed March 4, 2012,
  55. China to Assume Management of Pakistan Port of Gwadar,” Want China Times, May 24, 2011, accessed February 17, 2012,
  56. Ibid.
  57. Ananth Krishnan, “No Deal on Gwadar Port, Says China,” The Hindu, May 24, 2011, accessed February 17, 2012,
Patrick Mendis served as an American diplomat and a NATO military professor during the Clinton and Bush administrations. He is an affiliate professor of public and international affairs as well as an adjunct professor of geography and geoinformation science at George Mason University in Virginia. At the State Department, he chaired the interagency working group on science and technology for sustainable development, coordinated the intellectual property rights on science and technology agreements with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and authored the Department’s Supplementary Handbook on the Circular-175 Process for Routine International Science and Technology Agreements. Professor Mendis later served as a national security consultant at the Center for Global Security Research in the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He was a visiting foreign policy scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS where he authored two books: “TRADE for PEACE” and “Commercial Providence: The Secret Destiny of the American Empire.” Leah Green is a PhD student at Hong Kong University’s Department of Politics and Public Administration. She has resided in Beijing for nearly four years and has served in the U.S. Navy. The authors wish to thank Steve Farole, Geoffrey Levin, Nathaniel Hojnacki, and other anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. government and its agencies or any other organizations with which these authors have been affiliated in the past or the present.