The US–India nuclear deal

Great power politics versus non-proliferation

Authored by: Harsh V. Pant

Handbook of Nuclear Proliferation

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  February  2012

Print ISBN: 9781857436044
eBook ISBN: 9780203840849
Adobe ISBN:


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When US President George W. Bush signed the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act – the legislation enabling civilian nuclear trade with India – in October 2008, it was not merely the culmination of more than three years of diplomatic negotiations between the USA and India. It also symbolized a turning point in US-Indian relations with the two nations deciding to leave their suspicion-ridden past behind and entering into what has been described as a ‘strategic partnership’. The US disagreement with India on its nuclear weapons programme had clouded the relationship between the world’s oldest and largest democracies with India remaining the target of US efforts to ‘curb, roll back and eliminate’ its nuclear weapons programme. Though previous US administrations had tried to improve ties with India they were reluctant to move ahead on the nuclear issue, thereby preventing the US– India bilateral ties from achieving their full potential. The Bush Administration’s decision to engage India as a rising global power meant that it was essential to break the deadlock over the nuclear question. Towards this end, the political leaderships in the USA and India had to expend voluminous political capital in the face of strong opposition from various quarters, and had to bridge the gap between the USA’s entrenched non-proliferation policy and India’s insistence on insurance against any future negative turn. The approval of the nuclear deal by the US Congress, however, signified the broad spectrum of support that the idea of a USA–India partnership enjoys in contemporary US polity and society. While the signing of the nuclear pact by the Bush Administration was important, its approval by the US Congress was all the more significant as it implied that the US polity was now ready and willing to trust India as a global partner.

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