Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently urged members of Congress to back a landmark deal that would allow the sale of civilian nuclear technology to India.  Because U.S. law restricts the sharing of nuclear technology with countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Congress must make an exception to the law for India ? if the deal is to take effect. 

Critics of the deal say it undercuts the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by rewarding a country that refused to sign it and then pursued nuclear weapons.  Advocates inside and outside the White House dismiss such criticism, saying that it would strengthen the non-proliferation regime by putting 65 % of India?s nuclear plants under international inspections.  And they extol the deal as a major step toward solidifying India?s new status as a U.S. strategic partner.  But would it be in the best interest of the United States?

Associate director of the South Asia Studies Program at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, Walter Andersen, says yes.  Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now?s Encounter program, Mr. Anderson said the US-Indian deal is a good one and Congress should endorse it.  He said the strategic gains outweigh the non-proliferation risks.

But Paul Leventhal, former president of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute, disagrees. He says the deal would run counter to U.S. strategic interests by helping India expand its nuclear arsenal.  He adds that it might also trigger a regional arms race with Pakistan and China and might encourage bad behavior in known proliferators like North Korea and Iran.

Regarding the risks, Walter Andersen acknowledged that the deal does allow India to manufacture more nuclear weapons.  But he said it?s in the U.S. interest to have a strong India, not necessarily as a counterweight to China as some have argued, but because it?s important for the United States to cultivate other ?poles of power? in Asia. He and other proponents of the deal point to the fact that India, in contrast to Iran and North Korea, has not shared or distributed its nuclear material or technology to other nations or rogue states.  And based on his longstanding high-level contacts inside both India and Pakistan, Walter Anderson sees no evidence that the U.S.-India deal will set off an arms race, either between Pakistan and India or between China and India.  Mr. Leventhal laments that foreign policy goals are likely to take precedence over non-proliferation in the case of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.  Congress is expected to continue the debate about the merits of the deal in the coming months.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.