Washington must play fair on nuclear policy
If there was any doubt that the Bush administration applies one set of rules to enemies and another to friends, it should be laid to rest following Monday's announcement that the United States has agreed to share its nuclear technology with India.
Washington defends the deal by noting that the proposed co-operation will only cover India's civilian nuclear programmes. In return, it adds, New Delhi has committed itself to maintaining the moratorium on weapons testing and to stopping the spread of nuclear materials and know-how.
But that is not the full story. The deal does not require India, which detonated its first nuclear bomb in 1974, to finally sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Nor does it place other significant restrictions on the country's nuclear weapons programme.
On the contrary, India will be allowed to continue producing weapons-grade plutonium and be given, for the first time, access to some US nuclear technologies that could be used in military applications. The Bush administration, in short, seems to be reversing America's long-standing national policy against rewarding developing countries that pursue a secret nuclear-weapons programme.
The implications of such an about-face are deemed so grave that even some of President George W. Bush's staunchest loyalists, including John Bolton, his nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, opposes the deal, according to The Washington Post. Who will Mr Bush blame now if Iran and North Korea kept thumbing their noses at his non-proliferation policy?
This is not the first time the Bush administration has looked the other way for a wayward-but-friendly nuclear power.
Two years ago, a prominent Pakistani scientist was found to have passed nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Under pressure from Washington, Islamabad sacked him as presidential scientific adviser but suffered no US sanctions. This was because Pakistan - another NPT holdout - is a key American ally in its 'war on terror'.
The US-India accord also seems to be aimed at alliance-building, rather than reducing the nuclear threat. It is no secret that many Bush administration foreign-policy movers and shakers see China as America's next strategic rival. So they want to help India grow stronger as a counterweight - including by speeding up the modernisation of its nuclear arsenal.
It is America's right to pursue policies that advance its national interests as best it sees fit. But as the world's sole superpower, it is more prone to impose its agenda and priorities on others. If it wants the rest of the world to fall in line, the least it can do is to act fairly.
And if the spread of nuclear weapons is ultimately bad for global security, there cannot be a distinction between friendly and unfriendly proliferators.