Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2004 / 14 Tishrei, 5764

Daniel Sneider

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Bush-Singh meeting hints at tech sales boost | Iraq has become the black hole of American foreign policy, sucking up all attention. Every once in a while, though, a ray of light escapes the black hole.

That happened this week when President Bush had breakfast with the new Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in New York. With little fanfare, the two governments announced small but crucial steps toward removing barriers to cooperation in areas such as space, nuclear power, high technology and defense.

The apparently warm meeting between the two men was a welcome sign. It indicated that the formation of a left-of-center government in India after elections this spring has not slowed the move toward strategic partnership between the world's two largest democracies.

The attention to India by the Bush administration should be applauded. The emergence of India as an economic dynamo and an Asian megastate is among the most significant developments of the last decade.

The American response to this change should not be reduced - as Democratic candidate John Kerry seems to have done - to complaints about the outsourcing of American jobs. The growing economic relationship between India and the United States is no small matter. But our interaction is much broader, and potentially much more beneficial to Americans, than what a bumper sticker implies.

American companies are eager to exploit opportunities to sell to India - sales that create jobs right here. But they face a bewildering set of controls on the export of technology to India, enforced by an entrenched bureaucracy.

These are the outcome of India's decision to test nuclear warheads in 1998 and join the club of nuclear powers. After those tests, the United States slapped on sanctions that severely controlled the export of sensitive technology, such as high-speed computers, to India. Those restrictions have eased somewhat in recent years but it remains very difficult for American firms to get clearance to sell high technology to India.

The Bush administration, spearheaded by former U.S. Ambassador to India and now deputy national security adviser Robert Blackwill, wants to break through these roadblocks. In January, the two governments announced the outline for "Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership," or NSSP.

The U.S. will gradually lift controls in three areas - civilian nuclear technology, commercial space programs and dual-use technology that could be used for both defense and civilian purposes. In turn, India will tighten controls on the export of such sensitive technologies to other countries and make sure American technology is not used in its nuclear and missile programs. Last week, the two governments announced the first phase, some of which is classified, but includes making it easier for American companies to do business with India's civilian space organization.

The fly in the ointment is that these steps challenge existing nuclear non-proliferation policy. The 34-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, created by the United States after India's first nuclear test in 1974, very clearly blocks such technology going to countries not under full international safeguards, such as India.

Non-proliferation experts worry there are very few real barriers between India's civilian space program and its military one. And if the U.S. makes an exception for India, how can it argue against the supply of such technology to countries such as Iran, they ask.

Those are legitimate concerns, but it is time to stop treating India like a pariah state. It is a responsible nuclear power that shares our concern to halt the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. We need to invite India into the club - including joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group - and ensure that it follows the rules. Anything that moves us farther down that road - as Bush and Manmohan Singh have done this week - should be welcomed.

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Daniel Sneider is foreign affairs columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Comment by clicking here.


09/10/04: The groupthink failure: A centralized bureaucracy won't improve intelligence
08/12/03: In brave new world of business process outsourcing, India has become Omaha
08/05/03: Religious tensions test ‘world's largest democracy’
07/28/03: India: America's new partner

© 2004, San Jose Mercury News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.