By Michael Karpin
By a large majority, last week the American Senate approved President George
W. Bush's plan to recognize India's nuclear capability, without compelling it
to open its nuclear installations to international inspectors. The Senate's
vote reflects a sea change in America's nuclear policy. Prior to that, in
June, the House of Representatives also approved the plan by a large majority.
In the near future the two resolutions will be combined and the joint
formulation will be brought for final approval.
The precedent that the United States has set in the matter of India could well
bring about a change of direction in Israel's nuclear policy. In February,
Bush visited India and signed a declaration of strategic partnership with
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Under the agreement, the United States will
legitimize India's atomic bomb in retrospect and in return India will submit
the civilian part of its nuclear industry to international inspection and will
commit itself to refraining from proliferating atomic weapons.
Practically speaking, India's nuclear industry is split in two parts: civilian
and military. The civilian part, which comprises 22 of the 26 nuclear reactors
in the country, will be under international inspection. The remaining 12
reactors will be defined as "military" and will remain closed to inspection.
At the military reactors, India will be permitted to produce fissionable
materials to its heart's content, but will commit itself to refraining from
performing nuclear tests.
This strategic partnership is a far-reaching step. From the American
perspective, the advantage is considerable: India will position itself with
the United States vis-a-vis China and Islamic extremist elements in Pakistan,
and will join a coalition that the United States is putting together against
Iran's nuclear plan. India, too, will benefit greatly: It will not have to
submit its nuclear military project to inspection and it will be allowed to
import knowledge, materials and installations for the production of cheap
The strategic change in direction that Bush has initiated is reminiscent of
the change that was brought about by president Richard Nixon's administration,
at the beginning of the 1970s, in the American attitude towards the Israeli
nuclear program. The two administrations that preceded it demanded of the
government of Israel that it add its signature to the Nuclear
Non-proliferation Treaty and reveal its nuclear plans to the world. Nixon's
secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, persuaded the president to change course
in American policy and recognize Israel's nuclear option. If Israel's nuclear
capacity is equivalent to a fait accompli, argued Kissinger, it is better that
Israel maintain it in conditions that will be beneficial to the United States
in the Middle East.
The strategic partnership between the United States and India has yielded a
new route for progress for countries that thus far have not been accepted into
the nuclear club. Countries that can be relied upon to observe the rules of
the international game - i.e. refrain from proliferating nuclear weapons and
not carry out tests - will be brought in. India, like Pakistan and Israel, has
not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, but in the eyes of the Bush
administration, its government is considered reliable.
In the eyes of the United States, Israel resembles India. Ever since it
obtained nuclear capability, it has destined it for defense, presenting the
world with a display of nuclear ambiguity and has always, even in times of
emergency when it seemed to its leadership that the country was under an
existential threat, refrained from warning its enemies that it has a nuclear
If the United States decides relate to Israel in a way similar to the way it
has related to India's nuclear industry, it will be possible to split the
industry here into two areas: The reactor in Dimona will be defined as
"military" and will receive an exemption from international inspection, while
the reactor in Nahal Soreq will be defined as "civilian" and will be put under
inspection. As a result of this, perhaps Israel will decide to cancel the
policy of nuclear ambiguity and will be allowed to import nuclear know-how and
materials for civilian purposes.
After the vote in the Senate, the White House published a statement on behalf
of the president in which he praised the approval of the strategic alliance
with India. The agreement, noted the statement, "will bring India into the
international nuclear non-proliferation mainstream and will increase the
transparency of India's entire civilian nuclear program." It is possible that
in the future we will be reading a similar statement on the matter of Israel's
Michael Karpin is the author of the book "The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel
went Nuclear and What That Means for the World," published by Simon and
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