The neccesity of nuclear democracies

A “landmark” nuclear deal was agreed last week between the world’s two largest democracies. In exchange for India opening up 14 “civilian” nuclear reactors out of 22, the United States has agreed to provide access to civil nuclear technology. It is seen as a monumental symbolic event for India, being welcomed back into the fold after spending years in the international wilderness.

India first declared her nuclear ambitions just a year after Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. But it was only after the country failed to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, being one of only three countries to do so, that the world started to look up and take notice. By 1974 India had conducted her first successful underground nuclear test, causing the rest of the world to shun her diplomatically. Another series of tests in 1998 brought further criticism, in light of tension with Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. In a world where nuclear disarmament is considered a progressive trend, any country that joins the “nuclear club” is viewed with disdain.

This explains the outrage that this new deal has been greeted with in some quarters. Nuclear weapons are dangerous things, and the number of countries with access to them needs to be reduced, not increased – or that’s how the argument goes. The move has also prompted calls of double standards, and is seen as counter-productive at a time when the West is fighting the nuclear aims of North Korea and Iran. Furthermore, it is seen as shooting a hole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and rewarding India for rejecting international cooperation.

Such arguments fail to take account of the long-term inevitabilities that have been present since the successful completion of the Manhattan Project. The Non-Proliferation Treaty was an important and crucial step in creating a safer world at the height of the Cold War. However, its effectiveness is – and was always going to be – limited in its lifespan. The unrelenting march of technological progress means that, as with any other form, military technology will continue to be cheaper and easier to obtain for a greater number of regimes. We may be able to slow this diffusion of atomic power, but we cannot contain it forever.

By far and away, the best tactic for advancing international security and preventing nuclear war is not to contain the dispersal of such technology, but in making sure that those that achieve it have the correct form of government for dealing with the responsibility. It is well understood in the study of international relations that democracies do not go to war with other democracies.

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India has had almost 60 years of democratic tradition, and is thus capable of handling the responsibilities of nuclear weaponry. Rather than isolating 1/6 of the world’s population from the rest of the democratic world, it is right for the U.S. to reach out and make connections with India, especially in a region of the world where an authoritarian China is the emerging power.

It is true that the nation has had its wobbles on its path to full liberalism, particularly Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism in the 1970s, but it has now become a model for government by the people in Asia – proving that the so-called “Western” concepts of freedom and democracy are universal values. India still has further to go in her development, but the economic benefits and the recognition of her competence this deal brings can only encourage further progress.

It is wrong and intellectually untenable for Western nuclear powers to continue to hold their own extensive arsenals and continue to punish other representative governments for pursuing and achieving the same ends. If we in the West are serious about spreading democracy throughout the world, we must treat those that achieve it as equals, even when it comes to issues as supremely serious as nuclear weapons.

Tim McEvoy and Ben Griffiths are exchange students from the United Kingdom. They used to be about the music. Their column appears on a rotating schedule. They can be reached at [email protected].