Friday, March 10, 2006

I never knew any pancakes that got nuked by India

That’s the punch line to a Krusty the Clown joke from an episode of the Simpson’s set in a future to come. The joke: “What’s the difference between Pakistan and a pancake?”

This past week, the world’s two largest democracies began constructing what could be the strategic alliance to define the 21st Century. The United States has agreed, in principle, to cooperate in the development of India’s civilian nuclear energy program. The “deal” is to allow India access to US nuclear technology, and in turn, international inspectors will have access to India’s nuclear facilities.

Unsurprisingly there has been some criticism of US policy. (Mind you: “President Bush sneezing” would be met with some criticism). I thought international security, world peace, and finding a safer, cleaner source of energy was on the top of the left’s agenda? This even has a hint of multiculturalism. Is it a case of Bush-bash first, save the world second? Or are they worried that once the neo-cons achieve all “their” goals, they’ll be out of work?

Why not let India have better nuclear power? With 8 per cent growth in GDP, its hardly as if they’ll want to reinvent the bomb they already have. 1.1 billion Indians are on the verge of developing into a real economy. The only thing that will stop India from maximizing its potential is having access to enough cheap energy to do it (compare with China, who’s having the same problems now).

We spend billions and billions of dollars on exotic alternatives. We are polluting the earth to the nth degree, risking lives in cola mines and on oil rigs, and if you want - but only because it serves my argument - selling “blood for oil” in wars overseas. Nuclear energy is available, it is clean, cheap and safe but the “no nukes is good nukes” crowd keeps it out of our hands.

Part of President Bush’s rationale for the deal with India is to alleviate some of the pressure on oil demand. Rising energy costs are adding significantly to the cost of manufacturing, of shipping and of living. Substituting India’s oil with nuclear energy (in a market of 1.1 billion persons) will keep prices down world wide.

But that’s not what this is about. The deal is being criticized for supporting India as a nuclear power. This is, after all, the same India who hasn’t signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and the same India that is on icy terms with neighbors Pakistan and China. The deal is being read as a shady act of power balancing against China in particular. (Despite India already having nuclear weapon technology, and having tested a bomb in 1998).

But again, so what? The proliferation of nuclear weapons was what stopped the cold war getting hot. So long as there was balance, there was peace. The strength of one super power stops the hostility from the other. Granted, the arms race was certainly costly, but at least we’re not all speaking Russian. No one wants war between China and India, especially not the Chinese nor the Indians. The US would suffer immensely from a war between two of its largest trading partners. But peace between the regions, benefits everyone.

Australia’s response to the Indian requests started as a Dawson and Joey: will they or won’t they. Viewers were denied when the verdict came out as no: we don’t sell to Uranium to those who haven’t signed the non-proliferation pact. This is a missed opportunity. Australians will miss out while the Indians will merely get there uranium from somewhere else. “Principled” our stand may be, but I’m not sure what principle we’re serving.

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