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The Indian Exception

NEW DELHI – The ratification by the United States Congress of the historic India-US Nuclear Agreement marks a remarkable new development in world affairs. Initially signed in July 2005, the agreement is a major milestone in the growing partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

That agreement signals recognition of what may be called “the Indian exception” – a decision by the world’s sole superpower, together with all other nations involved in commerce in nuclear-related materials, to sell such materials to India, despite India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its two nuclear tests.

India’s refusal to sign the NPT was based on principle, for the NPT is the last vestige of apartheid in the international system, granting as it does to five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council the right to be nuclear weapons states while denying the same right to others. A long-time advocate of global nuclear disarmament, India’s moral stand on the NPT enjoys near-unanimous backing within the country. Its weapons program is also widely (though far from universally) supported at home as a security imperative in a dangerous neighborhood.

Unlike Iran and North Korea, which signed the NPT and then violated its provisions through clandestine nuclear weapons programs, India has openly pursued its own nuclear development, and it has a stellar record on non-proliferation, never exporting its technology or leaking a nuclear secret. Moreover, its nuclear program is under strict civilian control.