Nonprofileration Policy Crossroads

On October 1, 2008, Congress enacted a proposal that originated with President George W. Bush in 2005 to approve an unprecedented nuclear trade pact with India by removing a central pillar of US nonproliferation policy. Despite the numerous political challenges confronting the Bush administration, the initiative won strong bipartisan support, including votes from Democratic Senators Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. The four-year struggle to pass the controversial US-India nuclear trade agreement offers an exceptionally valuable case study. It demonstrates a classic tradeoff between the pursuit of broad multilateral goals such as nuclear nonproliferation and advancement of a specific bilateral relationship. It reveals enduring fault lines in executive branch relations with Congress. It vividly portrays challenges confronting proponents of a strong nonproliferation regime. This article is based on an analysis of the negotiating record and congressional deliberations, including interviews with key participants. It assesses the lessons learned and focuses on three principal questions: how did the agreement seek to advance US national security interests?; what were the essential elements of the prolonged state-of-the-art lobbying campaign to win approval from skeptics in Congress?; and what are the agreement’s actual benefits - and costs - to future US nonproliferation efforts?