The landmark Indo-US nuclear deal has come in for sharp criticism by some American experts who claim that it will lead to an arms race in Asia and is aimed at checking the rising power of China.
George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the US administration has an important goal that it does not like to talk about, which is balancing the rising power of China.
"When the President (George W Bush) says we now have as our goal to make India a major power, part of that is India's intrinsic worth, but a big part of that is to balance China as a major power.
"The logic being that if you build up India, you build up US power. The idea is, may be China just backs of and says okay we won't compete," he said.
Perkovich said the administration may not like to talk much about the 'balancing China' part of this strategy, 'but you can't really explain why they didn't push hard to get India to stop making bombs'.
Under the agreement reached between President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, the US would lift restrictions on the supply of reactors and fuel for India's civilian nuclear programme provided New Delhi fulfilled a series of obligations. Congress must amend US laws before the deal can be completed.
Executive Director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Centre Henry Skoloski told a House of Representative panel that some in the administration are not unhappy with the prospect of helping India make more bombs.
"More than a few of the deal's backers believe that to enhance US security against, let us say, a hostile China, we shouldn't press these points too hard. They are even willing to let the US indirectly help India build more nuclear weapons," Skoloski said.
China is believed to have between 300 and 400 nuclear weapons, a far larger stockpile of fissile material than India, which is thought to have no more than 75.
South Asia expert Ashley Tellis said, "The Indians are calculating that as long as Chinese stockpile is so huge and there is great uncertainty about where China's strategic nuclear weapons programme is going, they would be unable to accede to any request for a moratorium. I think the US understands this too and, therefore, we didn't make this condition for the successful completion of the agreement."
At recent House and Senate hearings, many experts opined that the policy shift put the international system of non-proliferation at risk. They say the deal turns on its head decades of US non-proliferation policy that prohibits the country from cooperating with a state that has the atom bomb outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"By sending the signal that the US will tolerate and eventually accommodate a decision to acquire nuclear weapons, it will reduce the perceived costs to states that might consider going nuclear in the near future," former Assistant Secretary of State Robert J Einhorn told National Public Radio.
Under the terms of the agreement, India will separate civilian and military nuclear programmes and place the civilian programme under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection. In return, Washington will give India access to technology normally reserved for nations that have signed NPT.
White House officials have largely evaded the issue of how the acceptance of India's status as a nuclear weapons state can be reconciled with the country's commitment to NPT.
- Column: The nuclear deal
Tellis, a former adviser in the US embassy in India, told NPR, "It can't be squared at a legal level. It has to be squared at a practical level. The practical solution is creating some kind of an exception that accommodates the peculiar situation that we find ourselves in."
The new deal with India could result in the US sales of nuclear reactor fuel and the technologies to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium, and some fear that it could actually help India expand its nuclear weapons arsenal.
While supporters and detractors of the deal continue to argue, the US Congress will probably act after President Bush visits India sometime in 2006.