The debate over the India nuclear deal has been too one-dimensional. Nearly all commentary has focused on whether this proposal would undermine efforts to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Dissent along these lines has been based on a series of largely overblown claims. And the singular focus on proliferation has allowed the debate to lose sight of other ways that this deal is in the interests of the United States and India alike.
Chief among those other reasons is environmental. The fuller use of commercial nuclear power, if done to exacting standards of safety and protection against proliferation, can play an important role as part of a larger strategy to slow the growth in emissions of the gases that cause global warming. That's because nuclear power emits essentially no carbon dioxide (CO2), the most prevalent of these so-called "greenhouse gases." While this benefit is hardly the chief reason for initiating this deal, with time it will become one of the main benefits from the arrangement. The nuclear deal probably will lead India to emit substantially less CO2 than it would if the country were not able to build such a large commercial nuclear fleet. The annual reductions by the year 2020 alone will be on the scale of all of the European Union's efforts to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments. In addition, if this arrangement is successful it will offer a model framework for a more effective way to engage developing countries in the global effort to manage the problem of climate change. No arrangement to manage climate change can be adequately successful without these countries' participation; to date the existing schemes for encouraging these countries to make an effort have failed; a better approach is urgently needed.