In other words, an American president who sought to make this deal would, or should, detect a myriad of political actors that might protest or block it—mainly the U.N. Security Council, the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, and the U.S. Congress. Not just as a legal principle but also as a practical consideration, these actors must be notified, cajoled, mollified, or otherwise bargained with if the deal has a chance of coming to life.
The amazing thing is, President Bush just went ahead and made the pledge, without so much as the pretense of consultation—as if all these actors, with their prerogatives over treaties and laws (to say nothing of their concerns for very real dilemmas), didn't exist.
In fact, according to a fascinating article by Carla Anne Robbins and John Larkin in today's Wall Street Journal, last April Bush privately told India's foreign minister that Washington would sell nuclear technology to India, even while his own top advisers were "far from certain" that they could find a way to end-run the NPT.
Maybe Bush had grown accustomed to plowing over international treaties when they didn't suit his wishes. No doubt he figured Congress could be prodded into passing whatever laws he demanded in the name of national security.
But that was then. Two things have changed in the months since. First, the Republican Congress—buffeted not only by Bush's plummeting popularity but also by his diminished credibility on security matters in the wake of the Dubai Ports controversy—may not be as accommodating on Indian nukes as it once might have been.
Second, as Bush adjusted to his new position by setting some restrictions on the deal, the highly nationalistic Indian parliament rebelled by demanding no strings whatever. Bush wants India to let the IAEA inspect all 17 of its currently unmonitored civilian reactors; the Indian government, responding to its own domestic pressures, has offered inspection of just four.
Maybe Bush will reach a compromise with India this week—in which case he'll then have the rest of the world to contend with. Or maybe he won't make the deal—in which case the prospect of a global partnership might collapse before it's been born. It was probably a mistake to make the nuclear promise—which impinges on so many other countries' interests—the deal's centerpiece. Or, if that was inevitable, it was definitely a mistake to let the deal go forward without bringing any of these other countries in on the discussion. It was a mistake not to think even one move ahead.