Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, India & Region

(This article can also be found on Nepalnews.com)

Following the controversial conclusion of Indo-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in 2008, the Obama administration has revised its policy of exporting dual-use goods to India. This policy which removes India’s long-standing status as a country of concern on sensitive materials may attract other non-NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) members to expand their nuclear weapons programs. The U.S. government should ensure that such proliferation-sensitive goods are not secretly misused in India’s unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. This is doable by implementing fully the 1978 U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act.

When the oft-quoted Indo-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement was being negotiated stretching over a long period of three years (2005-08), India was prepared to apply international safeguards to less than half of its total nuclear plants. The rationale behind this government decision was that it would have to keep all its non-civilian nuclear facilities off limits to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection. Because the George W. Bush administration was over enthusiastic to strike the nuclear deal with India, it hesitantly agreed to Indian conditions including this one.

The NPT is a universally-adhered treaty whose states parties are all UN members but India, Pakistan and Israel. Its core principle is to strengthen the regime of global non-proliferation. The NPT, operational since 1970, seeks to promote non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by obliging non-nuclear weapon states to forgo nuclear option and nuclear-weapons states to gradually strive for nuclear disarmament. Non-nuclear weapon states are promised unimpeded access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

India is a nuclear capable state now. It detonated five nuclear explosions in the week of May 11, 1998 shocking the world. It has objected to the basic principle of the NPT and still continues resisting to join the treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. Nonetheless, it already has crossed the nuclear threshold. But the international community has exhibited its recitience to recognize India as a nuclear power at par with internationally-acknowledged powers like the U.S., Russia, U.K., France and China.

It is an open secret that India has been aggressively campaigning to win a seat in the UN Security Council as one of the permanent members. There are five such members exercising veto rights and purposefully all of them are world’s only nuclear powers. The Indian motive to win permanent membership of the UN Security Council is thus obvious. Happily for India the U.S. indicated its desire to support its bid during Obama’s visit to the country last year.

While endeavoring to establish nuclear non-proliferation norms, the NPT provides that rights to import nuclear fuel like uranium for civilian purpose are reserved only for its members. When the nuclear deal was signed between America and India in November, 2008 an exception was applied to India in her right to import nuclear fuel from the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) contrary to existing long-established practices.

The NSG is an informal club of 46 nuclear fuel suppliers which was formed in the aftermath of India’s peaceful nuclear explosion of 1974. The group has developed some guidelines to follow while exporting the sensitive material. India was not eligible for being supplied nuclear fuel from the NSG as it is not a member of the NPT. In order to finalize the nuclear cooperation deal the Bush administration even arm twisted the reluctant members of the NSG to favor India. This coercive diplomacy by the U.S. flagrantly violates the NPT and accordingly exposes its poor non-proliferation records.

The commercial and strategic interests of the U.S played decisive roles in bypassing the NSG rules. In post-nuclear deal period India’s nuclear industry is expanding very rapidly. Resultantly, the world’s major producers of nuclear energy, notably France and Russia, have started lobbying India to capture the lucrative market. Both of these countries are competing to sell nuclear reactors and finalize deals in related fuel commerce. The impressive economic growth registered by India has boosted the consumption of energy and hydrocarbon sources are just inadequate to meet the country’s spiraling demands. Therefore, by 2020 India intends to increase her nuclear capacity to at least 20 gig watt (GW) from less than 4 GW which she generates now.

India should not obtain dual-use goods as argued by David Albright, Paul Branan and Andrea Stricker, through their article “Keeping Dual-Use Goods out of India’s Nuclear Program”. They have reasonably raised concerns for wider implications from such policy that permits India to import goods having both civilian and military uses. January 26, 2011 Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) report substantiates this.

The White House has claimed that new export policy “will strengthen the global non-proliferation and export control framework” but the U.S. establishment is silent whether it will resort to policy reversal in case India diverts sensitive materials to nuclear weapons. It is also doubtful if the reoriented policy announced on November 8, 2010 complies with the U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, 1978 which requires that peaceful nuclear deal should contain rigorous non-proliferation assurances on exports of U.S. nuclear equipment and materials.

There should be provisions for stringent control to prevent any possible misuse of dual-use goods. In absence of this it may fuel ongoing nuclear arms race in South Asia where, Pakistan, an adversarial and nuclear-armed neighbor of India, may be tempted to seek sensitive materials for expanding its nuclear capability to match its strategic rival. India’s unhindered access to sensitive equipment and materials risks incentivizing it to improve its nuclear arsenal. Her past non-proliferation record is flawed as alleged by the ISIS report of last January. According to this report India has leaked sensitive centrifuge design information, illicitly procured goods for its nuclear weapons program.

Given this hard reality the U. S. should regularly verify the end use of sensitive dual-use goods sent and obtain India’s commitment not to divert U.S. or other suppliers’ goods to its nuclear weapons program. It should also commit India as a recipient of sensitive equipment not to engage in illicit nuclear trade to bypass supplier export control. Otherwise, Obama administration’s own adherence to global nuclear non-proliferation norms will not be credible.

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One Response to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, India & Region

  1. Raj Maharjan says:

    Yet another great article from an author polished with experience in his field. Hira B Thapa knows what he is talking about. His remarks about the nuclear agression of our nuke-neighbours is daring. Alas, Kathmandu had eyes to see and ears to listen to such and other pressing matters. Look forward to read your another thought piece.

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