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Another contentious nuclear issue

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The U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement has already generated a lengthy list of grievances in New Delhi and Washington. The lofty ambitions behind the agreement have been much deflated. U.S. backers of the deal advertised that 27,000 high-quality jobs would materialise from building or supplying nuclear power plants in India. Given the liability legislation passed by the Indian Parliament, these jobs and profits are very unlikely to materialise. Likewise, U.S. defence contractors thought that the deal would place them first in line for the medium multi-role combat aircraft competition, but this hope was dashed. Bilateral defence cooperation is improving and other arms transfers are under way, but well below rosy projections. The deal’s boosters in Washington expected much closer strategic cooperation with New Delhi. But India has not voted according to Washington’s wishes at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Indian grievances about the deal relate to expectations of a “clean” exception to commercial restrictions and full membership at the high table of states possessing nuclear weapons. The latest grievance has been sparked by a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decision to affirm a conditions-based approach to the sale or transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Because nuclear weapons can’t be made without these technologies, the NSG has now conditioned transfers only to states that have placed all of their nuclear facilities under stringent safeguards — conditions that India will certainly not meet.

Those in India who are offended by the NSG’s decision assert that it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. This conclusion is wildly at odds with what the Bush administration promised and what the U.S. Congress and the NSG insisted upon when consenting to the deal.

Facts

Here are the facts:

1. In responses provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 2005, Under Secretary of State Bob Joseph stated: “We do not intend to provide enrichment and reprocessing technology to India. As the President said in February 2004, ‘enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.’ We do not currently provide enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any country.”

2. In April 2006, Senator Richard Lugar sought reaffirmation of this policy from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who did so, answering: “Thus, it was stated, without any qualifications or reservations, that the United States would not export such technologies to India.”

3. The “Hyde Act,” in which the House and Senate agreed to the civil nuclear deal, contained restrictions in Section 104 (d)(4) on “exports, re-exports, transfers, and re-transfers to India related to enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water production.”

4. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Report endorsing civil nuclear commerce with India included the following language: “Because the processes of enriching uranium or separating plutonium for peaceful or military purposes are essentially identical, they inherently pose an enhanced risk of proliferation, even under strict international inspections … In addition, the Committee notes that it is well-established policy of the United States not to transfer sensitive nuclear technology, including reprocessing or enrichment technology, to any state … The Committee finds that no part of this legislation should be interpreted to allow for any exceptions to this policy.”

5. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report endorsing civil nuclear commerce with India reinforced this message: “The Committee believes that the United States must work with other nations to prevent the export of potentially harmful technologies. NSG guidelines are not as strict as they ought to be regarding exports of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology, and the Committee supports the administration’s efforts to achieve consensus on tightening those guidelines.”

6. A “conference committee” convenes after the House of Representatives and the Senate pass a bill to craft a uniform version of its provisions. The Conference Committee Report on the civil nuclear deal concluded that “Given the special sensitivity of equipment and technologies related to the enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and the production of heavy water, work with members of the NSG, individually and collectively, to further restrict the transfers of such equipment and technologies, including to India.”

7. President Bush’s transmittal letter to Congress of the 123 (Implementation) Agreement for the U.S.–India civil nuclear cooperation agreement included the following language: “Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy water production technology and production facilities, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities may not be transmitted under the Agreement unless the Agreement is amended.”

8. The L’Aquila Statement on Non-Proliferation, released at the end of the G-8 Summit in Italy in July, 2009, called on the NSG to make further progress “on mechanisms to strengthen controls on transfers” of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.

The Obama administration’s position on enrichment and reprocessing and the NSG’s recent consensus decision are no different than the Bush administration’s position. There is no basis to feel aggrieved that the letter or spirit of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement has been subverted. India needs nuclear power, and global constraints against transfers of technology especially suited for proliferation need to be strengthened. If New Delhi insists on such transfers as a condition of building nuclear power plants, it will either fail or in succeeding, it will do greater harm to global non-proliferation norms and the very institution that went out of its way to enable nuclear commerce with India.

 

This article was originally published in The Hindu.

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