International Affairs — 06 July 2006

US President George Bush visited India from 1-3 March 2006. During his visit, progress was madeon the implementation of the US-India nuclear agreement, signed in Washington on 18 July 2005 during a visit by Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Specifically, the two governments agreed a “separation plan” for India’s nuclear facilities, as required by the agreement. This plan notionally splits India’s facilities into “civilian” and “military”, as a precursor to the “civilian” facilities being made subject to IAEA monitoring.

If implemented as signed, the US-India nuclear agreement will exempt India from the existing international rules for the export of nuclear material and equipment. As a result, India will acquire the privileges of the five official “nuclear-weapon” states defined by the NPT [1] (the US, the UK, Russia, France and China) without having to sign up to the NPT. Like the official “nuclear-weapon” states, India will be allowed to keep its nuclear arsenal.

As the Indian Government stated bluntly on 29 July 2005 [2]: “The issue of India’s nuclear weapons or NPT has not been raised in our dialogue with the United States. Our dialogue is predicated on India maintaining its strategic [ie weapons] programme. Our nuclear deterrent cannot be [the] subject of negotiations with foreign governments and is strictly within our sovereign domain. India has rejected demands for joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon State.”

The international rules

The international rules for the export of nuclear material and equipment are laid down in the Guidelines of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) of exporting states (45 in all, today)[3]. Since 1995, these Guidelines have required a receiving state (apart from the five official “nuclear-weapon” states) to have “full-scope” IAEA safeguards, that is, to have an agreement with the IAEA to monitor all the nuclear facilities under its jurisdiction. The purpose of this requirement is to seek to prevent such exports being used by the receiving state, or being exported to another state, for military purposes.

India does not have full-scope IAEA safeguards at the moment – only a few of its facilities are subject to IAEA safeguards. As a consequence, in recent years India has had great difficulty importing material and equipment for its nuclear power programme. In particular, it has great difficulty getting hold of enriched uranium fuel for power reactors at Tarapur, which were supplied by the US in the 1960s. Since the first Indian nuclear test in 1974, the US has refused to supply additional fuel for them. In the recent past, Russia has been the only state willing to stretch the NSG Guidelines in order to do business with India – it has supplied fuel for the Tarapur reactors – but it has been widely criticised by other NSG members including the US for doing so, on the grounds that this action breached the Guidelines (see my article US entices India with nuclear bribe [4] ). Understandably therefore, India is very keen to get the rules changed so that it has access to the world market in nuclear goods.

Under the US-India nuclear agreement, the US is proposing that the rules be changed dramatically –
but only for India. If the US gets its way, India alone (apart from the five official “nuclear-weapon” states) will be permitted to import nuclear material and equipment without having full-scope IAEA safeguards. As we will see, under the separation plan agreed with the US in March, whereas India will have to subject more of its nuclear facilities to IAEA monitoring, it will be free to exempt any facilities that it deems “military”.

Different standards

India is being proposed by the US for this extraordinary privilege, even though it has never signed the NPT, has developed nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them, and is not going to sign the NPT now – it can’t without giving up its nuclear weapons.

John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, was asked recently what case could be made that Iran is a threat to peace and therefore deserving of sanction by Security Council. He replied5: “I think that the evidence of Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, its extensive program to achieve a ballistic missile capability of longer and longer range and greater accuracy, constitutes a classic threat to international peace and security …”By this definition, India constitutes “a classic threat to international peace and security”, and then some, since it isn’t just making efforts to acquire nuclear weapons – it has already acquired them. But, instead of threatening India with sanctions, not excluding military sanctions, the US proposes that the existing international rules be dramatically loosened for India, and India alone, so that it can import nuclear material and equipment. It would appear that the US is applying different standards to Iran and India.

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