"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004
India Passes Nonproliferation Legislation

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Paul Kerr

Both houses of India’s parliament have passed legislation designed to strengthen the country’s export controls over items related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related delivery systems. Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam is expected to sign the bill shortly.

The action comes in response to global and U.S. pressures and is particularly significant given India’s position as a nuclear-armed state that does not belong to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Pakistan and Israel are the two other nonsignatories to the treaty, and both are also assumed to possess nuclear weapons.

A spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs emphasized May 13 that the law “does not indicate any change in our nuclear [weapons] policy.”

Rather, official statements indicated that the legislation is designed to demonstrate that India is a responsible nuclear power.

An Indian embassy official told Arms Control Today May 20 that India has long had a variety of laws regulating WMD-related activities. However, the new bill integrates this legal patchwork and facilitates effective regulations.

According to the official, the legislation gives government agencies with enforcement authority enhanced powers to regulate controlled materials under their jurisdictions by, for example, providing precise definitions of controlled technologies.

The law also provides for specific civil and criminal penalties designed in part to close any “loopholes” in existing legislation that could be exploited by states or terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction and related materials, the official added.

A Department of State official told Arms Control Today May 23 that the “law looks like it might be useful,” but proper implementation and enforcement will be critical.

Signal to the World
India adopted the measure partly to fulfill its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which was adopted in April 2004. The resolution requires that all states adopt and enforce “appropriate, effective” laws and measures, such as export controls, to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and related delivery vehicles. States are also required to impose controls and safeguards on sensitive materials that could be used to develop such weapons.

The ministry spokesperson suggested that the legislation would also improve India’s chances of receiving civilian nuclear technology from the United States and other countries, calling it “a major statement to the world.”

Washington and New Delhi agreed in January 2004 to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of civilian nuclear power, civilian space programs, and “high-technology trade.”

The United States announced last September that it had eased controls on the export of some dual-use items to India’s nuclear and space facilities. Washington took this step, which concluded the first phase of the initiative, partly because India had already committed to implement some “measures to address proliferation concerns.” (See ACT, October 2004.)

According to the State Department official, the United States has pushed India to implement such measures because some Indian private entities have exported proliferation-sensitive items in the past. The official would not provide details, however. Additionally, India’s advanced technology sector has raised concerns that the country could prove a “potential” proliferation problem in the future, the official said.

The United States has sanctioned several Indian entities for proliferation activity. For example, Washington imposed penalties last September on two Indian individuals for transferring unspecified items to Iran that could contribute to the development of weapons of mass destruction or missiles. (See ACT, November 2004.) Additionally, the United States sanctioned an Indian corporation and its president in February 2003 for “materially contributing” to Iraq’s suspected chemical and biological weapons programs. (See ACT, March 2003.)

The United States has indicated that additional Indian nonproliferation measures would further the initiative. Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Peter Lichtenbaum stated during an April 28 meeting concerning export controls that Washington will “take steps” to cooperate in the areas covered by the initiative as “India takes additional steps to implement credible and effective nonproliferation policies.” He did not elaborate.

As a result of the U.S. export regulation changes announced in September, India’s two nuclear facilities subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards are eligible to import dual-use U.S. nuclear-related equipment not restricted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal group of 44 states that seeks to control nuclear exports. U.S. nuclear exports, however, are only permitted to the part of India’s nuclear plants used for power generation, such as turbines, controllers, or power distribution, rather than the nuclear reactor itself.

NSG guidelines prohibit the transfer of certain dual-use nuclear materials and items to countries without fullscope IAEA safeguards, such as India. IAEA safeguards allow the agency to monitor declared nuclear facilities for possible diversion to military uses.

The State Department official said that, as India “puts its house in order,” Washington will ease additional U.S. export controls more stringent than the NSG guidelines.