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"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."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Suppliers Weigh Indian Nuclear Cooperation

Wade Boese

At an October meeting, the world’s leading nuclear suppliers offered mixed reactions to a U.S. initiative to expand civil nuclear cooperation with India. The group is awaiting a formal U.S. proposal as well as Indian steps toward granting greater outside access to its nuclear facilities before deciding how to proceed.

President George W. Bush promised Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh July 18 that the United States would seek to revise U.S. law and international rules so India could obtain nuclear materials and technologies to expand its nuclear energy sector. (See ACT, September 2005.) For nearly three decades, the United States and many other nuclear suppliers have significantly limited nuclear exports to nuclear-armed India. New Delhi exploded a nuclear device in 1974, employing materials and technologies acquired for peaceful purposes, and conducted a further series of nuclear tests in May 1998. India is also one of three countries— Israel and Pakistan are the other two—never to join the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Bush administration officials have not revealed how they want Congress to modify or waive U.S. law to implement the president’s plan. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Oct. 18 that the administration would present its approach to lawmakers before the president visits India early next year.

After not being consulted in advance about the proposed cooperation, congressional leaders are pressing the administration to give them more input. The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House International Relations Committees sent a letter Oct. 17 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recommending the administration “begin substantive discussions with our respective committees as soon as possible before final decisions are made on any new legislative proposals.” The bipartisan quartet noted, “We firmly believe that such consultations will be crucial to the successful consideration of the final agreement or agreements by our committees and the Congress as a whole.”

The administration is clearer on what it will request other governments to do. Specifically, administration officials indicated at a Sept. 8 International Relations Committee hearing that the United States will ask its fellow 44 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to exempt India from a 1992 rule that nuclear importers must subject their entire nuclear apparatus to international oversight, technically known as full-scope safeguards. India refuses to submit itself to the rule, and Washington wants to maintain the rule as a general principle.

Still, the United States did not present a specific exemption proposal at an Oct. 17-18 NSG meeting. Instead, it explained the July deal and its motivations, group member officials told Arms Control Today. NSG members, whose meetings are confidential, coordinate their nuclear export controls to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

At the meeting, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom endorsed boosting nuclear ties with India, while Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland registered strong reservations. Most members have yet to decide one way or another about the proposed cooperation. But the majority, including France and the United Kingdom, emphasized that their support hinges on how India’s general nonproliferation pledges are translated into specifics.

In what has turned out to be a domestically divisive declaration for his government, Singh told Bush that India would separate its civilian nuclear program from its military counterpart and permit international oversight of nonmilitary facilities. He also reaffirmed existing Indian policies to institute tighter export controls, adhere to a nuclear-testing moratorium, and support negotiating a treaty to end the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons.

Some NSG members, such as Canada, questioned why the United States did not obtain more from India, particularly a pledge to cease production of bomb-making materials. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have publicly announced an end to such production, and China is understood to have also followed suit. Indian officials maintain their country will do no less and no more than these five states.

Similarly, other NSG countries knocked the arrangement for not getting India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning nuclear testing. However, the Bush administration also opposes the accord, which will not enter into force until the United States, India, and nine other specific countries ratify it.

Still, the critical issue determining whether the nuclear trade door will be opened wider for India is if it enacts a “credible split of its civilian and military” nuclear programs, one diplomat of an NSG member told Arms Control Today Oct. 20.

When this separation will begin remains uncertain. Burns traveled to India near the end of October to negotiate a phased implementation approach for the deal, but no final agreement was announced. NSG members urged the United States to share the timetable once it is completed.