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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
The U.S-India Nuclear Deal: A Critical Assessment
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Arms Control Association Press Briefing
February 15, 2006

Prepared Remarks of Daryl G. Kimball

As we just heard from David Albright, India is proposing that the United States accept a civil-military nuclear facilities separation plan that would exclude a large number of civilian facilities and spent fuel from safeguards. These facilities could provide significant additional nuclear weapons production capacity if not safeguarded. Even the Bush administration does not agree with India's proposed plan.

And as Len Weiss has noted, the existing terms of the proposal would not oblige New Delhi to undertake the same practices as the five original nuclear-weapon states, and the
deal could erode overall confidence in the already fragile NPT regime because it might provide India one of only a handful of NPT holdouts with the benefits of membership without requiring it to live up to the responsibilities of the treaty's 183 non-nuclear-weapon states.

I would like to focus a bit further on a significant problem that Len touched upon, and it is that even if India's civilian-military separation plan is "credible" and all civil facilities and material are placed under meaningful, permanent safeguards, the supply of foreign nuclear fuel to India would still free-up India's existing capacity to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons and allow for the rapid expansion of India's nuclear arsenal. This could constitute a violation of one of the most fundamental principles of the global nonproliferation system: Article I of the NPT, which stipulates that states shall "not in any way" assist the nuclear weapons programs of others.

This is no idle concern. Indian nuclear hawks such as K. Subrahmanyan openly argue that, in order to expand India's arsenal, it should "categorize as many reactors as possible as civilian" to facilitate foreign refueling and conserve India's scarce "native uranium fuel for weapon-grade plutonium production." India reportedly has plans to build an arsenal totaling between 300-400 nuclear weapons within the decade.

In response to Congressional questions on this point, the State Department does not deny the possibility and simply asserts that "the growth of India's nuclear program is evidently not constrained by access to natural uranium."

This response does not take into account several scenarios that could allow India to use newly unallocated domestic uranium to support fissile material production for weapons purposes.

For instance, if India built a new plutonium-production reactor or designated some of its existing civilian heavy water reactors for the military program to augment its two existing plutonium production reactors (CIRUS and Dhruva), the additional increased consumption of domestic uranium supplies for plutonium production would be compensated for by access to imported uranium for safeguarded power reactors. And, if India no longer needs to rely on domestic uranium to fuel its power reactors, it could also expand its small-scale centrifuge enrichment program to make high enriched uranium to support nuclear weapons production.

In our letters, we recommend that Congress seek remedies that ensure that India commits to halt fissile material production for weapons purposes pending a Fissile Material Production Cut Off Treaty (FMCT). We also note that all five of the original NPT nuclear-weapon states are all believed to have suspended fissile material production for weapons.

Indian officials and their paid lobbyists insist that the proposal should have nothing to do with India's strategic program. They say that a fissile production cutoff is not on the table. As Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said in December, "These suggestions are deal-breakers."

Perhaps they are. But if India is really only interested in a "minimum credible deterrent," there is no need for additional fissile production. Alternatively, the continued expansion of India's arsenal could lead Pakistan to increase its nuclear and missile arsenal and encourage China to continue modernizing its nuclear forces. Rather than facilitating an arms race in Asia, U.S. and Indian policy should be aligned to halt and reverse it.

Indian officials note that New Delhi supports a verifiable global treaty to cut off fissile material for weapons purposes. This is noted in the July 18 Joint Statement.

However, that's been its position for many years. That's good, but at the same time the U.S. opposition to a "verifiable" fissile cut off treaty is blocking progress on its negotiation. Consequently, that treaty is but a distant goal and leaders in New Delhi know it.

Remember that the FMCT has been on the international nuclear arms control agenda since the original NPT negotiations in the late 1960s. In 1995, the 60-some nation Conference on Disarmament reach agreement on a negotiating mandate for a verifiable fissile material production cutoff for weapons purposes. Progress has been tied up due to competing priorities about what should be negotiated. A shift in China's position on an unrelated issue briefly opened up the possibility to begin negotiations on the FMCT in 2004, but hopes were dashed when the Bush administration announced that it would not support negotiations on a verifiable FMCT because, it argued, the proposed treaty is not verifiable.

Such a position defies logic: verification of the FMCT, which would focus only on the states with the capacity to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium, could be accomplished via a system nearly identical to the IAEA's comprehensive safeguards system that the Bush administration wants India to accept for all its civil nuclear facilities.

Failing to pursue a fissile material production cut off in South Asia also defies UN Security Council Resolution 1172, which was adopted in June of 1998. It calls upon India (and Pakistan) to immediately stop their weapon development programs, halt fissile material production for weapons purposes, and to sign the CTBT, among other nonproliferation measures.

Given that negotiations on a verifiable FMCT would likely take some time, the United States, along with India, Pakistan, China, and all other states capable of producing fissile material, should announce unilateral reciprocal suspension of all fissile production for weapons pending completion of the FMCT.

It is also noteworthy that last year the United States Senate adopted a resolution offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) calling on all states "to accelerate implementation of commitments … for the purpose of reducing the world's stockpiles of …weapons-grade fissile material."

It is, of course, up to India to choose whether it keeps its nuclear weapons options open or whether it wants to expand its energy output with nuclear technology. But it is the responsibility of the president and Congress not to aid and abet any other state's nuclear bomb program and unravel the nonproliferation system. Indeed, Congress and the executive branch should continue to press other states to restrain their nuclear weapons ambitions, whether they be friends or foes.

Finally, let me quickly address some of the counterarguments that we have encountered:

Some proponents of the deal baldly assert that the deal is worth the high costs because it would draw India within the U.S. sphere of influence. Such talk is fanciful given India's fiercely independent political history and interest in preserving good relations with China, Russia, and even Iran on its own terms.

Some U.S. business leaders argue that making sweeping exceptions to the nonproliferation rules and approving the deal is worth it because it is the only way to accelerate U.S. trade with India. This too is a false argument. No matter the fate of the nuclear cooperation proposal, the United States and India should and will expand their ties and common interests as free democracies through expanded cooperation in trade and human development, scientific and medical research, energy technology, humanitarian relief, and military-to-military contacts. The United States can help India expand energy output by helping to support its use of clean coal, gas, and thermal energy, as Senator Lugar has outlined in legislation he recently introduced (S. 1950).

As proponents of the deal rightly argue, there is every reason to believe that our two countries will work side by side in the years to come. If the Congress acts in ways to address the deal's proliferation risks, bilateral Indo-US relations should still survive and prosper. Otherwise, the basic premise of a strategic partnership is deeply suspect.

So, in conclusion, making far-reaching exceptions to existing international nuclear nonproliferation practices might only be justified if the nonproliferation and disarmament commitments outlined in the July 2005 Bush-Singh statement significantly strengthened the nonproliferation regime. As of now, they do not.

We hope that Congress will consider the full implications of the proposed agreement for cooperation between the United States and India, and pursue additional stipulations that might result in a positive outcome to U.S. and international security.