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Seeing Through the Spin: "Critics" Rebut White House on the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Plan

For Immediate Release: March 9, 2006


Press Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): The George W. Bush administration published a fact sheet yesterday promoting its effort to carve out loopholes in longstanding U.S. and international nonproliferation rules to allow full civil nuclear trade with India. The fact sheet, India Civil Nuclear Cooperation: Responding to Critics, glosses over India's past nuclear wrongs, exaggerates the deal's supposed benefits, and downplays the possible negative ramifications of the deal as configured.

The White House will soon be seeking consent for its radical proposal from Congress and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. Given its far-reaching implications and the importance of improving U.S.-Indian relations without undermining the global nonproliferation regime, the proposal should be fully scrutinized and honestly debated. It is up to Congress to protect core U.S. nonproliferation values and security interests that are at risk.

The following is a rebuttal to the White House fact sheet from the Arms Control Association (ACA), which is among a growing number of organizations and experts critical of the current proposal.

The White House: "This is an historic agreement that brings India into the nonproliferation mainstream."
ACA Response: If implemented the deal may indeed be historic but only because it would reverse long-standing U.S. rules to restrict nuclear trade with countries outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The agreement would not bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream.

India is one of only three countries (the other two are Israel and Pakistan) not to sign the NPT, which is the headwaters of the nonproliferation regime and all the obligations that flow from it. India has refused to join this mainstream for nearly four decades. Its acts of defiance include misusing civil nuclear assistance for a 1974 nuclear bomb test, building up a nuclear arsenal in secret, and conducting several nuclear weapons tests in May 1998. Nonetheless, the Bush administration is offering to give India nuclear trade that the NPT reserves only for its members.

The five recognized NPT nuclear-weapon states-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-are legally obligated to work toward nuclear disarmament. New Delhi professes support for nuclear abolition, but has not formally committed itself to that goal. Thus, the Bush administration is seeking to provide India with the rewards of the treaty when New Delhi has eschewed the accord since its inception.

India is swimming against the nonproliferation current in other important ways. The five recognized nuclear-weapon states have all signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and reportedly ceased production of fissile material (highly enriched uranium and plutonium) for weapons purposes. India refuses to sign the CTBT or to end production of fissile materials for building bombs.

The White House: "The United States has no intention of aiding India's nuclear weapons program."
ACA Response: That might be the administration's intent, but the reality could be the opposite. As currently agreed, India has only committed to place 14 of its current and planned reactors (just eight more than before the deal) under international safeguards, which are designed to deter or detect the illicit diversion of civil nuclear materials and technologies for weapons. It is unclear whether this partial coverage will provide sufficient guarantees that nuclear imports stay in the civil sector. As the chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar, noted in a Feb. 8 interview, India's civil and military nuclear spheres are "intimately intertwined."[1] In addition, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said March 7 that the safeguards will be "India-specific," a phrase that has not been defined.

The exclusion of India's fast breeder reactor program and eight other reactors from safeguards would allow India to boost its current capacity to churn out nuclear weapons from six to ten per year up to several dozen annually.

Moreover, the plan that Bush approved would not allow for safeguards on the spent nuclear fuel already produced by India's energy production reactors. It is estimated that the spent fuel at India's 11 operating unsafeguarded power reactors contain approximately 9,000 kilograms of unseparated plutonium, which is enough for approximately 1,000 nuclear weapons.

The import of nuclear fuel from foreign suppliers also would free up India to use its limited domestic reserves of uranium for the sole purpose of building weapons. India previously had to choose between using this material for energy or bombs.

While the administration claims it does not want to aid India's nuclear weapons program, it negotiated no constraints or restrictions on India's nuclear weapons activities. Singh proudly declared "there will be no capping of our strategic program" and "no constraint has been placed on our right to construct new facilities for strategic purposes." In essence, the current U.S.-Indian nuclear plan would implicitly endorse, if not indirectly assist, the further growth of India's nuclear arsenal.

This outcome is not undesirable from the standpoint of previous Bush administration officials who have aggressively hawked the nuclear cooperation plan. Ashley J. Tellis wrote last year that "Even if the United States cannot actively aid India in developing its strategic capabilities, it ought to pursue policies having exactly that effect."[2] In a similar vein, Ambassador Robert Blackwill also wrote last year, "Why should the United States want to check India's missile capability in ways that could lead to China's permanent nuclear dominance over democratic India."[3] Tellis, who worked for the past two months as a special advisor to the Department of State on sealing the proposed deal, was a senior advisor to Blackwill when he served as the Bush administration's ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003. Blackwill is now the president of the lobbying firm currently representing the Government of India.

Still, the issue is not just one of intent. It is also a legal matter. The NPT obligates the recognized nuclear-weapon powers, including the United States, "not in any way to assist" the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any other country. The strongest guarantee that expanded civil nuclear trade with India will not contribute to its nuclear weapons program is for New Delhi to end the production of fissile material for weapons and accept meaningful safeguards on all of its energy-producing nuclear facilities and materials.

The White House: "The United States has not recognized India as a nuclear weapons state."
ACA Response: Maybe in a narrow official sense, but the administration has implicitly accepted India's possession of nuclear weapons and forfeited valuable leverage to restrain nuclear arms buildups in India, Pakistan, and China. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, the chief negotiator of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, explained March 2, "India will continue, obviously, with its strategic program. And the agreement…will not have an impact on that strategic program." This de facto recognition of India's nuclear weapons arsenal runs counter to nearly three decades of U.S. policy and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172, passed June 6, 1998, that called on both India and Pakistan to "stop their nuclear weapons development programmes, [and] to refrain from weaponization or from deployment of nuclear weapons."

The White House: "India has committed to place all future civilian power and fast breeder reactors under safeguards."
ACA Response: This statement is highly misleading and neglects one critical detail: India would get to choose which future nuclear facilities are designated as civilian or military. If India identifies a future facility as military that means it will be exempted from safeguards. There is no assurance that India will classify as civilian any future breeder reactors, which produce more bomb-grade plutonium than they consume. As Singh told the Indian parliament March 7, "the determination of what is civilian is solely an Indian decision." Indian nuclear establishment officials have made clear they want the breeder reactor program unencumbered by safeguards. As it stands, India has already designated its fast breeder test reactor and prototype fast breeder reactor as off limits.

The White House: "The agreement also is good for the American economy."
ACA Response: The administration has made different statements on how the deal will benefit the United States economically. One argument is that an increase in nuclear trade with India will help it reduce its reliance on other energy sources, thus lessening worldwide demand and reducing energy costs for American consumers. This presumes that India can effectively translate future nuclear imports into increased energy output. But as two experts on India's historically inefficient and under-performing nuclear energy complex recently observed, "it is by no means clear that India's nuclear establishment will be able to keep its promises [of boosting nuclear energy production], let alone contribute a significant fraction of projected electricity demand."[4] The Confederation of Indian Industry indicates that [India's] industry could save as much as 20-30 percent of its total energy consumption, conserving more energy than the total nuclear capacity planned for 2020.

Another argument advanced has been that the U.S. nuclear industry will profit from opening up India to outside trade. But the Indian market will also be open to other nuclear suppliers. France and Russia both are already maneuvering toward this end. During a February visit to India, French President Jacques Chirac engaged in talks to advance a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement and one French company is conducting preliminary discussions for the construction of a new reactor in India. Russia is currently building two nuclear reactors in India and it also informed the United States several days ago that it intended to resume nuclear fuel supplies to India's Tarapur reactors. The Bush administration said last July that it would consider doing the same despite the fact that in 2001 it joined with other nuclear suppliers to condemn and block Russian attempts to supply fuel to these reactors on the grounds that it violated NSG guidelines.

The White House: "India…has agreed to take steps that will bring it into the nonproliferation mainstream, including…"
ACA Response: Making far-reaching exceptions to existing international nuclear nonproliferation practices might only be justified if the nonproliferation and disarmament commitments outlined in the Bush-Singh statement significantly strengthened the nonproliferation regime. As of now, they do not.

-"Placing its civilian facilities under [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] safeguards and monitoring;"
ACA Response: As discussed above, India selects which facilities are civilian and has chosen an approach that would leave a substantial portion of its nuclear infrastructure, including its breeder reactor program and existing spent fuel, outside the IAEA's purview and available for weapons purposes. In this context, safeguards on Indian facilities are more symbolic than substantive.

-"Signing and implementing the Additional Protocol, which allows more extensive inspections by the IAEA;"
ACA Response: India will negotiate the terms of its Additional Protocol with the IAEA. The value of this Additional Protocol in enhancing the IAEA's capabilities will depend on whether India allows inspections beyond the 14 facilities it will designate as civilian.

-"Ensuring that its nuclear materials and technologies are secured and prevented from diversion, including its recent passage of a law to create a robust national export control system;"
ACA Response: These are welcome moves by India but they are not new commitments and are not the product of the recent U.S.-India deal. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, passed in April 2004, obligated all countries to strengthen their national export controls and India passed its export control law in the months preceding the announcement of the U.S.-India deal last July.

-"Refraining from transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess them and supporting efforts to limit their spread;"
ACA Response: India is not known to have made such transfers in the past.

-"Working to conclude a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty;"
ACA Response: India has supported for years the negotiation of such a treaty. However, New Delhi wants an agreement that is verifiable, which is a goal that the Bush administration says is unattainable and opposes. This U.S. position is at odds with most other countries and consequently negotiations are unlikely to start anytime soon. Pending conclusion of a treaty, India should halt its production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

-"Continuing its moratorium on nuclear testing;"
ACA Response: This moratorium, which extends back to the aftermath of India's May 1998 nuclear tests, is a welcome reiteration of a voluntary pledge, but India should respond positively to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172 by signing and eventually ratifying the CTBT.

- and "Adhering to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines."
ACA Response: These are welcome steps by India, but they are voluntary pledges. India should reinforce the goals of these two regimes by reducing the roles and salience of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons in its security policies. Accordingly, India should cease its development of longer-range ballistic missiles and cap its nuclear weapons potential.

The White House: "We do not intend to pursue a similar civil nuclear cooperation initiative with Pakistan."
ACA Response: The U.S.-India deal would create a precedent that other countries might attempt to exploit. The United States may not advocate a similar initiative for Pakistan, but China might. China and Pakistan have a history of nuclear cooperation and have reportedly discussed ways to expand this relationship. China is a member of the 45-member NSG, which operates by consensus, and could tie its consent to the U.S.-India deal to a similar exception for Pakistan.


  1. Indian Express, "On the Record: Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, February 8, 2006.
  2. Tellis, Ashley J., India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005, p. 36.
  3. Blackwill, Robert D., "The India Imperative," The National Interest, Summer 2005.
  4. Mian, Zia and Ramana, M. V., "Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India," Arms Control Today, January/February 2006, p. 11.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. See ACA's special online resource page on the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal.


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