A Nonproliferation Disaster

Note for Reporters by Daryl G. Kimball and Joe Cirincione

Immediate Release: December 11, 2006
Press Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 x107 (Office)

As the 109th Congress rushed to a close this past week, it jammed through a controversial nuclear trade bill that blows a hole in the fabric of U.S. nonproliferation law. The legislation makes an India-specific exemption to decades-old rules restricting civil nuclear commerce with states, such as India, that have refused to allow “full-scope” international safeguards over all of their nuclear facilities.

In exchange, India says it will accept inspections for some nuclear reactors, but will keep its extensive and secret nuclear weapons and materials production complex off-limits. But these partial inspections are all symbol, no substance.

Congress spurned provisions that would have required commitments from India to restrain its production of nuclear weapons and nuclear bomb material. The legislation also overlooks the U.S. obligation to uphold UN Security Council Resolution 1172 of June 1998, which calls upon India and Pakistan to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, stop nuclear weapons deployments, and halt the production of nuclear bomb material.

From conception to passage, the new law threatens our global nonproliferaton obligations. President Bush is expected to sign the deal into law. If he does, then other countries involved with the global trade in nuclear materials must work through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to fix what ails this flawed U.S.-India nuclear deal.

Playing Nuclear Favorites

Put simply, the U.S.-India nuclear trade legislation would grant India the benefits of being a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty without requiring it to meet all of the responsibilities expected of responsible states. By making a special exemption for a favored ally, the approach will make it even more difficult to enforce existing rules with states such as Iran and North Korea and convince other states to accept tougher nonproliferation standards in the years ahead.

India has been outside the international nuclear mainstream since it improperly used Canadian and U.S. peaceful nuclear assistance to conduct its 1974 nuclear bomb test, refused to sign the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and conducted additional nuclear tests in 1998. India made its choice and, as a result, it has been cut off from most U.S. civilian nuclear assistance since 1978 and most international assistance since 1992.

Georgetown School of Foreign Service Dean Robert Gallucci warned of the dangers in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year:

“If we do this deal, ask how we will avoid offering a similar one to Brazil or Argentina if they decide on nuclear weapons acquisition, or our treaty ally South Korea. Dozens of countries around the world have exhibited good behavior in nuclear matters, and have the capability to produce nuclear weapons but choose not to, at least in part, because of the international norm against nuclear weapons acquisition reinforced by a policy we would now propose to abandon. If we do this, we will put at risk a world of very few nuclear weapons states, and open the door to the true proliferation of nuclear weapons in the years ahead.”

Republicans and Democrats bear equal blame for this disaster. Leaders of both parties rejected amendments that would have conditioned civil nuclear trade with India on its joining with the United States and other nuclear-weapon states in capping the production of more nuclear bomb material. Nor does the bill require the president to certify that U.S. civil nuclear assistance is not, in any way, aiding India’s bomb program.

It’s Money That Matters

Business and political interests trumped the national security interests of the United States. The results? More Indian bombs; less global restraint.

Almost immediately, foreign nuclear fuel supplies to India will free up the country’s existing limited domestic capacity of uranium for both energy and weapons to be singularly devoted to arms production in the future. That could mean that India could increase its current production capacity from six to 10 additional nuclear bombs a year to several dozen per year. India already has enough material for some 60 to 100 nuclear bombs. Pakistan is sure to match that capability; China may reconsider its fissile production halt for weapons.

The final legislation does require that existing U.S. trade restrictions cannot be lifted until and unless the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group agrees by the consensus necessary to change its rules. The NSG currently prohibits trade with states that are not members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and do not allow safeguards over all their nuclear facilities: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

But under pressure from the White House and Indian Government lobbyists, conferees dropped a Senate provision that would have barred the United States from supporting changes to NSG rules that would also allow international nuclear trade with Israel and Pakistan. That would mean the unraveling of the Nonproliferation Treaty altogether.

Weakening the Anti-Iran Front

Some 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.

India’s support for efforts to deal with Iran’s advancing nuclear program has been spotty. Yet, the final bill does not even require India’s support for U.S. and international efforts to contain and if necessary, sanction Iran for its nuclear safeguards violations and defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, as a Senate-passed amendment would have done. Instead, the administration must simply deliver annual reports on whether India is supporting efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

There are a few good points added to the bill, over administration objections, such as a requirement that the International Atomic Energy Agency and India must negotiate, and that the IAEA Board must approve an agreement for permanent safeguards for India’s additional civil reactors. This should make it more difficult for India to make the safeguards contingent on the continuation of foreign fuel supplies, another exception that would undermine the global safeguards system.

Still, the Congress and the administration have committed a major nonproliferation error. It will now be up to other states to weigh in and to fix the deep flaws in the arrangement. If Washington and New Delhi, as expected, conclude a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation and the IAEA approves a permanent safeguards plan with India, then other members of the Nuclear Supplier Group will have a chance to veto or modify the arrangement.

For NSG states concerned about the fragility of the nonproliferation system and the adverse impact of the India nuclear deal, this is the time for them to stand up in defense of their security priorities and the future of the nuclear nonproliferation system.

Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association. Joseph Cirincione is Senior Vice President for National Security at the Center for American Progress.

Originally published by the Center for American Progress.

For more resources, documents, statements, and the text and reports of the legislation, see the Arms Control Association’s special resource page on the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal at http://www.armscontrol.org/projects/india/.