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India and the NPT

Manish was Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
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  • June 06, 2005

    In a predictable policy statement, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation, Andrew Sammel, remarked at the just concluded NPT Review Conference that India should eventually sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. He asserted: “The situation in South Asia (also) poses unique challenges. Let me reiterate that the United States remains committed to NPT universality.” But at the same time he also highlighted the fact that neither India nor Pakistan may join the Treaty for the foreseeable future. What he did not state was as to how the issue of NPT’s ‘universality’ could cater for its ‘effectiveness’, which, unfortunately, now remains highly doubtful.

    As stipulated in the NPT, legitimate nuclear commerce remains restricted only amongst the ‘few’ due to the technology control regimes. Moreover, the emergence of amorphous entities and ‘private’ nuclear networks and their links to the nuclear programmes in Iran, Libya and North Korea raise serious doubts about the effectiveness of the NPT and its stated aims. Additionally, the verification regime also seems to have lost its effectiveness, if not completely failed. Unfortunately, debates within the NPT Rev Con have completely failed to address some of these concerns. Even worse, the 2005 NPT Rev Con has closed without any agreed set of decisions because of the politics and diametrically opposed positions of various actors — a reflection of the fact that the NPT is on its way to oblivion.

    As regards India’s position vis-à-vis the NPT, it flows from its long standing normative approach to the treaty being inherently discriminatory in terms of setting different ‘rights’ and ‘obligations’ between the five nuclear ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. In addition to this, New Delhi had an implicit (later explicit) national interest of protecting its nuclear ‘weapon’ option — an option embedded in its civilian programme. Therefore, India had to resist the constraints upon its indigenous nuclear research activities which could impinge upon its efforts to protect the nuclear ‘option’. As a result, India had rejected the NPT, a position, which continues till date.

    Due to this, the issue of nonproliferation has remained a major contentious issue between New Delhi and the P-5, particularly the United States. This divide deepened in 1996 when India rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and argued that it would not sign the treaty in its present form ‘not now, nor later’.

    But after the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran, New Delhi appears to have aligned itself with the nonproliferation interests of the rest of the world. Despite sanctions imposed by USA in 1998, the Jaswant-Talbott talks, President Clinton’s visit to India, the visit of India’s Prime Minister to Washington, all contributed to the strengthening of Indo-US bilateral ties, and hence, a better understanding of India’s security concerns in the US today than at any point in recent history. The ‘Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP)’ between India and the US thus has focused more towards facilitating broader bilateral cooperation on issues related to nuclear energy, space and high technology transfers.

    Ironically, post- 9/11, there is a likelihood that Washington’s approach to combating proliferation may once again come into conflict with New Delhi’s own interest of securing further nuclear cooperation in the sphere of civilian nuclear technology. As it appears from the NPT Rev Con debates, Washington’s efforts have been towards establishing more effective controls over ‘critical’ technologies. Towards this end, it proposes universal adoption of IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which would eventually provide IAEA with intrusive inspection rights within states’ territory to inspect and monitor compliance. Universal adherence of IAEA’s Additional Protocol ironically, has been perceived as a first step towards improving enforcement of safeguards. Once this is achieved, the US also plans to propose the formation of a special committee of the IAEA’s board members to look into ways and means to further enhance verification and safeguards.

    It also appears that the NSG members are likely to make acceptance of the Additional Protocol a mandatory condition for nuclear transactions. Secondly, the NWS, spearheaded by the US, are now promoting the view that Articles II, III and IV are interrelated and that Article IV is subordinate to Articles II and III. If this argument is extended further, it means that the IAEA would have to limit itself to ensuring compliance with the NPT first rather than promoting the cause of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This seems to go against the spirit of Article IV which calls on the NWS to share civilian nuclear technology, implying that the NWS are in non-compliance with the Article.

    Clearly, such universal application of NPT-type safeguards, or even adherence to the Additional Protocol as a pre-condition for nuclear commerce would affect India’s case for nuclear electricity since it is highly unlikely that New Delhi would accept NPT-type safeguards. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recently stated that the “circumstances were ‘not ripe’ for India to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty right now.” He added that, “India has consistently taken the position that the NPT is unequal and discriminatory and that it will not sign the treaty. The pressure on New Delhi to sign it mounted after the May 1998 nuclear tests but there has been no change in India's position on the issue.”

    But at the same time, it also needs to be highlighted that India remains committed to the nuclear nonproliferation regime in its true spirit. To address the threats emerging out of pilferage of WMD to the ‘rogues/terrorists’, New Delhi recently approved a parliament Bill on the ‘WMD and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities)’. Among other things, the Bill is clear in one respect that New Delhi remains committed to its longstanding nonproliferation concerns. It states: “India's policy has always been not to assist, encourage or induce any other country to manufacture weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons or other nuclear devices” and adds that “India also remains committed to prevent non-state actors and terrorists from acquiring WMD and their means of delivery.” The bill reiterates India’s commitment “not to transfer nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or transfer control over such weapons or explosive devices, and not in any way assist, encourage or induce any other country to manufacture nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” This is what is also stipulated in Article I of the NPT. The adoption of the Bill, therefore, is as good as adhering to the provisions of the NPT.

    India ought to have an interest in the discussions at the NPT Rev Con to the extent that they have an influence on construction and operation of nuclear power reactors to meet India’s energy requirements. India’s reactor plans have, in the past, witnessed considerable delays in commissioning and some outside observers have expressed doubts on its ability to achieve the current targets.

    While there is a demand, there is also a huge supplier base. Major European nuclear firms Framatome and KWU would perhaps like to enter India with their LEU – light water PWRs. However, rigid nonproliferation concerns compounded with strict NSG provisions impede their efforts as well. It is in this context that States like the US will have to shed their orthodoxy.

    On India’s part, New Delhi will also have to do some finetuning of its nuclear laws, rules and regulations to enable joint ventures to be ushered into existence with the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) holding equity along with European firms.

    Sensitivity with respect to plutonium generated in such power reactors could also be addressed satisfactorily by shipping spent fuel back to the LEU-supplying country since India does not need plutonium for its programme.

    India believes that with the growing globalization efforts there would be more and more global interdependence in terms of nuclear energy. In this context, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech at the Golden Jubilee function of the Department of Atomic Energy on October 23, 2004 should provide the terms for India’s cooperation with the rest of the world:

    “India will not be the source of proliferation of sensitive technologies. We will also ensure the safeguarding of those technologies that we already possess. We will remain faithful to this approach, as we have been for the last several decades. We have done so despite the well-known glaring examples of proliferation which have directly affected our security interests.

    The limitations of the present non-proliferation regime should not be further accentuated by artificial restrictions on genuine peaceful nuclear applications. Technology denial and closing avenues for international cooperation in such an important field is tantamount to the denial of developmental benefits to millions of people, whose lives can be transformed by the utilization of nuclear energy and relevant technologies.

    The need of the hour therefore is to move away from an exclusivist approach and to create a more inclusive framework based on principles of equality.”