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The Indo-US nuclear deal has generated a lot of heat: here’s why

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • August 04, 2005

    The July 2005 visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington has been eventful as far as nuclear issues are concerned. The joint statement, various speeches, briefings, and interactions have given a new direction to the nuclear policies and postures of both India and the United States (US). Of course, much heat has also been generated in both the countries. It is necessary, therefore, to provide some clarity to the heated debate. Is it a sell out/ surrender to the US or a big victory?

    On the surface, it may appear to some that the nuclear weapon state status has once again eluded India, but in reality, there are impressive strides in that direction. Although, the US can influence other NPT countries, still it alone cannot amend the NPT to designate India as a nuclear weapon country. Moreover, in May 2005, the US had to face a tough time in the NPT Review Conference. Hopefully, in future, the legal hurdle may also be overcome with other countries.

    India struggled to get a new designation—for itself and for other nuclear countries as well. This new category—responsible state with advanced nuclear technology—has jointly been coined by India and the predominant power of the contemporary international system, US. In the paragraph in which President George Bush appreciates India for its strong commitment to checking the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), he mentions: “As a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire same benefits and advantages as other such states.”

    The account of the Indian Prime Minister in the joint statement is equally relevant. He states: “...India would reciprocally agree that it would be ready to assume the same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States. These responsibilities and practices consist of identifying and separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs in a phased manner and filing a declaration regarding its civilians facilities with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)...”

    So far, the literature on the subject does not have any precedence of such a category. The Annex 2 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty alludes to countries that figured in Table 1 of IAEA’s December 1995 edition of “Nuclear Research Reactors in the World”. There are 44 countries listed in it with nuclear reactors.

    Moreover, no non-nuclear weapon state has been given the privilege of separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programmes by IAEA or the existing non-proliferation regime. This privilege lies only with the five NPT defined nuclear weapon countries. Only nuclear weapon countries can submit the list of separated civil nuclear facilities.

    That the existing NPT categorisation of nuclear weapon states has been replaced by a new designation and definition through the joint statement has been comprehended quickly by the Western media. The Economist has called the new designation as an ‘euphemism’ for bomb holding countries. In the US, except for a few non-proliferation hardliners, other strategists, long reconciled to the Indian bomb, seem to have accepted the new designation.

    However, in India, the realisation of the significance of the designation has taken time to sink in. The struggle for the nuclear weapon country status was to overcome the restriction on the supply of dual-use and high technology—not for some superficial international prestige. If other US allies and countries follow what the US has done, India’s real objective for getting the designation will easily be fulfilled. The relevant supplier countries are sending positive signals. Even the UK has fallen in line. The UK advanced technology industry will support a liberal approach to India on this matter. We can easily recollect how the UK had worked with the US administration to supply spare parts of Sea King helicopters when the US had imposed sanctions on India for the 1998 series of nuclear tests.

    The assurance of the Indian PM in the joint statement that it would sign and adhere to ‘an additional protocol with respect to civilian nuclear facilities’ also invited apprehension and criticism from some segments inside India. It is true that the additional protocol is designed to be very intrusive, but nuclear weapon countries have signed different and highly diluted additional protocols with IAEA.

    The deal must, therefore, be seen with cautious optimism. This is a partial victory. The real challenges are ahead when negotiations for the real contents of the joint statement start. The Indian strategic community must orient itself for the future. The next phase of debate must start to safeguard our national security, technology and energy-related interests in the coming months/years.