Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, May 22, 2006

"Will the US and India resume nuclear cooperation?" May 22, 2006.

Does it seem that the US-India nuclear deal is about to blow over? Time is running out.

Condoleezza Rice promised Indian officials that the deal would be passed by June. But it may not even get through Congress before Fall. US and Indian negotiators envisaged a sequence of reciprocal steps for the deal's quick passage. The next big step is for Congress to give India an exception from the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. Both governments hoped that Congress would change the US law by this month. But a powerful coalition of non-proliferation advocates is at work in Washington to sink the deal in Congress. (Kapisthalam ATol May 16 06). Now it doesn't seem that there will be enough time before Summer recess which will be followed in the Fall by mid-term elections, leaving only a brief window of opportunity in August.

On top of that, key figures within the Bush administration may be dragging their feet. In an editorial for a Kyrgyzstani weekly, South Asia expert Selig Harrison named Under Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Robert Joseph, David Addington from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, and John Rood, the non-proliferation specialist at the National Security Council. Joseph is known to be an ally of his predecessor and current US representative at the United Nations, John Bolton.

Bolton has opposed nuclear concessions to India. He also blocked an Indian plan to acquire the Arrow anti-missile system from Israel. That deal fell through because Israel needed US permission to sell the system to foreign nations (Kapisthalam ATol May 16 06).

Then there's the Nuclear Supplier Group. Members of the NSG have notified the US they will not act until Congress changes US laws. During the March 22-23 NSG meeting in Vienna, several countries, including China, Japan, Sweden, and New Zealand questioned the wisdom of the deal.

Freelance defense analyst Kaushik Kapisthalam speculates that the US may not even raise the India issue at the NSG plenary this May 29 to June 2 in Rio de Janeiro.

And where does that leave Canada?

On September 26, 2005, Pierre Pettigrew, the Foreign Affairs Minister in Paul Martin's Liberal government, announced an initiative that sought engagement with India but stopped short of lifting restrictions on trade in dual-use nuclear technology with India. At the time, Pettigrew assured Canadians "India has separated its civilian and nuclear weapons programs and has put the civilian program under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards."

Speaking at a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard last week, Stephen Harper expressed the view that that his government might not go along with the US-India nuclear deal because India hasn't signed the Nonproliferation Treaty. His new Conservative Party has not yet established a nuclear policy. However, the Conservative Party Policy Declaration of March 19, 2005 does say that "A Conservative Government will make Parliament responsible for exercising effective oversight over the conduct of Canadian foreign policy " (Policy 107, Policy Declaration Mar 05 pdf48).

What's the deal?

Pettigrew's statement had been the Canadian response, when George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their agreement to restore US nuclear cooperation with India back in March and again in July 2005.

The details of the agreement are still being negotiated, but here are some of the main points.

India agrees to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog group, access to its civilian nuclear program. But India would decide which of its many nuclear facilities to classify as civilian.

Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, says these will now include domestically built plants, which India has not been willing to safeguard before now.

Military facilities—and stockpiles of nuclear fuel that India has produced up to now—will be exempt from inspections or safeguards.

India commits to signing an Additional Protocol (PDF)—which allows more intrusive IAEA inspections—or its civilian facilities.

India agrees to continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.

India commits to strengthening the security of its nuclear arsenals. (However, Kapisthalam reports that India rejected a proposed addition to the draft agreement, stipulating that the deal would be canceled if India detonated another nuclear bomb" (ATol May 16 06).)

India works toward negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) with the United States banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

India agrees to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that don't possess them and to support international nonproliferation efforts.

US companies will be allowed to build nuclear reactors in India and provide nuclear fuel for its civilian energy program.

Historical background: Atoms for Peace

During the Cold War, India was a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement's call for complete global nuclear disarmament. India also pursued early opportunities to develop a full-scale civilian nuclear energy program under Atoms for Peace, including acquisition of nuclear reactors and fuel reprocessing technologies from Canada and the US (Huntley "Introduction" Simons conference Nov 22 05).

Atoms for Peace was based on the now-discredited idea that a civilian nuclear energy program could not be used to develop nuclear weapons. India demonstrated the folly of that particular delusion.

In 1955, Canada agreed to build a 40MW research reactor for India, known as the CIRUS (Canada-India-Reactor-United-States).

India promised that both the reactor and related fissile materials would only be used for peaceful purposes. Canada supplied half the initial uranium fuel for the reactor; the US supplied the other half, plus heavy water to moderate the nuclear reactions. Canada signed two co-operation agreements with India. Many Indian nuclear reactors, both operational and planned, are based on CANDU technology and designs.

All were supposed to be exclusively for peaceful use. But in 1974, India took fuel rods from the CIRUS reactor, extracted the plutonium and detonated its first nuclear explosive. At the time, Indian leaders called it a "peaceful" nuclear explosion, but now they admit it was a test of a weapon design. In response, Canada and the US ceased all nuclear co-operation with India.

Canada's role

Resumed nuclear cooperation with India is controversial both domestically in India and abroad.

After India tested five nuclear bombs in 1998, Canada imposed a moratorium on nuclear cooperation with India, leading the charge against India's nuclear behaviour in the G-8 and in the Security Council, while also demanding that India sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Last November, the Simons Centre for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Research (UBC) convened a one-day conference on ”Nuclear Cooperation with India.“

MV Ramana (Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, India) took the position that India needs neither nuclear energy for its development nor nuclear weapons for its security. Both India’s nuclear ‘hawks’ and its nuclear ‘nationalists’ ignore the long-standing record of cost overruns and failures.

Ernie Regehr, a Canadian from Project Ploughshares, rejected ideas of selective non-proliferation and exceptionalism which he saw at the heart of the US-India nuclear deal. As he framed it the challenge with regard to India is to encourage its support of the non-proliferation regime – including strict adherence to international rules on the transfer of nuclear materials and technology – without explicitly or even implicitly accepting India as a NWS. Regehr is not willing to ignore India's past violations of non-proliferation norms.

Neil Joeck (Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, US) described the new US nuclear cooperation agreement with India as an innovation that responds to new contingencies, that aims at enlisting India as an ally in global non-proliferation efforts and that combines new initiatives with existing instruments such as the NPT.

Seema Gahlaut (Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia, US) also saw the agreement as a pragmatic policy innovation. She argued that focusing on the sanctity of the NPT risks unintentionally strengthening the Non-proliferation foes within India.

S. Paul Kapur (Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, US) admits that there are continuing problems in India's civilian program, that US recognition of India as a NWS will create expectations of India that might not be fulfilled, especially vis-à-vis Iran and China; it could increase or decrease stability in regional relations; and that it would *likely* damage the NPT by undermining nuclear supplier regulations, possibly encouraging current NPT signatories to leave the treaty, and implicitly jettisoning the NPT’s foundational precept that all nuclear proliferation is equally undesirable.

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