Nonproliferation Issues Raised by US-India Nuclear Deal

March 2, 2006

With few details yet known regarding the content of the agreement signed by US President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it is too early to provide a comprehensive authoritative analysis and evaluation of the accord. Nonetheless, what has been initially disclosed about the pact raises a range of important issues, which will require further attention as the agreement is assessed by the US Congress, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the broader international community.

A fundamental question raised by the agreement is whether it strengthens or weakens efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

Issue I

In explaining the agreement the Bush Administration has stressed that India has enacted tough export control regulations, agreed to continue its moratorium on nuclear testing, agreed not to export sensitive uranium enrichment and plutonium separation (reprocessing) technologies, and to work with the United States on negotiating a global ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

  • An assessment will be needed of which of these undertakings were already Indian policy prior to the July 18, 2005, Bush-Singh Summit, where the contours of the March 2 agreement were endorsed; which are required by international law, irrespective of the March 2 agreement; and which are the product, specifically of the March 2 agreement.

Issue II

Under the agreement India will undertake to divide its nuclear facilities into civilian and military installations and to place the civilian facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection, precluding their use for nuclear weapons. Information released on March 2 indicated that India will place approximately two-thirds of its nuclear installations under IAEA monitoring.

  • An assessment will be needed as to whether the division between civilian and military facilities constrains Indian nuclear weapons production capabilities or leaves such capabilities intact, or actually facilitates India’s ability to produce more fissile material.

Issue III

Based on available information, a number of nuclear power reactors, using Canadian-supplied technology, will not be placed under IAEA inspection. These facilities can be used both to produce electricity and weapons-quality plutonium. In the agreement it appears that a number of these reactors will be placed on India’s military list, intended for use in the country’s nuclear weapons program.

  • An assessment will be needed as to whether the division means that technology originally supplied by outside states that was intended for peaceful uses will now be used for military purposes. If India has now declared a diversion of technology from peaceful to military use, an assessment will be required as to whether India can be expected to reliably abide by future civil nuclear trade agreements.

Issue IV

It appears that plutonium (separated and in spent fuel) that was created previously in reactors that will now be placed under IAEA inspection will not, itself, be subject to inspection. This will provide a substantial stockpile of material for the enlargement of the Indian nuclear weapons arsenal.

  • An assessment will be needed of the impact of this uninspected stockpile of material on the overall dimensions of the March 2 agreement.
  • An assessment will be needed of whether such assistance from the United States would violate its obligation under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices….” Other nuclear supplier states have similar obligations.

Issue VI

Ending the nuclear trade embargo against India could create important precedents.

  • An assessment will be needed as to whether the US-India agreement will encourage other similarly situated states, such as Pakistan, to seek comparable exceptions from existing international rules of nuclear commerce; will encourage other states, such as Iran, to leave the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; will encourage states like Brazil, which joined the NPT in the expectation that this would provide access to civil nuclear technology denied to states out side the treaty, to reconsider their support for the treaty.

Issue VII

More broadly, in promoting the agreement, the Bush Administration has emphasized that it is a key factor in cementing US-Indian relations on such important issues as meeting the threat of radical Islam and serving as a military counter-weight to China.

  • With US-Indian relations already flourishing, including in the area of defense cooperation, an assessment will be needed as to whether the agreement is central to the enhancement of US-Indian strategic relations or merely an additional, non-essential element in improving ties between the two nations.

Professor William Potter, Director of CNS, expresses concern about US-India agreement:

“Based on available information about the accord, the Bush administration appears to be heading toward a train wreck with Congress over the agreement, which was hurriedly patched together and fails to meet even minimal nonproliferation concerns. Unless major revisions are undertaken, the casualties could include a seriously weakened NPT and an increasingly irrelevant Nuclear Suppliers Group.”

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