India and the non-proliferation paradox

October 08,2016

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The 2005 US-India Civil Nuclear Deal that ultimately led to an NSG waiver for India severely damaged global non-proliferation norms. The deal could also not prevent its beneficiary from indulging in an arms race or expanding its nuclear weapons programme.

Ironically the deal was endorsed by global powers and even the IAEA as an effort aimed at "strengthening the global non proliferation regime."

Almost a decade after the deal was signed; it is becoming increasingly clear that there were other more important reasons for signing the deal that had nothing to do with containing the spread of nuclear weapons. When the George W Bush administration sought to deepen its strategic cooperation with India in 2005, nuclear energy emerged as the most important way to accomplish it. Since India was not a member of the NPT, technology could not be shared. The US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement thus emerged in order to facilitate nuclear trading with India. Under the deal, India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes, putting the former under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. India also changed its export laws in accordance with requirements of key nuclear control regimes. The US in turn helped India get entry into these regimes. Thus without signing the NPT India got all the benefits associated with being a member.

The 2005 deal eventually paved the way for India to conduct nuclear trade with the world and allowed the country to obtain benefits that were previously not available to non-NPT members. It would also not be wrong to say that the US-India nuclear deal has negatively affected strategic stability in South Asia. The deal resulted in similar deals with other countries including Australia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Canada to obtain uranium. Although the imported uranium is subject to IAEA monitoring, the country's domestic reserves of uranium became available for its weapons programme.

According to the US, its reason for signing the deal was an effort to persuade India to put its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and inspections thus bringing it closer to the NPT regime. It also hoped that India would eventually also consider bringing its military programme under safeguards. However the additional protocol that India eventually signed with the IAEA involves only its civilian nuclear programme and not its military one and thus far there is no sign that India will allow any such inspections. On the contrary India began the pursuit of a new project in 2011 to produce nuclear fuel or enriched uranium to power India's heavy and light water reactors. In an interview to CNN, Srikumar Banerjee, the chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, talked about the construction of the new enrichment plant saying that the site would have a strategic use, and therefore would not be under IAEA inspections. Interestingly India's nuclear agreements with Washington and other countries provide no access to military-related facilities.

According to a 2015 report by foreign policy India is now on its way to becoming an "upgraded" nuclear power and will start producing thermo nuclear weapons. Currently under construction, India's Challakere nuclear complex is poised to become South Asia's largest military facility involving nuclear centrifuges, research laboratories, and weapons testing facilities once it becomes operational in 2017. Since India continues to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, an enlargement of its thermonuclear programme would position it alongside the P5 states and Israel, which already have significant stockpiles of such weapons.

Since initial plans for the complex emerged in early 2007, they could not be purely coincidental. It was around the same time that India was busy negotiating its nuclear deal with the United States. Even as supporters emphasised it would help open India's civilian nuclear sites to IAEA inspections, critics had warned that it would allow India to pursue its nuclear programme. It would also seem that India had reneged on its promise to work actively on the cessation of the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons, even before it got an NSG waiver in 2008.

India may argue that its thermo nuclear weapons are aimed at China and not Pakistan but these developments do not bode well for the future of South Asian strategic stability. Nuclear deterrence has thus far played an important role in South Asia and has kept the tendency towards war in check. Although unlikely, the use of nuclear weapons does remain a looming possibility. The prospect coupled with the destructive capability of nuclear weapons merits a continuing debate not only about the efficacy of nuclear deterrence and its endless ability to preserve peace in South Asia but also the implications of India's membership of the NSG and the subsequent gains that will become available to India.

The writer is the Director for Research and Communication at the Strategic Studies Institute Islamabad. She is a graduate of Middlebury Institute of International Studies and has worked as GRA at the CNS James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, Monterey California


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