Thursday June 30, 2022

India’s commitments

September 16, 2016

International nuclear cooperation with India has been a massive non-proliferation failure. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must review India’s continued proliferation, and work to strengthen its safeguards agreement with the country at the board of governors meeting in Vienna next week.

The current IAEA safeguards agreement with India, which is “a system of inspection and verification of the peaceful uses of nuclear materials as part of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency” should be the key factor scrutinised at the meeting.

The 2009 India-IAEA safeguards agreement is fraught with problems, allowing India to expand its nuclear weapons programme faster than ever before. There are reports that India has constructed an entire city in the South West State of Karnataka dedicated to enriching uranium, and possibly producing thermonuclear weapons. This is a very dangerous development and one that should be addressed immediately.

Blinded by their commercial and economic interests, the US and others are indulgent in their nuclear dealings with India. This greed has allowed India to make a mockery of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Eleven years ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed in a Joint Statement to President George W Bush that India was “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.”

Since that time the US not only signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India, it also helped the country secure a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), allowing India to engage in international nuclear commerce without signing on to the NPT.

As a direct outcome of this overwhelming support from the US, India is now enjoying all of the benefits of being an NSG member state without being a signatory to the NPT.

Taking advantage of American actions, nearly a dozen other countries, including those now being referred to as former non-proliferation champions like Canada and Australia, have signed nuclear cooperation agreements with India.

While India has gained so much, it has done very little in return. Despite committing to do so, it has failed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes. The framework for securing nuclear materials at these facilities is weak, and there is very little in the way of ensuring that there is no unauthorised transfer of sensitive materials.

The IAEA should review India’s separation plan for its facilities and require that India submit a new plan using precise language to clearly identify for the international community its civilian facilities from its military facilities. The vague language used in the separation plan submitted to the IAEA in 2006 gives India the freedom to pick and choose at will the facilities it places under safeguards, depending on the strategic importance of any given facility as determined by Indian officials.

India is allowed to use safeguarded material in military facilitates not included in the safeguards agreement as part of their current terms with the IAEA. This special exception for India should be revoked immediately. Because safeguarded material is being used at unsafeguarded facilities, it can easily be used to contribute to the unsafeguarded (military) programme. No other nuclear weapon state is allowed to use safeguarded materials at unsafeguarded facilities. If safeguarded material is being used it should be used at a facility under comprehensive safeguards.

The IAEA should also revoke its special provision granted to India under Article 25 of their agreement, which exempts fissionable material, like plutonium, produced by using safeguarded material from safeguards. This should have been a huge red flag in the original agreement. Consider the fact that another special provision of substitution granted to India along with the use of safeguarded material at unsafeguarded facilities and you have a recipe for disaster.

The substitution provision essentially allows India to substitute unsafeguarded materials for safeguarded materials. Once substituted the safeguards on the original safeguarded material automatically end.

This means that if India imports uranium from Australia or any other country, it can effectively use that material for its weapons programme. Let’s say that the uranium is converted to weapons grade plutonium, at the moment India is well within its rights to substitute that weapons grade plutonium for weaker reactor grade plutonium. After substituting, India could then use the weapons grade plutonium for its military programme and no one would know, because the safeguards would no longer be applicable to the original material substituted for. India has a massive stockpile of unsafeguarded reactor grade plutonium it can essentially use for this purpose, and is most likely doing so.

In extremely simple terms, the reason the weapons grade plutonium can be substituted for reactor grade is that everything about reactor grade and weapons grade plutonium is essentially the same except for the quality of the plutonium, which is something the IAEA does not look at.

Under the current safeguards, the only thing considered is the amount (weight or mass) of the plutonium, not the quality (isotopic composition). Add to this the fact that India does not have strong nuclear accounting and tracking procedures in place that meet IAEA requirements and it means that there is no way to know whether Australian or Canadian uranium is being used for military purposes; it all kind of becomes the same uranium once in India.

No matter how much countries that now engage in nuclear commerce with India may want to believe that this is not possible with their material, I have just explained how it is. And it is not acceptable that the IAEA allow India to continue to proliferate this way.

The board of governors should put an end to this madness. If India is being given the benefits of an NPT state then it should be required to follow the same rules and procedures as any other nuclear weapon state under the NPT.

The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad. Twitter: @umarwrites.