Non-proliferation Concerns about the Indo-US Nucle

A recent report on Indo-US strategic relations, authored by Karl Eiselsberg, has highlighted the non-proliferation concerns about the nuclear deal raised by many in the non-proliferation lobby within the US. Karl Eiselsberg refers approvingly to Sharon Squassoni’s Washington Post article, ‘Giving an Inch, Taking a Mile’ (May 9, 2007), in which she stated that the US Congress should not negotiate away the right to cut off the supply of nuclear materials to India if India chooses to test a nuclear weapon, and that India should not be given the right to extract plutonium by reprocessing fuel from civilian power reactors, something that the Indian atomic energy establishment insists upon. 
During discussions between President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the G-8 summit held in early June 2007, a solution appears to have emerged to resolve what had become a major gridlock. It has been reported that the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has suggested that a separate civilian reactor under IAEA safeguards be constructed for the purpose of reprocessing spent fuel. This will ensure that there will be no scope for India to divert re-processed fuel for its strategic weapons programme. Sources claim that the US Administration has welcomed this plan. 
With respect to future nuclear testing, it has been reported that the Indian negotiators have suggested to their American counterparts that if India opts to test a nuclear device in the future, India accepts that the US will be free to cut off the supply of nuclear materials to India. However, the AEC insists that the US and other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must agree to assist India to create a buffer stock of nuclear fuel to tide over the shortfall between what the Americans take back and what India requires to continue running its civilian nuclear power reactors. This proposal is still being negotiated. 
Understandably, the non-proliferation ayatollahs the world over have been up in arms against the Indo-US nuclear deal. The fresh attempts at breaking the impasse between US demands and India’s stated position with respect to the 123 Agreement ameliorate the non-proliferation lobby’s concerns only to a small extent. The foremost concerns are centred on the assumption that providing nuclear fuel to India will free up its own uranium reserves for adding to its nuclear weapons stockpile and Sharon Squassoni’s argument that allowing India re-processing rights will tempt the Indian state to test nuclear devices “without risking foreign nuclear cooperation.” 
Policy and opinion makers in India readily accept that the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement represents a major concession that has been made by the US and fully understand that it raises issues of concern for the international non-proliferation community. However, they like to emphasise that this privilege has been accorded in recognition of India’s responsible and unblemished conduct in limiting horizontal proliferation and that sufficient safeguards have been built into the deal to take care of the non-proliferation concerns that might arise as fallout of its implementation.
Unlike Iran and North Korea, both of which continue to play truant, India has agreed to take several substantive steps that will bring it into the non-proliferation mainstream. These include placing of its civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and monitoring; agreement to sign and implement an Additional Protocol, which allows more extensive inspections by the IAEA; ensuring that its nuclear materials and technologies are secured and prevented from diversion, including its recent passage of a law to create a robust national export control system; refraining from transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess them and supporting efforts to limit their spread; expressing its support for the international community’s efforts to conclude a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; continuing its voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing; and, adhering to the NSG guidelines and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). 
Following the nuclear tests in May 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee had announced a unilateral moratorium on further testing. Till date, that moratorium has neither been broken nor undermined.
India has sufficient stocks of fissile material for its minimum deterrence policy and does not need to surreptitiously divert re-processed uranium for additional warheads. In fact, informed Western sources have estimated that India already has between 90 to 100 warheads in its nuclear weapons stockpile and is likely to be able to stockpile fissile material for another 100 warheads by the time the FMCT is negotiated and finally comes into force.
In case either China or Pakistan tests a nuclear weapon in the future, it will be incumbent on the Indian political leadership to do the same. 
Public pressure within the state would almost certainly require the Prime Minister of the day to authorise testing. In such a case, the rationale behind the tests will have little to do with reprocessing rights being given to India and more to do with domestic political pressures and the balance of power. The fact that India has unilaterally abjured further testing has convinced many in the US Congress of India’s ardent and longstanding commitment to non-proliferation. There is no reason to believe that this might change if reprocessing rights are given to India. 
As far as the Indian government is concerned, the right to reprocess has no connection with nuclear testing. Clearly, India does not want a repeat of what happened in relation to Tarapur in the 1970s. Following the peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE) in 1974, the US had refused to continue the supply of uranium to India and unilaterally abrogated the bilateral treaty that it had signed with India. America’s unwillingness to either allow India to reprocess spent fuel, or take back spent fuel that has piled up over the years has led to an environmental hazard that is expensive to contain. To India’s credit, it has never attempted to reprocess the spent fuel from the Tarapur reactor, even though it could have done so once the Americans had reneged on their commitments. 
Gurmeet Kanwal is Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi and Rudra Chaudhuri is a Doctoral Fellow at King’s College, London.