Nuclear Commerce With India Result in More Proliferation
Michael Krepon and Ziad Haider
July 16: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets with President
Bush on July 18 to demonstrate and accelerate the new strategic
partnership between New Delhi and Washington. High on the Prime
Minister's agenda is breaking through the barriers on nuclear
export controls that previous US administrations have spent decades
of the cardinal rules of nuclear non-proliferation has been an
agreement among supplier nations not to engage in nuclear commerce
with states that have not been granted the International Atomic
Energy Agency's seal of approval by accepting "full scope
safeguards" on all of their nuclear facilities. Because India
is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has
not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, New Delhi has no
constraints on testing nuclear weapons and is free to pursue the
production of fissile material for its nuclear stockpile. Eleven
of India's fifteen nuclear reactors are not safeguarded.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group was established in 1974 after New
Delhi conducted a "peaceful nuclear explosion." It now
consists of 45 nations that are committed not to contribute to
proliferation by means of nuclear exports. The United States was
the first nation to subscribe to the full-scope safeguards rule
in 1978, and has worked tirelessly to convince other members of
this club to accept it.
Some NSG members have helped construct
civilian nuclear power plants in states that have troubling proliferation
records, on the basis that NSG provisions allow for the completion
of agreements and contracts entered into before these suppliers
joined the club. On this basis, China is helping Pakistan, and
Russia is helping India to construct nuclear power plants. Russia
is also helping Iran to complete the Bushehr nuclear complex on
the grounds that Tehran has accepted full-scope safeguards and
because special precautions will be taken to prevent Iran from
using this complex to produce nuclear weapons. When completed,
all of these nuclear power plants are to be under IAEA safeguards.
The nuclear power industries in the United States, France, Russia,
China, and other supplier states would welcome the relaxation
of export controls. India can make a far stronger case than Pakistan
and Iran for becoming an exception to the existing rules of nuclear
commerce, but exceptions can quickly become the new rule. Deciding
on a case-by-case basis is a tricky business because potential
suppliers are likely to reach self-interested judgments on future
cases, and because relaxing the rules in one case could set an
unwelcome precedent for others.
US and Indian national security interests now overlap in many
key areas, and there is widespread support in the United States
to broaden and deepen US ties with India. A strong, economically
vibrant India is good for both countries, and India's growth requires
new sources of energy.
Moreover, global warming is a significant problem that warrants
far more serious remedies than have been contemplated to date.
Properly safeguarded nuclear power has clear advantages over other
means of producing electricity that foul the atmosphere.
At the same time, more nuclear commerce would also increase the
stocks of materials that could be used for nuclear proliferation
and nuclear terrorism. The relaxation of existing international
regulations for nuclear commerce would also come at a time when
the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the norms, institutions, and
agreements that back it up are under heavy strain. The latest
five-year review of the NPT was a complete bust: every strengthening
measure that one nation proposed was blocked by another.
India and Pakistan have recently enacted national legislation
codifying proliferation-related export controls. This demonstration
of responsible nuclear stewardship is clearly a positive development.
But is it sufficient to change the existing rules of nuclear commerce?
two most widely valued barriers against proliferation are a complete
end to nuclear testing and a verified cessation of fissile material
production for nuclear weapons. At present, the United States
and India are unenthusiastic about both of these steps to combat
At issue here is not whether, but how the United States and India
ought to broaden and deepen their strategic partnership. A relaxation
of the international rules for nuclear commerce could do more
harm than good unless President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh can implement good ideas to strengthen global norms against
proliferation. So what do they have in mind to prevent a bad situation
from becoming worse?
writer is President Emeritus of the Stimson Center, a leading
think tank of Washington DC. Ziad is an Associate at the Center.