You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
-quote falsely attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.
India’s strategic triad of nuclear forces have always concerned Western military strategists and non-proliferation ayatollahs despite its exemplary non-proliferation despite living among the ‘Proliferation Wal-Marts of the World’ (link highly recommended). As a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), India can neither get technical assistance nor purchase components/Uranium supply needed for its civilian or military reactors.Thanks to the pioneering vision of Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, India has had a brilliant indigenous nuclear programme counting among the few countries which can design, build and operate reactors on its own. The bottleneck is the supply of fissile material - mostly Uranium, which we have very little of. So far all of India’s Uranium requirements have come from doemstic mining by the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL). Oflate, UCIL has been facing ‘resistance’ due to environmental concerns from local villagers or ‘concerned’ NGOs though there are encouraging signs in the discovery of new mines. Infact, this is one good reason to continue developing Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR) for power generation which uses very less Uranium/Plutonim but Thorium as the principal material, which India has plently (more below).
Question #1: What are the advantages of the N-deal?With low domestic Uranium reserves of India, it is estimated that the maximum installed capacity cannot exceed 20,000 MW over a 40 year period. This is clearly not enough given India’s rapid industrialization and economic growth. Now if the N-deal goes through, India can buy natural Uranium at market prices and import as many reactors from abroad under IAEA regulations. Indian businesses and households can benefit immensively from the availability of affordable and uninterruped power supply - essential for India’s development.
Question #2: What did the July 18th deal say about existing treaties?The original text of the Indo-US deal talked about signing the ‘multilateral’ Fissile Missile Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Note the word multilateral. Since none of the ‘declared’ Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) have signed or will sign this treaty, India too does not have to sign it. Indeed, as we speak the United States is developing tactical bunker-busting mini-nukes, the United Kingdom is replacing its Trident strategic missile system and the French President Jaques Chirac has recently announced a First Nuclear Strike policy if their ‘vital interests’ are attacked.
Conclusion #1: FMCT will never be signed by existing Nuclear Weapons States.Question #2: What is this ‘voluntary’ separation plan?
The agreement also emphasized on the ‘voluntary’ separation of its civil and nuclear facilities. Alas as of today, the U.S. Secretary of State Condelezza Rice has termed India has ‘difficult choices’ to make and ‘analysts’ have raised ‘concerns’ about setting an arms race in Asia. Hey, whatever happened to the word ‘voluntary’? So the uber-smart Americans want us to 'voluntarily' (note the oxymoron) declare most of India's reactors as civilian with IAEA safeguards, that way they can indirectly put a cap on the strategic programme. It is not yet known on the number of reactors that will be placed under civilian list. Former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board chairman, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan wrote that only the five five new Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) nuclear reactors under construction can be placed under civilian list but warned against letting in IAEA inspectors for any of the existing PHWR.Conclusion #2: This ain’t ‘voluntary’ but obligatory.
Question #3: So, what is the real intention of the separation plan?India’s initial proposal excluded its FBR programme to be placed in its civlian list. Ofcourse, there was never a question of including the Cirus and Dhruva reactors, officially classified as ‘research reactors’ in the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) from where most of the fissile materials comes for India’s weapons programme. In addition, the Rare Materials Plant (RMP), a Uranium enrichment facility utilized for the classified nuclear submarine programme christened Advanced Techonology Vessel (ATV), which was also off the civilian list. But barring the Dhruva reactor, the U.S. wants to place most of the reactors under civilian list. Prof. Bharat Karnad, a top defense policy analyst warns the underlying assumption of the N-deal - is to put a cap on the available fissile material, and thus the weapons programme itself.
Conclusion #3: The U.S. wants to dilute India’s strategic program by spreading the scientific resources and research funding thin.Question #4: What about transparency?
Even as the US wants to put a cap on India’s nuclear arsenal, retired Generals have raised concerns on the need to diversify the means of delivery of strategic nuclear forces. India’s ex-Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha wrote in the Hindustan Times that the voluntary nature of the promised agreement with reciprocity making India a NWS is now in serious danger with the U.S. now dictating the terms of agreement and is shifting the goal posts constantly. He further accused the lack of transparency of the Indian government and the citizens on the negotiating terms. Indian government has a responsibility to go public with the details of the Indo-US nuclear deal as the Opposition parties have been demanding.Conclusion #3: Need to take in the Armed Forces and principal Opposition parties into confidence.
Question #4: Will everything be hunky-dory if an agreement is eventually reached?International Uranium prices have been steadily increasing over the past few years. The increase in demand for oil and gas with more countris such as China building more reactors, the upward trend in price is only expected to continue. There is a renewed enthusiam for building new reactors even in eco-conscious European countries such as UK, France and Germany. Again, it makes sense for India to continue developing FBR-type Advanced Thorium Breeder Reactors (ATBR) without IAEA inspections. This opinion too was shared by some of India’s nuclear scientists though we are not certain if it is a consensus opinion.
Also, Prof. Karnad warns against the importation of unproven/uncertificed nuclear reactors from U.S. companies such as Westinghouse Electric Inc. given that they have effectively stopped building new reactors in the United States after the Three Mile Island accident. He advocates more funding and agressive use of new technologies to improve the yield of local Uranium mining.Bottom line: We feel that the issue has been negotiated in a hasty manner to time it just before the arrival of President Bush’s ‘South Asia’ visit. The real intention of the United States is still not clear as we don’t buy the ‘Making India a Superpower’ statement by Condi Rice. History shows that existing Superpowers simply don’t make other Superpowers. If the U.S. genuinely wants a strong partner in Asia, it does not make sense to try to put a cap of India’s relatively small strategic forces. On the fossil fuel side, the U.S. dos not want India to pursue oil deals with regimes which it considers ‘hostile’ thus making India over dependent on a more ‘friendly’ Saudi Arabia. Thus we believe that the agreement merits more discussion and transparency on the part of the Indian government. Cross-posted in Desicritics.org Update: Former ambassador G. Parthasarathy very much echoes our thougts in the Daily Pioneer. (posting since DP does not archive).
The United States appears to have got the impression that we would be willing to go to the extent of limiting, if not capping our nuclear weapons capabilities to secure access to nuclear power and technology. Both these impressions need to be corrected. Perceptions are as important as reality in the conduct of international relations. ... The July 18 Indo-US Agreement stipulates that it is for India to choose the nuclear facilities it wishes to put under safeguards. The Bush Administrations has, however, yielded to pressure by the "Ayatollahs of Nonproliferation" in Washington's think tanks and is seeking to decide the facilities we should place under international safeguards. ... The Government has taken an inordinately long time to prepare a separation plan. India needs a credible nuclear deterrent, at least akin to that of France. We should not accept any measure that curtails this effort. It should, however, be possible to determine how many reactors are required to build such an arsenal. Nor should we have reservations on placing fast breeder reactors not required for weapons development under safeguards, once their technology is proven. The forthcoming visit of President Bush will have a meaningful impact only of these hurdles are removed prior to his arrival in India.