While thinking about the current debate on the India-U.S. nuclear deal, it may be useful to recall how the United States inked a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with another nuclear power - China amidst several crises between them. This deal took almost 13 years to materialize between the time that President Reagan submitted the agreement to Congress in 1985 and its implementation in 1998 under President Clinton. Such a long-drawn negotiation can offer several lessons for Indian negotiators.
In 1984 under the Reagan administration when the dialog was initiated, Kenneth Adelman, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency notes that: “The United States sought China's acceptance of IAEA safeguards on U.S. supply under the agreement, but they adamantly refused to accept that condition.”Bottom line: Currently, China has only two facilities under IAEA safeguards with none of the imported reactors being on the safeguard list. The deal was signed with only paper assurances (agreed in ‘secret’) from China to not repeat its proliferation sins (see below) in the future. Also note that the some of the opposition voices to the China deal like Rep. Markey are still around raising concerns about the Indian deal.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Devine said that the PRC “assured us orally that they would ... require safeguards on their own exports.”
Rep. Ed Markey said the assurances from China were actually assurances in a secret memorandum or "Non-Paper" of the State Department. “we insisted that the United Kingdom, a weapons state and our closest ally, accept [safeguards] as part of our nuclear cooperation agreement. So why not the Chinese?”
In 1989 after the Tienanmen crackdown, Congress suspended the proposed nuclear cooperation with China.
After the U.S.-P.R.C. summit in 1997, President Clinton in 1998 signed certifications on China's nuclear nonproliferation policy and practices to implement the 1985 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. “it is in the U.S. national interest to consolidate and build on the progress China has made in the nonproliferation area”
In 2004, the NRC issued licences for export of nuclear reactor components under the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, while the DOE authorized transfers of nuclear technology to China for its civilian nuclear power program based on the PRC's “written nonproliferation assurances”.
On February 28, 2005, Westinghouse Electric Company submitted a bid for a PRC contract to supply four commercial nuclear reactors in a deal underwritten by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Two of the planned Chinese reactors would be built for the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company at a site near Yangjiang, and the other two would be built at a site near Sanmen for the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC*), according to media reports. China already has four operating commercial reactors supplied by Areva, using updated versions of French reactors originally built under a now-expired Westinghouse license.
Now, onto China's commitments to the IAEA:
China first made unofficial inquiries about possible participation in the IAEA in 1978. China applied for membership in the IAEA in 1983, and became a member in January 1984. Since then, China has declared that China will apply IAEA safeguards on all of its nuclear exports.All empty declarations sans any verification mechanism. Alas just as China was negotiating the deal with the United States in the 80s and 90s, it’s proliferation activities never showed signs of slowing down despite promises to the IAEA during this period (one thinks it still has’nt stopped to date).
In 1991, China further declared that it would report to the IAEA any export or import of nuclear materials and all exports of nuclear equipment.
In 1983, China supplied complete design of a 25 kT nuclear bomb possibly a Chic-4 design to Pakistan. In the same year, China reportedly supplied Pakistan highly enriched uranium (HEU) enough for one or two nuclear weapons .
In 1986, Tritium used to achieve fusion in hydrogen bombs and boost the yield of atomic bombs was sold by China to Pakistan.
In late 1995, China exported 5,000 specially designed ring magnets from the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) (now China National Nuclear Corporation - CNNC*) to A.Q. Khan Research Lab at Kahuta which was involved in nuclear weapons work.
New insights into the level of Chinese assistance to Pakistan came about in early 2004 as a result of on-site investigations into Libya's nuclear weapons program. As part of disarmament inspections, early Chinese nuclear weapons designs were handed over to IAEA inspectors by Libyan scientists, wrapped in plastic bags bearing an address in Islamabad.Amazingly, note that American companies are now transferring reactors to the same company (albeit with a different name CNNC) which deliberately proliferated to Pakistan with financing coming from the U.S. Ex-Im Bank!
Lessons for Indian negotiators: The U.S.-China deal went through multiple administrations over a couple of decades - it was started by Nixon’s famous visit to China and finalized by Bush Jr. This, despite the many geo-political crises between the two countries during this period viz the Tienanmen crackdown in 1989, the Taiwan strait crisis in 1996, the Belgrade Chinese embassy bombing by NATO forces in 1999, the American EP-3 spy plane ‘collision incident’ in 2001 and ofcourse the massive nuclear weapons proliferation to Pakistan and other states.
At this point the Indo-US negotiation is stalled, just days before President Bush’s visit. This despite India offering upto 14 of the 22 Indian reactors to be placed under safeguards. The U.S. wants more. Apart from demanding the fast-breeder reactors be safeguarded (which we strongly contested), the U.S. is also demanding an “in perpetuity” safeguard agreement. Since there are no “permanent friends”, there should be no clause which “binds” Indian reactors under permanent safeguards. Should there be a need in the future, a resolution in the Indian parliament representing the will of the people should again enable to reclassify any reactor as ‘strategic’ (just as the United States has done). It should not under any circumstances be held hostage to the whims or sanction threats of the U.S. Congress or Senate run by special interest groups.