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A record of nuclear responsibility

On October 26, the House International Relations Committee of the US Congress had a hearing on ‘The US-India Global Partnership: The im...

Written by K. Subrahmanyam |
October 31, 2005

On October 26, the House International Relations Committee of the US Congress had a hearing on ‘The US-India Global Partnership: The impact on Nonproliferation’, under the chairmanship of Congressman Henry J. Hyde. The expert witnesses before the committee were David Albright, president, Institute for Science and International Security; Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary of state under Clinton; Henry Sokolski, executive director, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center; Leonard Spector, deputy director, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies and Neil Joeck, senior fellow, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Barring Joeck, who unreservedly supported the July 18 joint statement on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation, the others had reservations. Perspectives varied from those who accepted India had an impeccable record on export controls to those who questioned it. Some wanted civil nuclear cooperation with India with stricter conditionalities, others felt that exceptionalism in India’s favour would damage the nonproliferation regime.

The experts’ views seemed to be narrowly focused; some appeared biased. One expert conceded that China had large stockpiles of weapon grade missile materials which can be converted into weapons but was opposed to India expanding its very modest quantity of weapon grade fissile material. Another, without evidence, charged that Indian export control laws were inadequate and India could engage in proliferation at a future date. Yet another dwelt at length on India having violated nonproliferation norms in the use of plutonium from the CIRUS reactor.

The experts appear to expect from India a code of conduct which has not been observed by the five nuclear weapon powers. India’s record on export controls and on adherence to nonproliferation norms is in no way inferior to those of the nuclear weapon powers. Pakistan’s proliferation is directly traceable to one major nuclear weapon power and the permissiveness of another. The Khan network was able to derive its materials from European countries which are members of the nuclear suppliers group. Though Khan, according to former Dutch PM Ruud Lubbers, was under surveillance, he was able to operate a nuclear walmart from ’76 to ’03. So was Saddam Hussein able to procure all materials for his clandestine nuclear programme from countries which were members of the NSG. Current nonproliferation norms have not led to Khan being questioned, although Pakistan is a member of the IAEA and obliged to cooperate with its investigation into proliferation to Iran.

China’s supply of ring magnets to Pakistan’s centrifuges and its continued supply of materials and equipment are a matter of record. Khan had close links with China. When Khan’s activities escaped detection by intelligence agencies over 27 years, what certitude can be assigned to declarations that China had stopped producing weapon grade fissile materials? If that were so, why is China opposing the fissile materials cut off treaty?

The argument that exceptionalism to India will trigger new demands lacks substantiation. When the NPT was extended in ’95, all the nations were aware that the three standout nations were already nuclear weapon powers. They were also aware of the violation of nonpoliferation norms by some nuclear weapon powers and many NSG countries. In spite of that, they felt that the NPT with five nuclear weapon powers — not all of which were observing nonproliferation norms — would be better for their own interests. That situation is not likely to be altered by India affirming that it would not conduct any more tests, enacting NPT plus export controls and placing its civilian reactors under IAEA safeguards.

The US administration has asserted that for future energy security, hydrocarbon solutions are not likely to be viable. India is likely to be a fast growing economy with enormous energy demands. Giving access to India on civil nuclear energy as also to China, is part of the US administration’s global energy strategy. The US leadership, unlike some experts focused on a single issue, has identified India as the world’s largest democracy bound by the rule of law which they are not able to say about China. The doubts of the US administration about China are borne out by its proliferation to Pakistan and through Pakistan to North Korea and Iran.

As Representative Tom Lantos emphasised, the Congress will decide on the issue on the basis of costs and benefits of establishing a US-India global partnership and not merely on the nit-picking objections of specialists who have made a living out of the nonproliferation issue. Some experts have taken the line that since India is law abiding and has observed nonproliferation norms even without being a member of the NPT, offering incentives to it doesn’t make sense. It is this approach that has encouraged non-democratic states to subject US and the world community to nuclear blackmail. US lawmakers should not buy such irresponsible arguments.

India has not damaged the non-proliferation regime when it has been outside and therefore to argue that it will damage it if allowed to join the regime does not make sense. India’s case is being examined 31 years after it carried out its first test and 16 years after it assembled its arsenal. President Bush’s description of India as a responsible nuclear power with advanced capabilities is based on this record.

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