Why India should get exceptional treatment from IAEA (Commentary)

July 28th, 2008 - 12:22 pm ICT by IANS  

By K. Subrahmanyam
The India-specific safeguards agreement comes under the scrutiny of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the next few days. Thereafter the safeguards agreement and the draft 123-agreement will go before the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to obtain a waiver from its guidelines. At this stage attention is focused on what will be the impact of this exceptional treatment for India on the international non-proliferation order. Some have argued that this sets an inconvenient precedent and India is being rewarded for its defiance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Pakistan demands that India should not be given exceptional treatment and the waiver extended to India should be based on criteria and not be nation-specific.

There are at present only four countries outside the NPT - India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. All other nations are in the NPT. North Korea has agreed to give up its nuclear weapons and rejoin the NPT. Israel has an arsenal going back to 1967 before the NPT came into being and has no civil nuclear programme. Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal and a civil nuclear programme both based on external help.

India has a nuclear arsenal and a civil nuclear programme, both indigenous. Therefore it is not realistic to talk of the exception made for India becoming a precedent for the other two non-members of the NPT. Other nations cannot follow the Indian precedent without breaching their treaty obligations. Therefore, India’s case is unique.

India’s non-proliferation record is an established one. The build-up of the Indian nuclear arsenal has been a restrained one and it is recognised that its size is based solely on regional security considerations.

India, with its modest nuclear arsenal, is not considered as a threatening factor in the international security system. The founders of the NSG — originally called London Suppliers Club - the US, Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Canada — now feel that incorporating India into the non-proliferation regime by waiving the guidelines prohibiting exports of nuclear related technology, materials and equipment to India will make the non-proliferation regime near universal and also help the fast growing economy of India to alleviate partially its increasing greenhouse gas emission problem during the forthcoming nuclear renaissance.

There is increasing recognition that nuclear energy will be one of the solutions for generation of clean energy at a time when there is a widespread concern about climate change caused by increasing emission of greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels.

Most of the major powers including the founder members of the NSG are in favour of giving India a waiver. For others who feel strongly committed to non-proliferation the choice is as follows.

If India is given the waiver all its reactors except eight will come under safeguards and all new imported reactors will also be under safeguards. If India is not given a waiver then all its present 22 reactors and new reactors it may build itself will be outside the safeguards. Which is a preferable choice from the point of view of non-proliferation and expansion of civil nuclear energy to have cleaner power? There is ground for optimism that members of NSG will reach a consensus in favour of a waiver in view of India’s record.

Questions have been raised both in the US, other countries and in India about India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT, if it comes into force, is a non-discriminatory treaty. But the treaty can come into force only if the US Senate reverses its earlier vote rejecting the treaty. That requires a two-third majority in the US Senate. Then China too has to ratify it. It is only under those circumstances India will face a decision about its accession to CTBT.

At present the 123-agreement takes note of contingencies in which India may be compelled to test. Any testing by India will invoke strong international reaction as they did in 1974 and 1998. Therefore any government deciding to test in future will weigh the pros and cons of testing before doing so. That is inherent in India’s sovereignty and that will neither be agreed to in advance by any nation nor can it be prohibited by any other nation.

But when CTBT becomes a universal treaty with US and China ratifying it, the chances of a country breaching it are very, very negligible. There is bound to be enormous pressure on India to accede to CTBT if US and China ratify the treaty. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s commitment before the UN General Assembly will be brought up by the international community. That is some time away.

All the above would highlight what is being attempted is an appropriate adjustment between the present nuclear non-proliferation order and India so as to incorporate the latter in the non-proliferation regime without amending the NPT, which is at present an unthinkable task.

India has stayed out of the NPT since it was discriminatory and did not address its security concerns. India was never against the non-proliferation regime. Even after conducting the nuclear test of 1974 and 1998 India conducted itself in accordance with the obligations of a nuclear weapon state under the NPT.

This incorporation of India in the international non-proliferation order is not in recognition of India having a nuclear arsenal. Israel and Pakistan also have arsenals. This is because India has advanced nuclear technology, having designed its own reactors, having a fast-breeder programme and research in thorium conversion to uranium-233.

An exception for India under these circumstances is justified. In a globalising world a country with advanced nuclear technology, growing rapidly and expected to be fourth or fifth market in the world in the next two decades cannot be left out of international non-proliferation regime. That would explain this deal between India and the international community.

(K. Subrahmanyam is India’s pre-eminent analyst on strategic and international affairs. He can be contacted at ksubrahmanyam51@gmail.com)

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