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Nuclear deal or nuclear recognition: which first? December 21, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , trackback

Auriol Weigold

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was greeted in Washington by President Obama naming India as a nuclear power, their late November 2009 meeting was not scheduled to conclude discussions on the reprocessing of spent fuel, a crucial part of the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement.

Logically the conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal ought to see India’s recognition as a nuclear state but Obama appears to have jumped the gun and given India its long-sought status without its signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and without approval from the international community.  With nuclear energy agreements in place, however, with Russia, Canada, France and Italy, India has, ipso facto, international recognition.

A timetable for completion of Article 6 (iii) of the 123 Agreement on bilateral nuclear cooperation sets out that that final agreement on procedures should commence no later than one year after the start of formal consultations. They took place in late July followed by further negotiations in late November, leaving some eight months to completion in 2010.

The last area of dispute relates to the United States’ right to withhold reprocessing technologies if India carries out a future nuclear test.  Washington is still waiting for a written undertaking not to test from New Delhi, a requirement before the US Energy Department can license American nuclear firms to operate in India. This is seen at least in India, as a matter of working out specific words that can be agreed too.

Indian negotiators are taking a strong line after one representative reportedly was rebuked by New Delhi for not being sufficiently forthright.  Another Indian negotiator in Washington was publicly asked when India and the US would conclude the 123 Agreement and replied that this would happen as soon as the US agreed to what India was seeking. (The Telegraph, Calcutta, 9 Dec 2009).

India has not always taken such a positive negotiating stance.  Indeed negativity in government departments arguably cost the nation Shashi Tharoor’s possible appointment as UN Secretary General, and earlier damaged New Delhi’s effort to change the composition of the UN Security Council to include India as a permanent member.

On this occasion, a weak approach by India does not seem to be a problem in the achieving the favourable 123 Agreement sought, and setting the ground for strong negotiations for international recognition of India as a nuclear state is in train.  The Prime Minister is putting a positive spin on India as a nuclear weapons state and a responsible nuclear power.  His object is to secure India’s invitation to join the nuclear weapons states.  With United States assistance and, arguably with President Obama’s endorsement, such support will be forthcoming.

Passing an amendment recognising India as the sixth nuclear weapons state is relatively easy once two hurdles have been overcome.  First, one-third of signatories to the NPT must agree to a change to it. Second, at the time of an amendment conference to which the NPT states have agreed, all the members of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors have to support an amendment to the NPT for it to be passed. At a subsequent special amendment conference only a simple majority is required for India’s inclusion to be endorsed.

How might India achieve the numbers in the first instance? India’s bid for election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, if successful, will give an idea of its support there. Another avenue mooted is to look to the Non-Aligned Movement.

The UN Security Council elections are due to be held in October 2010 and, if the agreed timetable is adhered to by both the US and India, the contentious reprocessing of spent fuel element of the 123 Agreement should be completed by July 2010.

India’s election to a non-permanent seat is not a guarantee that it will have the numerical support it needs on the NPT, nor is it guaranteed that language can be agreed to that will match India’s strong stance on finalizing the 123 Agreement and US requirements. However, on both issues India will continue to emphasise two points: that it is a responsible nuclear power with an impeccable record and that as a recognised nuclear power, it would be a full partner in opposing nuclear proliferation.

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