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India’s reprocessing revisited: the NSG’s new guidelines July 21, 2011

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

Auriol Weigold

The forty-six member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) agreed on 24 June to strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies (ENR) that, at first glance, may affect India’s nuclear agreement with the United States.

The NSG aims to prevent nuclear exports for commercial and peaceful purposes being used in nuclear weapon making.  To this end a raft of regulations bar the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology to states that have not signed or do not comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and do not allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) full inspection rights and safeguards to be put in place.  India has IAEA approval for its commercial nuclear program, but remains outside the NPT although its nonproliferation record has NSG recognition.

Then US Secretary of State Rice introducing the 123 Agreement

The NPT, agreed in 1968, granted non-nuclear weapon states access to technology and material for peaceful purposes if they guaranteed not to develop nuclear weapons. India’s test of its ‘peaceful’ nuclear bomb in 1974 put it outside the NPT fold.

While hopeful that the new quidelines will not affect the 2008 NSG agreement to exempt India from full compliance on various grounds, reaction in New Delhi has been that the unanimous support for rigorous enforcement may go against the spirit of the 2008 waiver obtained with American backing, that the guidelines may change the game rules for India despite the waiver provisions.

This anomalous situation is a result of the NSG’s 2008 agreement to exempt India from its requirement that countries importing sensitive technologies must have full IAEA safeguards covering all nuclear activities. This India would not agree to and the US pushed for an exemption for three years to allow nuclear trade with India.  The waiver obtained commits each NSG member to inform the group as a whole of “approved transfers” to India and to report on bilateral nuclear transactions with India (See Arms Control Association at http://www.armscontrol.org).

India’s fears might possibly have some grounds if in the legal wrangles and weasel-words used in the eventually agreed Indo-US Nuclear agreement, the US kept a loophole that allowed it to change its position. Such a possibility has been aired following the American vote supporting the NSG’s new guidelines rather than blocking them. On the other side of the coin, however, President Obama has recognised India as a nuclear state, and signed the controversial reprocessing parts of the 123 Agreement a year ago, in late July 2010.

The 123 Agreement, the basis for India’s rights to engage in nuclear commerce while maintaining its weapons program, also gives India an opportunity to seek ENR technology transfers from the US.  The Times of India on 26 June suggested that if India seeks such transfers the matter would have to return to the US Congress. What is not clear in the light of America’s voting with the NSG in favour of its new guidelines “is whether their domestic legislation triumphs [over] their international commitment”.

These are theoretically murky waters in terms of the wording of the 123 Agreement.  But unraveling the Agreement on the basis of media speculation was not acceptable to either party given the strategic importance of India and the on-going determination on the part of the US to maintain India’s support in the region. The speculation was thus put to rest by the Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton’s visit to New Delhi this week (19 July) included discussion with the External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna and his delegation, on regional development, terrorism and continued a strategic dialogue that began in 2009. She reiterated her country’s support for India’s waiver agreement and its entry to the NSG but raised, however, India’s nuclear liability legislation as matter that still requires resolution.

The saga of the Indo-Us Nuclear Civilian Agreement, now some six years on from the initial framework put in place in July 2005 continues, with another hurdle to overcome.











1. Vikas Kumar - July 22, 2011

USA wants India to seek approval of IAEA for its domestic nuclear liability legislation. It is effectively asking India to ratify CSC. After India does so and formally informs IAEA, USA will file its objections and expect India to respond and so forth. The games that India and USA are playing over nuclear trade are negatively affecting the perceived strength of their alliance-in-making. If they are unable to resolve such an important issue then there is no reason why others will expect them to respond effectively to sudden strategic developments.