Arun Shouries Articles

Time to deal with the aftermath

May 28, 2008
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Time to deal with the aftermath

Arun Shourie

Then came the point on which the prime minister received much applause. Members like me had drawn attention to the very comprehensive and intrusive inspections that were being accepted. Government spokesmen insisted that we had, in fact, been recognised as a Nuclear Weapon State, and that the IAEA would devise “India-specific safeguards”. These, we were sought to be convinced, would be akin to the ones that apply to the five Nuclear Weapon States. I had drawn attention to four vast differences.

First, the sheer numbers. The total number of nuclear power reactors in the five Nuclear Weapon States is 217. Of these 217, just eleven are open to inspections. Of the 104 nuclear power reactors that the US has, only five are under IAEA safeguards. By agreeing to place two-thirds of our 22 reactors, that is 14, under safeguards, the government was now placing a larger number of Indian reactors under safeguards than the total number placed by all the five Nuclear Weapon States taken together! That is just the beginning: with the government having committed to put all new civilian reactors including breeder reactors under safeguards, President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and others have pointed out, within a few years 90 per cent of India’s reactors will be under safeguards.

Second, there is an even more basic difference: the Nuclear Weapon States can withdraw any reactor, equipment or material from the ambit of safeguards. Under the agreement with the US, India was being made to place its reactors under safeguards in perpetuity.

The third difference relates to the nature of inspections: for the Nuclear Weapon States, these are infrequent and nominal. Under the Information Circular of the IAEA that the US is insisting shall apply to us, inspections are frequent and most intrusive.

But there is an even more consequential factor. Under the US Bill as it had been passed by the House and the version that had been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, inspections would not be limited to inspections by the IAEA. The US would have a right to send its own inspectors.

The prime minister was emphatic. He stated repeatedly that the safeguards agreement that we would enter into with the IAEA would be “India specific” — of course, neither he nor any other government spokesmen indicated or has since indicated how it would differ in regard to the first three points that I have listed above: the frequency and intrusiveness of inspections; our not being able to remove reactors from under safeguards as the Nuclear Weapon States are allowed to do; the agreement being without conditions. But for the moment, I am on what he said in regard to the fourth point. He said: “There is no question of India signing either a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA or an Additional Protocol of a type concluded by Non-Nuclear Weapon States who have signed the NPT. We will not accept any verification measures regarding our safeguarded nuclear facilities beyond those contained in an India-Specific Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Therefore there is no question of allowing American inspectors to roam around our nuclear facilities.”

That last bit, “Therefore there is no question of allowing American inspectors to roam around our nuclear facilities,” drew the loudest applause. The PM reverted to the point. He said later in the debate: “In the Separation Plan, we have agreed to offer for IAEA safeguards nuclear facilities specified in the Separation Plan for that purpose. The nature of safeguards will be determined by an India specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. This will be applied to the safeguarded nuclear facilities in India. Therefore, there is no question of accepting other verification measures or third country inspectors to visit our nuclear facilities, outside the framework of the India specific safeguards agreement.”

Well, Section 107 of the Senate Bill provides explicitly for detailed inspections — and not just by the IAEA. In particular, Section 107(3) requires that the US-India Agreement ensure,

“In the event the IAEA is unable to implement safeguards as required by an agreement between the United States and India arranged pursuant to section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2153), arrangements that conform with IAEA safeguards standards, principles, and practices that provide assurances equivalent to that intended to be secured by the system they replace, including —

“(A) review in a timely fashion of the design of any equipment transferred pursuant to the agreement for cooperation, or of any facility that is to use, fabricate, process, or store any material so transferred or any special nuclear material used in or produced through the use of such material and equipment;

“(B) maintenance and disclosure of records and of relevant reports for the purpose of assisting in ensuring accountability for material transferred pursuant to the agreement and any source or special nuclear material used in or produced through the use of any material and equipment so transferred; and

“(C) access to places and data necessary to account for the material referred to in subparagraph (B) and to inspect any equipment or facility referred to in subparagraph (A).”

In a word, India will have to provide not just records and reports, but also allow access to American inspectors. And neither the US administration nor the senators have been in any doubt on this score. In answer to a pointed question in this regard, secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “In addition, in accordance with normal practice, the administration is seeking a provision in the agreement for ‘fall-back’ safeguards (i.e. direct verification by the United States of material, equipment and components subject to the agreement) if for any reason IAEA safeguards are not being applied to those items as provided in the agreement. This is necessary to satisfy the requirement in Section 123(a)(1) of the A(tomic) E(nergy) A(ct) that the safeguards provided for in the agreement will be maintained ‘so long as the material or equipment remains under the jurisdiction or control of the cooperating party, irrespective of the duration of other provisions of the agreement (like that for IAEA safeguards).

“In general, the United States (like other NSG participants) relies upon IAEA inspections and monitoring. However, the United States would in fact be able to conduct ‘special verification visits’ in the form of fall-back safeguards as required by the US-India agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation in the event that IAEA safeguards were not being applied.”

During the debate, Senator Biden, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, observed, “Indian officials are reportedly upset that American personnel might need to visit India’s nuclear sites. It should come as no surprise, however, that we need to ensure that US nuclear materials, equipment, and technology are not diverted to military uses.” He emphasised that, apart from other factors, the US is bound by its obligations under Article I of the NPT not to allow such diversion when it enters into nuclear cooperation agreements with Non- Nuclear Weapon States, “And India remains a Non-Nuclear Weapon State under both the NPT and US law, despite the fact that now it does have nuclear weapons.”

So, if, as the prime minister put it, American inspectors will not be allowed to “roam around” in our nuclear plants, will they be allowed to loiter in or march through them? Is that the distinction that we will now be fed?

On top of Section 107, there is now Section 115. As Dr Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, has pointed out, this new section was suddenly, and without any discussion at all, inserted into the bill on the floor of the Senate. Under it, Indian nuclear establishment is obliged to enter into “cooperative research” about technologies and practices for non-proliferation with a new agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration – an agency that had not figured in the Indo-US discussions at all, and whose principal function has hitherto been the denuclearisation of the erstwhile Soviet satellites.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, has now gone on record to say that this section, intrusive as it is, has come as a “surprise” to him, that it is a cause of “additional concern”, that we do not need this kind of “cooperation”.

Tests in the future

The prime minister turned next to the provision in the bills as they stood at the time regarding our testing nuclear devices in the future. In their testimony before Congressional Committee as well as in other public statements, US officials had been explicit: we have made it absolutely clear to the Indian negotiators, they said, that, should India ever carry out a nuclear test, the deal would be off. I remember reading out in the Rajya Sabha the statements as well as the specific provision of the bills. The prime minister was emphatic:

“There is provision in the proposed US law that were India to detonate a nuclear explosive device, the US will have the right to cease further cooperation. Our position on this is unambiguous. The US has been intimated that reference to nuclear detonation in the India-US Bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreement as a condition for future cooperation is not acceptable to us. We are not prepared to go beyond a unilateral voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing as indicated in the July Statement. The same is true of other intrusive non-proliferation benchmarks mentioned in the proposed US legislation. India’s possession and development of nuclear weapons is an integral part of our national security. This will remain so.”

Well, what will the government’s stand now be because Section 104(3b) of the bill as finally passed by the Senate states, “A determination under section 105 and any waiver under section 104 shall cease to be effective if the president determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device after the date of the enactment of this Act.”

Furthermore, the Section 104 specifies that the deal would be contingent on full observance by India of Section 123(a)(4) of the US Atomic Energy Act — that latter provision lays down that, should any nuclear device be detonated for any reason whatsoever not only shall all nuclear commerce be halted with the country, the United States shall have the right to demand the return of “any nuclear materials and equipment transferred pursuant” to the agreement for cooperation as well as any “special nuclear material produced through the use thereof if the cooperating party detonates a nuclear explosive device.”

In its report, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is absolutely emphatic on this score. It says, “The committee believes that there should be absolutely no ambiguity regarding the legal and policy implications of any future Indian nuclear detonation. The president must terminate all US-origin exports and re-exports of nuclear materials and equipment or sensitive nuclear technology to India, and the committee expects the president to make full and immediate use of US rights to demand the return of all exports and re-exports to India, if India tests or detonates, or otherwise causes the test or detonation of a nuclear explosive device, for any reason, including such instances in which India describes its actions as being ‘for peaceful purposes.’ The committee believes that termination would include the suspension and revocation of any current or pending export or re-export licenses, and that the return of US-origin items and materials should extend to any special nuclear material produced by India through the use of any nuclear materials and equipment or sensitive nuclear technology exported or re-exported to India by the United States.”

Nor is the termination of all nuclear commerce in such an event likely to be confined to the US. Condoleezza Rice gave a glimpse of discussions that American officials have been having with other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group when she told the Senate Committee, “Our interlocutors in the NSG have made it clear that their support for accommodating civil nuclear cooperation with India hinges upon India’s successful implementation of its commitments in the July 2005 Joint Statement, including India’s commitment to continue its moratorium on nuclear testing. We do not have the official views of potential nuclear suppliers regarding a termination of transfers of nuclear material, including fuel and technology, to India should India detonate a nuclear explosive device. However, we expect that there would be irresistible political pressure for NSG participants to terminate any transfers of nuclear material and technology to India should India detonate a nuclear explosive device.

“Moreover, there is a provision in the NSG guidelines calling for suppliers to meet and consult if a supplier believes there has been a violation of the supplier/recipient understandings resulting from the guidelines, particularly in the event of, among other things, an explosion of a nuclear device. India’s 1998 nuclear tests prompted the NSG to meet in an extraordinary plenary for such consultations. The guidelines further reference the possibility of a common response, which could include the termination of nuclear transfers.

“We have made it clear to the Government of India that the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative relies on India’s commitment to continue its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium. This gives India clear economic and energy incentives not to test.”

That last point — of creating “clear economic and energy incentives not to test” — has been a cornerstone of this “Energy Cooperation Initiative.” The principal sponsor of the bill, the influential head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Richard Lugar, while moving the bill, emphasised the same point. He told the Senate that the objective of the bill is to provide “a lasting incentive for India to abstain from further nuclear weapons tests and cooperate closely with the US in stopping proliferation.” Recall the enormous pressure to which successive Indian governments have been subject by fuel supplies being cut-off to just the Tarapur reactor — one that produces a mere 365 MW of power. Imagine the pressure that will descend on them when we are faced with the prospect of 35,000 MW being switched off. That is what Rice and others mean when they talk of creating “clear economic and energy incentives not to test.”

Four conclusions for government, two for us

There are several other features of the bill as it has been passed by the Senate that fly in the face of the assurances that the prime minister has given to Parliament. But the few that I have listed are sufficient to show that not one of the “concerns” that the prime minister said he has conveyed to the US president has been heeded – not one, not in the least. The Senate has stuck to the version about accepting which the prime minister had said India has “grave difficulties”. Yet his spin-doctors are declaring victory. And many in our media are lapping it up.

The US is not to blame for this. Their process is so transparent that no one here can pretend that anything at all in the foregoing has come as a surprise. The administration there as well as their legislators want closer ties with India — both because they see India at last beginning to stretch itself to its potential, and also as a possible counter to the growing power of China. But for them, non-proliferation is also a very important objective. The NPT has been a vital and, in a sense, very effective mechanism for arresting the spread of nuclear weapons. But it has begun to fray: India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have acquired the weapons in spite of the Treaty. Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Egypt, Taiwan are within reach of them. The treaty has also not been able to prevent clandestine proliferation — for instance, by Pakistan. Americans and others have accordingly been looking for other devices with which to supplement that treaty.

The Indo-US agreement is devised as a possible model to achieve this objective among others. American officials have made no secret of this. Pressed about its rationale, this is how Rice responded during her testimony before the Senate Committee:

“Under this initiative, 65 per cent of India’s thermal reactors will be brought under safeguards, a figure that the Indian government has said could rise as high as 90 percent as India procures more civil reactors in the next 15 years. To put this in perspective, imagine the alternative: Without this initiative, 81 percent of India’s current power reactors — and its future power and breeder reactors — would continue to remain outside of IAEA safeguards. The Indian nuclear power program would remain opaque, a nuclear black box.”

Indeed, one of the most knowledgeable experts on South Asian security matters told me that India itself should look ahead – to a situation in which, as a consequence of North Korea’s weaponisation, Taiwan goes nuclear; in which, as a consequence of Iran’s weaponisation, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia feel compelled to go nuclear; in which Pakistan continues its clandestine proliferation and Bangladesh acquires a nuclear capability — via Chinese built reactors. And it should assess whether it would not be in India’s own interest if the Indo-US Agreement becomes a model for other countries.

They have also been very candid about their modus operandi. Pressed about the aspects that had not been covered, Burns and Joseph urged the Senate to “resist the temptation to take actions that will prejudice our ability to realise the important and long-standing nonproliferation objectives embodied in the Initiative.” They urged it to see that “the commitments India has made under the Initiative are a significant gain over the status quo.” And said, “We believe the best course is to lock-in the significant gains reached and then seek to achieve further nonproliferation results as our strategic partnership advances.”

The problem has not arisen, therefore, because the Americans have been opaque. But because our government has concealed, prevaricated, and outright misled us. And now it is in a bind.

I would, therefore, urge four things to government:

Do not make a Micawber of the country — waiting for something to turn up.

Do not make the mistake that earlier Congress governments made — that because you can plant stories in the media, the facts are going to go away.

Do not make the mistake that earlier Congress governments made — to think that because it controlled three-quarters of Parliament, it could control the situation outside Parliament.

Yes, closer relations with the US are in India’s interest, but do not make this deal the test of those relations.

But as I have little hope that the government will heed my advice, I would urge two things to the rest of us — especially to my friends in the media:

Do not be taken in by lullabies of the government and its agents.

Find out yourselves what is going on behind the scenes: whether in negotiations with Pakistan — on Siachin, on Kashmir; or in those “Round Table Conferences” with Kashmiri separatists; or in regard to this nuclear deal.

(Concluded)

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