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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

NSG Waiver : Hardball Diplomacy Needed

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Reshmi Kazi


The crucial two-day meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on August 21-22 to grant unconditional waiver to India to engage in global civilian nuclear commerce ended inconclusively. The draft waiver circulated by the United States after intense negotiations with India was not acceptable to the certain members of the NSG. The positive aspect of the whole deliberations is that the reservationists did not outrightly oppose India’s bid to join the international community in civilian nuclear trade. This one development is a pointer to the fact that the outcome of the NSG special meeting is only a hitch that can be effectively overcome with some hardball diplomacy.

A central premise of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperative initiative is the assumption that India holds a unique position to stake its claim for the nuclear deal. India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), nor has it signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and yet it seeks unconditional exemption from stringent export control rules regulating global nuclear commerce. This unprecedented move is bound to be encountered with stiff resistance. The Indo-US nuclear deal has created a storm because it presages a regime change in the non-proliferation world where the efficacy of the NPT has become increasingly questionable. The emerging challenges of nuclear proliferation prognosticate ominous situations for the international community which the ailing NPT, crafted four decades ago, is unable to effectively address. The Indo-US agreement acknowledges the real dangers and offers a historic opportunity to strengthen the ailing NPT.

The present state of proceedings in the NSG is hitched on the contention that granting waiver to India will constitute a blow to the non-proliferation regime and scuttle the global non-proliferation efforts of striving towards nuclear disarmament. They further apprehend that the nuclear deal will open the door for India to access enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology crucial for making the nuclear bomb. While it may be argued that India is self-sufficient in ENR technology, it is nonetheless primitive. It is not adequate to operate a 1000MW dedicated reprocessing plant that India proposes to build. At the same time, the NSG must understand that India cannot do without reprocessing rights. Reprocessing of spent fuel is critical in handling nuclear waste. Storing nuclear waste is not only costly but also environmentally hazardous and a potential target source for terrorist groups. Reprocessing technology, on the other hand, is cost-beneficial since it provides cheaper nuclear energy.

INDIA must use some hard-nosed diplomacy to allay the concerns of the NSG that the Indo-US nuclear deal is not an attempt to expand its strategic nuclear domain. India’s nuclear doctrine is premised on the cardinal principles of no-first-use and credible minimum deterrence that serves India’s interests in the strategic domain at least in the near future substantially. As a pragmatic approach, India has refrained from any over-investment in the strategic arena since it could be counter-productive to meet its socio-economic objectives. India’s faces enormous challenges in the economic sphere both at home and abroad. With China maintaining a steady double-digit growth rate for the last two decades, India faces substantial challenge in the Asia-Pacific region. India has already displayed a defensive posture with China over the disputed border issues. For India, to sustain the growth rates it has achieved so far, to meet the target of double digit economy rate, and to get leverage in the power game over Beijing, New Delhi cannot afford to over-indulge in the strategic domain. The Indian diplomats must convince the NSG members that the civil nuclear cooperation initiative is meant to serve larger foreign policy and security goals rather than subjecting it to an end itself.

On the issue of non-proliferation, India has a strong case to present before the 45-nation nuclear cartel. India has consistently maintained a pragmatic approach towards non-proliferation and disarmament. Apart from adhering to a clean non-proliferation track record, India has maintained its commitment to unilateral test moratorium declared in May 1998 in the nuclear pact. India has reiterated its commitment to cooperate for the successful completion of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). In May 2005, India passed the WMD Bill which is a comprehensive domestic export control law to guard against the transfer of dual-use technology to ineligible entities. India has over and again expressed its deep involvement with the safeguards regime and has agreed to place 14 out of its 22 reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In September 2006, India signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and upheld the resolve of the global community to deny terrorists access to nuclear materials. India has emphasised on enhanced international cooperation between states in developing and implementing practical measures for prevention of nuclear terrorism and has expressed a keen desire to be a part of the Global Nuclear Threat Initiative Project. India has also remained a strong champion of nuclear disarmament and renewed its pledge in all international forums.

In a world with rapid spread of nuclear technology and materials, both overtly and covertly, a universal non-proliferation can hardly be achieved by excluding the states with advanced nuclear technology. The Asia Pacific Security Survey Report 2007 has prognosticated that nuclear proliferation will be an issue of concern for short and long-term particularly in South and East Asia. It becomes essential to have on board India with intrusive inspection system physically which can also monitor activities of “concern” in the region. To this extent, India has committed to harmonise its laws on export controls with those of the supplier countries. This will ensure that nuclear materials do not fall into wrong hands.

The Indo-US nuclear pact is pegged at a make- or-break stage. As a partner to the deal, a fair amount of diplomacy must be initiated by the United States as well. In view of its commitment in the July 18, 2005 Agreement, Washington must work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India. The US has enormous responsibility to make the NSG members believe that the nuclear deal is not just a bilateral agreement. It is a multilateral approach that provides a net benefit to the international comity of nations by strengthening the non-proliferation goals. The US and India now have to fine-tune certain aspects of the draft waiver; it must not be secured by extracting further commitments from India or diluting the scope of the agreement which was not part of the bargain. The US has the ability to power a change in the existing discriminatory rules of nuclear commerce. Washington must employ tact and aggressive diplomacy to secure an unconditional waiver from the NSG. To this extent, the US must deploy officers of at least Secretary rank to convince the NSG capitals instead of the low level officers as deputed earlier. The US must lobby more aggressively for a clean and unconditional waiver as sought by India.

As for the NSG, it must recognise that India is already a state with nuclear weapons and a responsible non-proliferation record. Incidentally, all the founding members of the NSG (the US, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Japan and Canada) acknowledge India’s status and believe that it can effectively contribute to strengthening the non-proliferation regime. The naysayers primarily include Austria, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands and Ireland. They contend that the NSG rules cannot be relaxed for India since it is not a member to the NPT and CTBT. They argue that any exception for India might set a bad precedent for other countries and weaken the NPT regime. The 45- nation nuclear cartel must understand that India will never accede to the NPT which it believes to be symbolic of nuclear apartheid between nuclear haves and have-nots. Even though India is not a signatory to the NPT, it has adhered to the principles of the treaty. Further, India has maintained a responsible and restrained position on its nuclear and dual-use export policies. Recognising India’s credible record, the supporting members must convince the naysayers that it will contribute very little by upholding a 40-year ailing NPT to effectively strengthen the non-proliferation regime. The naysayers must adopt a pragmatic approach and not let go of this historic opportunity.

The need of the hour is some hardball diplomacy by India, the US and the NSG members. The fact that the NSG members have scheduled to meet again on September 4-5 to take a final decision on India’s case portends some hope for the nuclear deal. For India, the choice is clear: India cannot accept any arbitrary limits on the draft waiver, nor will it give in to any prescriptive or post-facto conditions. An unacceptable waiver will force India to walk away from the nuclear deal. There will be no Separation Plan, no Additional Protocol and India will continue with her strategic programme as before. To sustain her energy requirements and growth rates, India will pursue its goals by burning coal if that is required; that will be a loss not only to the US and NSG but to the entire global community.

Dr Reshmi Kazi is an Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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