WASHINGTON, DC --- President George W. Bush agreed today to a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with India that fails to match administration claims that it would be a net benefit for the global nonproliferation regime. Instead, the deal bows to the Indian nuclear bomb lobby’s desire to reserve significant segments of the Indian nuclear complex for making nuclear weapons.
“In the rush to meet an artificial summit deadline, the White House sold out core American nonproliferation values and positions. The so-called civil-military separation plan announced today is clearly not ‘credible’ from a nonproliferation standpoint as the Bush administration had promised it would be,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, and one of a group of two dozen leading experts skeptical of the proposal.
“Congress and members of the voluntary 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group should not accept the deal as proposed and should press India to halt its production of fissile material for nuclear weapons,” Kimball urged.
In a July meeting last year with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Bush pledged to work toward relaxing U.S. laws and international guidelines to permit India increased civil nuclear trade. In return, Singh pledged to open India’s largely closed nuclear establishment to international oversight.
But the agreement struck today would permit India to keep major existing, as well as future, elements of its nuclear sector shrouded in secrecy and devoted to manufacturing nuclear weapons. Reportedly, India will only subject 14 of its 20-some nuclear power reactors to international supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Moreover, India is designating its fast breeder reactors, which can produce large quantities of the nuclear bomb material plutonium, as military facilities that will be outside the IAEA’s purview. In a positive development, India agreed that the IAEA safeguards it accepts will be put in place for perpetuity.
Still, the large number of reactors that India is exempting from international supervision, as well as its flexibility to declare future breeder reactors as untouchable, belies Bush administration claims that the agreement is a boon to the nonproliferation system.
“The U.S.-Indian nuclear plan would implicitly endorse, if not indirectly assist, the further growth of India’s nuclear arsenal,” Kimball noted. The United States, as well as other major nuclear powers, committed in the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “not in any way to assist” the acquisition of nuclear arms by non-nuclear-weapon states. India is a non-nuclear-weapon state by the treaty’s definition.
Kimball explained, “The plan’s gaping loopholes would allow India to increase its current capacity to produce 6-10 additional nuclear bombs a year to several dozen per year. In addition, the plan probably excludes the spent fuel from its 11 operating power reactors from safeguards. This would allow India to use the 9,000 kilograms (over 1,000 bombs worth) of unseparated plutonium in those fuel rods for its weapons program.” He further noted that “by opening up the spigot for foreign nuclear fuel supplies to India, this deal would also free up India’s limited domestic reserve of uranium for both energy and weapons to be singularly devoted to arms production in the future.”
India largely had been denied civilian nuclear trade for three decades because of its misuse of past civil nuclear imports to explode a nuclear device in 1974. New Delhi subsequently built up a nuclear arsenal of 50-100 nuclear arms and conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998.
“There is every reason to believe that India and the United States will work side by side in the years to come,” Kimball stated. “However, the nuclear cooperation proposal should not be the linchpin of U.S.-Indian relations, and if Congress acts in ways to address the deal’s proliferation risks, bilateral relations will still prosper and the nuclear nonproliferation system will not unravel,” he said.