Bottomline | Balance of Powers

The ratification of AP is a win-win deal for India in the long run

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The ratification of the Additional Protocol (AP) with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by the Narendra Modi government on June 22, is, in today’s context, when China has become militarily assertive, a positive step, provided the pros and cons of doing so are well understood, and the government is prepared for some hard follow-on actions.

Spurred by the ratification announcement, Rakesh Sood, an experienced diplomat on disarmament matters, has written that while ‘AP was the low-hanging fruit, significantly, the decision indicates that nuclear diplomacy will remain a priority for the Modi government.’ I, instead, would argue that ratification is a decisive step with far-reaching implications for India’s non-proliferation and geo-political status.

To understand what ratification of India-specific AP means, the need is to step back to the signing of the 2008 India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Writing in her memoir, No Higher Honour, the then US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, the force behind the bilateral nuclear agreement wrote that: ‘At least new construction of reactors would be under safeguard. India already had more than enough nuclear material for its military program. It needed help on the civilian side and we needed the strategic breakthrough with this emerging, democratic power.’

The 2008 India-US civil nuclear agreement, from US’ perspective, was more about non-proliferation, rather than about helping India develop its civil nuclear energy sector, as the Manmohan Singh government had the people of India believe. The 2008 agreement took two unshakeable commitments from India: that it will not do nuclear testing (de facto signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), and it will not increase its stocks of fissile material (adherence to Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty ahead of its formulation). Note that according to the 2008 agreement, India would be free to decide on its future reactors for military or civil use. But, Rice, in her memoir, appears certain that this choice would not be available to India. What was the reason for her assertiveness?

Around the time that the US was nudging India to sign the 2008 agreement, President George Bush, in the aftermath of the 2003 A.Q. Khan Proliferation disclosures, was pressing the 48 developed nations’ Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to tighten its trade rules with the IAEA for Uranium Enrichment and Plutonium Reprocessing (ENR) technologies. The NSG, which was formed in 1978 as a consequence of India’s 1974 nuclear test, finally issued its revised stringent trade guidelines in July 2011. Thus, even while India (not having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) got the exceptional waiver from the NSG in 2008 which paved the way for the 2008 India-US agreement and the signing of the AP between India and the IAEA in March 2009, things were struck as India was to ratify the AP. However, the recent ratification of the AP will do much less than India needs.

It will merely facilitate nuclear fuel trade while keeping commerce in ENR technologies still outside India’s reach because India is not a member of the NSG club. For that to happen, India must be accepted as a member country by the NSG cartel which takes decisions by consensus. This is not all. India also needs high and dual use technologies for its indigenous defence industry to grow to at least a respectable standing. For this reason, India has applied for membership of all four global non-proliferation clubs: NSG, Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. It is certain that for these memberships, India will be asked to make stringent commitments beyond tightening its export control laws and the ratification of the AP with the IAEA. India would be allowed ENR trade only if it agrees to not build even indigenous nuclear reactors for military use (something that the 2008 India, US agreement allows). Thus, against this backdrop, Rice’s assertiveness seems justified.

For India, reviewing its 2010 Nuclear Liability Law for its nuclear energy needs is actually the small step. The big one will be to accept that its nuclear military capabilities will remain stunted with time; this when, Pakistan is aggressively enhancing its own. There is also a question mark over India’s nuclear high yield (megaton and even 500kt) capability purportedly needed against China. The trade-off will be membership of the exclusive non-proliferation clubs and the accruing advantages of trade in ENR technologies and high and dual-use technologies for indigenous defence and space programmes.

There will be another strategic advantage with major geopolitical fall-out: soaring of India’s relations with the US. The latter as the leader of the non-proliferation regimes, and one seeking to restrict China’s military ambitions, will be pleased to get India, as much as possible, into its embrace. According to Shyam Saran, who was special envoy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while India was being courted by the US and other European powers in 2005, it had a positive effect on Chinese posture towards India. He writes that: ‘This took the shape of concluding the significant Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for seeking settlement of the (disputed) border issue; the depiction of Sikkim as part of Indian territory in Chinese maps and the declaration of a bilateral Strategic and Cooperative Partnership with India.’

The overall deal will work to India’s advantage. For one, India needs credible strategic, operational and infrastructure for its nuclear weapons capabilities rather than more fissile material with higher yields. For another, India needs to balance China’s military assertiveness with a mix of strategy and defence capabilities.


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