India Gets a Deal

The much anticipated “deal” between the United States and India for the transfer of nuclear technology and equipment was released over the weekend. It is a sobering read and tells us much about the administration’s thinking. In summary, there isn’t much of a deal here at all, India gets what it wants.

The agreement not only fails to seek any constraints on India’s nuclear weapons program, it goes out of its way to make clear that what goes on in the nuclear weapons program is off the table and not to affect at all the agreement’s execution. Article 2.4 is key:
The Parties affirm that the purpose of this Agreement is to provide for peaceful nuclear cooperation and not to affect the unsafeguarded nuclear activities of either Party. Accordingly, nothing in this Agreement shall be interpreted as affecting the rights of the Parties to use for their own purposes nuclear material, non-nuclear material, equipment, components, information or technology produced, acquired or developed by them independent of any nuclear material, non-nuclear material, equipment, components, information or technology transferred to them pursuant to this Agreement. This Agreement shall be implemented in a manner so as not to hinder or otherwise interfere with any other activities involving the use of nuclear material, non-nuclear material, equipment, components, information or technology and military nuclear facilities produced, acquired or developed by them independent of this Agreement for their own purposes.

This means that the civilian nuclear sector is under IAEA jurisdiction but what India does with its nuclear weapons is explicitly irrelevant to US-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation. This section means that India could resume nuclear testing and the United States could not use that as a reason to stop nuclear technology and equipment sales. Not that anybody is expecting it, but India could even give nuclear weapons away and, as long as none of the material or technology came from the civilian sector, the United States could not stop its civilian nuclear cooperation.

Undermining Export Laws

There’s more. Under Article 5.6(a) the United States commits itself specifically to assuring India’s access to nuclear fuel and technology. In other words, not only will the United States explicitly declare that it will never threaten nuclear trade in response to India’s weapons activities, for example, a nuclear test, but the United States will use its full influence to make certain that India is fully insulated from any such pressure from any quarter. The article reads as:
The United States has conveyed its commitment to the reliable supply of fuel to India. Consistent with the July 18, 2005, Joint Statement, the United States has also reaffirmed its assurance to create the necessary conditions for India to have assured and full access to fuel for its reactors. As part of its implementation of the July 18, 2005, Joint Statement the United States is committed to seeking agreement from the U.S. Congress to amend its domestic laws and to work with friends and allies to adjust the practices of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to create the necessary conditions for India to obtain full access to the international fuel market, including reliable, uninterrupted and continual access to fuel supplies from firms in several nations.

One thing is clear: the U.S. administration is more concerned about maintaining good relations with India than it is interested in maintaining good relations with the U.S. Congress. The entire thrust of the India-US agreement ignores key provisions of the bill authorizing nuclear trade passed in the previous, Republican-controlled, Congress. That bill, The Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, imposes several restrictions on India that are not simply neglected but reversed in the deal. For example, the sense of the Congress, set forth in the Hyde act, Section 102.13 reads, “the United States should not seek to facilitate or encourage the continuation of nuclear exports to India by any other party if such exports are terminated under United States law.” This is precisely the opposite of the Article 5.6(a) above.

About Those Nuclear Tests

The Hyde act does not mention nuclear explosions explicitly. The language is a little convoluted but the act “waive[s] with respect to India the application of…(B) section 129 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 2158) regarding any actions that occurred before July 18, 2005.” This is in reference to India’s nuclear tests in 1998, which the Hyde act had to “waive” in order not to conflict with the Atomic Energy Act.

Section 129 of the Atomic Energy Act reads, “No nuclear materials and equipment or sensitive nuclear technology shall be exported to–
(1) any non-nuclear-weapon state that is found by the President to have, at any time after the effective date of this section,
(A) detonated a nuclear explosive device…”

So the Hyde act essentially grandfathers India’s past nuclear explosions including the series in May 1998 but, as I read it, if India tests a nuclear weapon in the future, that is, after July 18, 2005, the exception granted by the Hyde Act would no longer kick in. In other words, past explosions are forgiven but future ones are forbidden, or at least would stop nuclear cooperation. The administration’s deal seems to be in conflict with this provision of the law.

(You might think that the above clause simply doesn’t apply because it clearly states that “any non-nuclear-weapon state that is found…” and clearly India is a nuclear weapon state. Perhaps clear in fact, but not in a diplomatic legal sense. In testimony before the Senate, Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph said, “Our initiative with India does not recognize India as a nuclear weapon State…”)


The deal seems to give India everything it wants with little in return because the U.S. administration does not want anything in return. Most who have thought about India-U.S. nuclear cooperation recognize that there is a tradeoff here: Yes, there is a certain danger to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to non-proliferation efforts in general if India is able to test and build nuclear weapons outside the treaty but, on the other hand, it is important to bring India fully into the international system and to strengthen US-India ties.

I feel that undermining the non-proliferation regime is not worth the price, especially since the price is set by India. There are a hundred and one ways that the United States could cooperate more fully with India (and already does), whether economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, or culturally. The two countries could have very close ties and simply agree to disagree about nuclear weapons. The United States and Norway disagree about whaling but that does not mean they cannot be, aside from that, close allies. And no one expects Norway to demand that relations in all spheres depend on the United States enthusiastically supporting their whaling. Other analysts come to a different judgment, that the damage to non-proliferation can be contained and the benefits of a strategic relationship with India are worth the risk. That is not where my judgment falls, but I respect the view.

The administration is a third camp; it does not seem to see that there is any tradeoff to be made. It has broadly suggested that India is a useful balance to a rising China, including balancing China’s nuclear forces with India’s growing arsenal. To the administration, whose support for the NPT has been half-hearted at best, a growing Indian nuclear arsenal is not something to be feared or avoided. A miniature nuclear arms race with the Chinese might give them pause and weigh in on the US side in the strategic balance. The Indians were demanding full, if only de facto, recognition as a nuclear weapon state but they were pushing on an open door. There was not going to be any resistance from this administration. So what was to negotiate? How could the United States demand some balancing concession from the Indians if what the Indians were proposing is exactly what the United States wanted? The reaction from Congress will be interesting.

9 thoughts on “India Gets a Deal

  1. Dear Mr. Oelrich,

    With all due respect, close military and scientific cooperation between US and India are not possible without a resolution of the nuclear situation. Why? Ridiculous US “export control” laws and policies have made virtually every technology “dual use” and therefore out of scope of cooperation. This is where I find arms control advocates hypocritical. On the one hand you guys try to practice a stringent technology denial regime but then turn around and say – “Oh we can have close cooperation without nuclear detente” After 1974, it had been virtually impossible for Indian physicists, chemistry experts, metallurgists etc. to cooperate with Americans without the nuclear Gestapo throwing a wrench, denying visas and threatening dire consequences.

    What you fail to understand is that the NPT was and is a hoax. The big powers had no real intention to disarm. The treaty worked for 3 odd decades because the underlying global power structure remained the same. Now that power structure is shifting and it is for treaties to adapt to this reality and not the other way around.

    The NPT/NSG straightjacket was going to be breached sooner or later. This is why the Bush admin figured it might as well do it in an organized way rather than a free for all that would likely ensue when archaic systems are left to their own devices and fail catastrophically.

  2. I agree with RT completely.

    I wish there was some measure of equilibrium in what the nuclear ayotallahs keep on complaining about.

    Under their watch, there has been all sorts of proliferation going on from China to Pakistan through the nuclear Wal-Mart called A.Q. Khan, which has distorted the security environment of the region to such an extent. The nuclear ayotallahs are themselves to blame for the fact that India needed to take corrective measures by building up a nuclear strategic restraint.

    But since the nuclear ayotallahs do not wish to scrutinize and delve upon their own failures, shortcomings and misguided and discriminatory idealism, they start carping on India.

    Hypocrits have no right to moral preaching. Period.

  3. I have to be honest, these threads wouldn’t be the same without the absurd sense of entitlement coming from the pro-Indian side of the house.

    Both of these posters complain about the inspection regimes being broken. Yet these arguments manage to speak out of the mouth. They complain that the attempts at weapons control were broken, then openly complain when people point out that the deal is bad for weapons control

    There have been some pretty spectacular failures in weapons control regimes over the past few years. I hardly think that anyone is disputing that. However, that is hardly an excuse to undercut and hamstring future attempts at weapons control. Bottom line is that if the world wants to really start controlling the spread of nuclear weapons the major powers are going to have to start working to start turning back the clock. That means the United States reducing its nuclear stockpile, and that means controlling the development of nuclear weapons in unstable regions (do we really need to go over the number of conflicts India and Pakistan have waged against each other over the past 50 plus years; or for that matter the last 10).

    …nuclear ayotollahs. Give me a break!

  4. The Cold War net that stopped nations from risking a break with the NPT is gone, and that’s the primary motivation behind this American action.

    If anything, our nation’s botched invasion of Iraq has taught the world that nothing deters destruction like actual WMD, and the best minds in world history have always known that policy should be shaped towards an ideal but managed in the scope of reality. The reality today is that authoritarian nations like Pakistan and North Korea (and, soon, Iran) possess the bomb just as opposing nations like India do. Can we stop all of these nations from gaining nuclear weapons? No, certainly not if it’s all happening in tandem; nations can be expected to do nothing more than defend their national interests.

    That said, the best bet for the U.S. is to align itself with nations that most closely share our goals. Is picking the largest and strongest democracy in Asia such a bad idea? Punishing them for obtaining nukes is a moot point; when staring down their arch-enemy in a nuclear arms race, we can hardly condemn them after 60 years of doing just the same.

    Aligning with India isn’t about rewarding nuclear proliferation; it’s about getting real and choosing the least-worst option, just as nations have always done throughout the history of alliances.

  5. “Nuclear Ayotollahs.”
    “Nuclear Gestapo.”

    Do you guys understand just how much using these terms defiles your credibility, lest intelligence?
    We are talking about nuclear technology here! That’s not something that you put in the same category of just any dual use technology. More than any technology, nuclear technology must be controlled. The risk of it getting in the wrong hands and a city with millions of people getting nuked is not an acceptable risk.
    Putting your nationalistic pride, and pathological prejudice against America before common sense about nuclear technology is sick.
    Those “ridiculous” export laws happened to have kept the former Soviet Union’s technology about a generation behind in fielded systems, generally speaking. Those “ridiculous” export laws are in large part the reason why about half a dozen countries do not CURRENTLY have nuclear weapons.

    The US has many similar strategic goals as India in the containment and counter balance to China, as well as, dealing with Islamic extremist populated countries.
    India is a low enough risk, I think, and deserves more respect than it gets from the international community, but they are not beyond reproach, and it’s not unreasonable for the US to want assurances. Not unreasonable, at all.
    I hope India and the US become close allies actually. This is a start, and I hope India reciprocates because both countries could really benefit.

  6. Kevin, India has a far more credible non prolifiration record than many of the NPT signitaories. India has not proliferated nuke tech for more than 30 years. Inspite of the so called american leadership & high handed export control, you were not able to control & still not in a position to control a fellow NPT cHina from proliferating. as a non-NPT state India can sell its tech to anybody. India chose not to. Whether this deal goes through or not america will have no contorl over India’s weapons programs. however, signing the deal will benifit the nuke industry in the US which has been dormant since the 70s. Again it is for US to decide, do they want a fellow , english speaking, non theratening, democracy to be their friend or foe. You already have 20% of the world polulation(China) ready to cut you throat.You dont want another 20% to goagainst you. After supporting all kinds of rouge elements & non democraices in the arch of instability between Africa & Alaska, most of the times to support India’s enmies, what have you got? Didnt learn a lesson yet?

  7. read all of the posts and could not help putting up a point.

    we are talking about nations…not nations actually, governments.the US deal has been opposed in India as well as in the US congress by Indian politicians(the leftists) and some of the congressmen.

    why do we need this deal?

    because India IS a nuclear country with the government now trying to use it for civilian purposes.where does the US come in? because if US doesn’t come in…there are 2 points
    1) somebody else like France or Israel (with US support, of course) might come up with a deal to supply uranium on a smaller basis, not so large as this deal.
    2) This (South Asia ) is the region of growth.for the next 50 years this region will rule a lot of topics and debates in the world politics and all those heavy words such as balance shift and strategic balance do apply to it.lets get serious.which countries in this region can US become nuclear friends with…Pakistan is a strict no no because of their history of exchanges of technology.china is a threat to US and will be their biggest threat to control over trade and military influences and military power. If you look carefully the kind of nuclear power china currently possesses and intends to have is very much based on the nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines they have or intend to build.that means range.kill fast and swift from a longer can you stop this. 1) by building US bases in this south asian region…not a very good idea considering the volatility and the increasing range of ballistic missiles being successfully tested in the region.
    2) make an ally. and India being the option that many has said as the least worst one…makes sense. only thing to keep in mind is, India should not get into a closeness that could change its own terms.

  8. A bit of boring history:
    The first nuke proliferation happened from Germany to US/UK. On non NATO side to Russia (Soviet). From Russia to China, China to everywhere in this world. India and French chose to have independent path to nukes. India’s only fault was that it was a non aligned country with slight tilt towards Soviets (And the fault lies with US for supporting Pakistan). US had its need to block India as it feared India might veer fully into Soviet sphere. Soviets chose not to back too much. So when India tested in 1974, NPT came into fore with a pre-dated time demarcation on weapons status. That was done to exclude India specifically.
    Dear Kevin:
    I guess we are talking about the political aspect of Indo US nuclear deal ;)
    If you don’t enjoy “imaginative” usage of “phrases” as in “Ayotolla” and “Gestapo” please ignore them and just assimilate the core. You are indeed correct that India is in a unstable region with authoritarian and irresponsible countries surrounding it. So out of compulsion India has to have nukes as insurance. Please note that India is forefront in advocating total elimination of nuclear weapons. Missiles in Indian arsenal like Agni are capable of intercontinental range by design but India chose not to test them at those ranges (Not to create fear and distrust beyond it’s sphere of problems,read China and South Asia).

    India and Israel are responsible nations, but are forced to act out of their compulsions. US has faulted seriously in choosing it’s friends in 70’s out of cold war compulsions. Good news is that it has started learning from it’s past mistakes.
    Let’s all peace loving people make this world a better place to live.

  9. Out of the following 5 phases of nuclear reactor

    * Input
    * Production
    * Distribution
    * Consumption
    * Output

    I think UN or an non-partisan organization must have an exclusive control over DISTRIBUTION and OUTPUT of
    all Nuclear Reactors across the world.

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