- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008




Despite strong opposition from communists and parties on the right, the government of India recently survived a vote of confidence on its nuclear agreement with the United States.

Soon after, the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), representing 35 U.N. members, approved by consensus a safeguards arrangement with India - a linchpin undergirding the agreement.

Finally, after overcoming apparent reservations from several states having little activity in peaceful nuclear energy, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed by consensus to modify its rules to permit trade with India in peaceful nuclear technology. Only the final vote by the U.S. Congress remains.

This vote could come soon. If the congressional schedule permits due deliberation, you will hear variants of four commonly alleged reasons for opposing this agreement. Below we examine these arguments.

(1) The agreement rewards India for bad behavior. Since detonating a nuclear explosion in 1974, India has undergone 30 years of denial of access to U.S. civil nuclear materials and technology, and 16 years of similar denial to the international market. Given India’s scarce domestic supplies of uranium, this market embargo has significantly hampered growth of its civil nuclear program. One can debate whether this is adequate punishment, just as one can debate whether denial of peaceful technology is the best way to encourage desired behavior on nuclear weapons. But describing it as a “reward” ignores the facts.

(2) The agreement will free up Indian domestic uranium for production of weapons material. The agreement will provide India uranium from the international market, under safeguards that will prevent use of this material for weapons. It will leave unchanged how much domestic uranium India has available for weapons use. It further will reduce the number of Indian reactors available for producing weapons material. Therefore the agreement cannot increase India’s capability to produce weapons material.

Under its doctrine of minimum credible deterrence, India historically has produced far less weapons material than it could. The cited argument tacitly assumes this doctrine would be abandoned under the agreement but would continue without the agreement. There no basis for this assumption, and there is reason to expect the opposite. Without the agreement, India’s shortage of uranium could lead to abandonment of its civil nuclear program. This would leave it with no use other than weapons for its limited domestic uranium.

(3) The agreement will damage the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). To the contrary, the agreement is a step toward meeting the U.S. obligation, under Article IV of the NPT, to “co-operate… to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes… with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.”

(4) The agreement will reverse 30 years of U.S. policy. This statement is true, as far as it goes. However, given the events of the last 30 years, how well has this U.S. policy served the nation’s interests? Arguably, these policies have had some success. Unfortunately, this success has been purchased at the cost of the long-term ability of the United States to influence events by cooperating “with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

There is an international perception that U.S. nuclear policy is overwhelmingly directed toward nonproliferation as opposed to cooperation in peaceful uses. This perception is reinforced by instances in which U.S. policy has had no substantive effect, other than to prevent U.S. companies from participating in such peaceful uses. A striking example revolves around the two General Electric reactors at Tarapur (India) that began operation in 1969. As part of the underlying agreement, the United States committed to supply fuel for those reactors and India accepted safeguarding of the reactors against possible weapons use.

Subsequently, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 required the United States to renege on the fuel supply element of this agreement, whereupon India threatened to do likewise for safeguards. The upshot was that a succession of other countries (France, China and now Russia) have supplied safeguarded fuel for these reactors, as various U.S. administrations tacitly looked on, or even actively brokered these arrangements.

In this light, it is not surprising that some countries view U.S. nuclear policy as cynically directed primarily toward limiting peaceful uses under the guise of nonproliferation. In the long run, will a policy so perceived have any success in truly realizing nonproliferation of weapons?

Some programs are currently emerging, from various sources and under the generic description of “fuel assurance,” that represent tentative attempts to address this issue. Even bolder initiatives seem required to restore American leadership. In light of India’s commendable record in nuclear nonproliferation, permitting India to engage in normal international commerce of nuclear materials and technology should enhance international confidence in the U.S. commitment to peaceful use of nuclear energy and advance the world’s aspiration to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Paul Nelson and David Boyle are affiliated with the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute at Texas A&M University. Mr. Nelson is professor emeritus of computer science, nuclear engineering, and mathematics at Texas A&M and a fellow of the American Nuclear Society. Mr. Boyle is a retired Air Force officer and former national nuclear weapons stockpile manager for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors.

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