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From: Brahma Chellaney
The Economic Times , March 18, 2006
Capping India's crown jewels
By bowing to the U.S. demand to accept invasive, everlasting international inspections on its entire civilian nuclear programme, India has embarked on a path which, as the Prime Minister admits, is "difficult to predict", writes
India lives up to George Santayana's saying: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Wishful thinking, personalised policy-making and disinclination to learn from the past have made India relive history. Take the nuclear deal with the U.S., which was sealed in the final minutes after India agreed to put at least 30 of its existing facilities and all its future civilian reactors under international inspections of a kind that only non-nuclear states accept — invasive, everlasting and legally irrevocable.
Importing high-priced power reactors dependent on imported enriched-uranium fuel is a path not to energy security but insecurity. India will also be able to import externally determined quantities of natural uranium but only for those indigenous reactors it is placing under outside monitoring. The price it is willing to pay for such dubious benefits is excessive: a cap on its crown jewels (nuclear weapons) in the form of a 30% cut in weapons-grade plutonium and a 65% cut in tritium and reactor-grade plutonium.
Broadly, India cannot correct its current oil reliance on the Gulf region by fashioning a new dependency on a tiny nuclear-supply cartel made up of a few state-guided firms. While oil is freely purchasable on world markets, the global nuclear reactor and fuel business is the most politically regulated commerce in the world, with no sanctity of contract, as New Delhi found out bitterly when America walked out midway through a 30-year nuclear cooperation pact it signed with India in 1963.
Although the 1963 pact had the force of an international treaty, the U.S. amended its domestic law to unilaterally rewrite its obligations and halt all fuel and spare-parts supplies. In spite of such a material breach and the expiry long ago of the 1963 pact, India has continued to exacerbate its spent-fuel problem at the General Electric-built Tarapur plant by granting the U.S. a right it didn't have even if it had honoured the agreement — a veto on any Indian reprocessing of the accumulating fuel waste.
Yet, India has come full circle today, agreeing to separately negotiate a new civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. Just as America succeeded in 1963 to persuade a reluctant India to accept international inspections at Tarapur in return for assured U.S. fuel supply, Washington has again tasted success. This time, however, in return for similarly assured fuel supply, it has influenced India to agree to outside inspections not for a limited period like before, but permanently.
Such is the U.S. accomplishment that the new inspections regime will cover the entire Indian civilian programme and set India apart as the only nuclear power to accept eternal international "safeguards". What U.S.-inspired technology controls against New Delhi could not achieve over the past three decades, Washington has managed to accomplish by offering to open exports to India of uneconomical reactors.
In a repeat of history, the Prime Minister now touts "assured and full access to fuel" for the reactors India will import under the deal. He forgets that the 1963 pact had also linked India's acceptance of outside inspections to the guaranteed U.S. supply of fuel "as needed". The new assurance, ironically, is to be embedded in a fresh Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation accord, which like the 1963 pact will have to be ratified by U.S. Congress.
To underpin America's lynchpin role in holding New Delhi to its legal commitments, the PM has also agreed to enter into a separate "India-specific" trilateral pact involving the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. This is another instance of New Delhi coming full circle: The 1971 "India-specific" trilateral U.S.-India-IAEA agreement did not stop America from breaching its legal commitments. Paradoxically, no sooner the new deal was announced than the U.S. protested Russia's decision to step in again and supply fuel for Tarapur.
India's misbegotten concessions carry far-reaching consequences. India now faces tortuous follow-up negotiations with the U.S., the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Club and the IAEA. The IAEA, as an international body operating on the basis of legal instruments, will insist on stringent, enveloping inspections when it negotiates with India a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an "Additional Protocol".
This is more so because, under the deal, India has itself agreed to seek not the voluntary, token safeguards applicable to nuclear powers, but the pervasive, perpetual inspections appropriate to a non-nuclear state. Such inspections will forever pursue by-products like discharged fuel wherever they go.
IAEA inspections fall in three classes: INFCIRC/66, INFCIRC/153 and "voluntary" or titular, dispensable safeguards. After the July 18, 2005, accord said India would "voluntarily" accept IAEA inspections, the PM vowed in Parliament to acquire the "same rights and benefits" as the other nuclear powers and to "never accept discrimination". Yet that solemn assurance now lies in tatters.
To rationalise this cave-in, official rhetoric has sought to sway public opinion through the meretricious argument that the "India-specific" inspections in perpetuity are linked to lasting fuel supply. Fuel supply can cover only the average 25-year lifespan of a reactor, but the binding IAEA inspections will remain in place even after the plant has been decommissioned, perpetually chasing its by-products.
In effect, India has undercut its own case to sign an Additional Protocol granting the IAEA only the nominal, non-interventionist responsibilities it has in the five established nuclear powers. Indeed, India has embarked on a safeguards path which, as the PM concedes, is "difficult to predict". By acquiescing to a status less than that of a nuclear-weapons state even as it retains a nuclear military programme, India can expect the IAEA to enforce fail-safe, verifiable civil-military "firewalls" and maximize its inspectors' intrusive ability to detect the smallest possible diversion from the civilian sector.
More significantly, the deal ensures India will stay a second-rate nuclear power, with its stunted capability unable to aid its world-power ambitions.