The Future of US-India Nuclear Co-Operation: Sagarika Dutt Suggests That the October 2008 'Deal' Has Strengthened the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime

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On 10 October 2008, India and the United States signed the 123 Agreement for co-operation between the two countries in the field of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, a few days after President Bush had signed the deal into law in the United States. (1) This was the culmination of a process that began over three years ago and gave rise to intense diplomatic and political debate. The agreement will allow India access to nuclear reactors, fuel and technologies from the United States after a gap of 34 years. Washington had terminated nuclear co-operation with India back in 1974 after New Delhi had conducted a nuclear test in the Pokhran desert in Rajasthan. It makes India the only country in the world able to pursue civil nuclear trade with other willing nations even though it has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968. This article explains how this 'deal' has affected domestic politics in India and argues that the issue is not just about promoting strategic co-operation between the United States and India but is also about strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

India has not signed the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) but has declared a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. India's nuclear programme started in the 1960s. It conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 which prompted Western countries, including the United States, to impose sanctions on it. Because of India's 'pariah' status for not signing these treaties its nuclear power programme has developed largely without fuel or technological assistance from other countries. India's nuclear energy self-sufficiency extended from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and construction, to reprocessing and waste management. Nuclear power supplied around 3 per cent of India's electricity in 2007-08, and it is envisaged that this will increase to 25 per cent by 2050 as imported uranium becomes available and new plants come on line. India is also developing technology to utilise its abundant reserves of thorium. It is estimated that India has 290,000 tonnes of thorium reserves, which is about one-quarter of the world's total reserves. (2)

Joint statement

Co-operation between the United States and India in the field of civilian nuclear energy has been a controversial issue right from the start. Building on the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP), a process started by the BJP government, India's present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and President George Bush released a joint statement dated 18 July 2005. They asserted that 'as leaders of nations committed to the values of human freedom, democracy and the rule of law, the new relationship between India and the United States will promote stability, democracy, prosperity and peace throughout the world'. This sweeping statement is followed by a further emphasis on their 'common values and interests', which will form the basis of efforts 'to create an international environment conducive to [the] promotion of democratic values' and 'to combat terrorism relentlessly'. The statement then gives a list of fields in which the two countries will co-operate. They are the economy; energy and the environment; democracy and development; non-proliferation and security; and high technology and space?

A key action point is to 'support and accelerate economic growth in both countries through greater trade, investment and technolog[ical] collaboration'. In the field of energy and the environment, the statement made it clear that the US--India Energy Dialogue would address issues such as energy security and sustainable development. The two leaders agreed on the need 'to promote the imperatives of development and safeguarding the environment' and 'commit to developing and deploying cleaner, more efficient, affordable and diversified energy technologies'.

Discussions between Bush and Singh also addressed the issue of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and Bush expressed the opinion that 'as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states'. …