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US-India Nuclear Deal at the 2008 NPT PrepCom

The Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (PrepCom) was held from 28 April to 9 May in Geneva. I attended part of the PrepCom on behalf of CNIC and as Coordinator of the Abolition 2000 US-India Deal Working Group.

There were several references to the US-India Nuclear Agreement during this year's PrepCom. Few of the statements mentioned India by name, partly because governments are reluctant to expose themselves to bully tactics from India and the US, but also because they are concerned about the general principle, rather than just the specific case of India. Middle Eastern countries and members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) are particularly concerned about the precedent the agreement sets for Israel. This came across very clearly in NAM's demand that "without exception" non-states parties to the Treaty should not be given access to nuclear material and technology.

Of the statements by members of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), perhaps the most relevant to the US-India Nuclear Agreement were the statements made by Japan and Canada during a session on regional issues on 5 May. The Japanese delegate urged India and Pakistan to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states, to continue their moratorium on nuclear tests and sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and, pending the entry into force of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, to declare a moratorium on the production of fissile material. Canada made similar comments. These issues correspond closely to the concerns raised in a letter signed by 130 experts and nongovernmental organizations from 23 countries, including the President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. This letter, dated 7 January 2008, was sent to governments represented on the NSG and the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors. It also formed the basis of the official NGO presentation about the US-India deal, delivered on 29 April at this year's PrepCom by John Loretz of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. While it was encouraging to hear Japan raise similar concerns to those expressed in the 7 January letter and the NGO presentation, in fact the statement was identical to Japan's statement at last year's PrepCom in Vienna. If anything, it was a step backwards, because last year Japan included an additional paragraph specifically naming the US-India Nuclear Agreement.

One wonders whether Japan raised these issues at the NSG. The Plenary Meeting of the NSG was held on 19-20 May, immediately after the NPT PrepCom. If some countries demand that any special exemption for India from NSG's export guidelines be made conditional on action in these areas, that would probably be enough to block the deal.

A final decision would not have been made at NSG's May meeting, because India must first sign a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. A text has been finalized, but due to opposition in India from political parties on whose support the government depends, the safeguards agreement has not yet been signed. It is reported that if the IAEA and NSG procedures are not completed by July, the US Congress will not have time to approve the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement during the life of the Bush Administration. July is probably not an absolute deadline. It might still be possible to ram the agreement through Congress at the last minute, but as things now stand, it seems likely that the US-India Nuclear Agreement will not be decided until after the next US President is elected.

That is good news, but no one should be under any illusion that the threat to the NPT regime will just disappear. A large section of the Indian establishment still wants access to foreign nuclear material and technology and the US nuclear industry is unlikely to give up hope of exporting to India. Furthermore, India recently initialed bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with France (January 2008) and Russia (February 2008), so pressure for an exemption to NSG export guidelines will continue. When the political circumstances are right, the long-standing sanctions on nuclear trade with India could be brushed aside quite quickly.

With this in mind, the Abolition 2000 US-India Deal Working Group lobbied governments at the PrepCom in Geneva to demand that this issue be addressed in the context of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. We pointed out that it is inappropriate for the 45 members of the NSG to decide the matter without reference to the full NPT membership. As mentioned above, many non-NSG NPT members are deeply concerned about the implications of the deal for the three other states which developed nuclear weapons outside of the NPT. In particular, during this PrepCom many countries criticized a nuclear safety cooperation agreement between the US and Israel (March 2008). It is clear that Middle Eastern states are more interested in the implications for Israel's nuclear weapons program than any benefits they might derive in terms of nuclear safety.

Besides the official NGO presentation and direct lobbying of delegates, the US-India Deal Working Group sponsored a well-attended workshop during the PrepCom. Keynote speakers were M.V. Ramana from the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development in Bangalore and Zia Mian from Princeton University in the US. M.V. Ramana provided general background on the deal and showed that it would substantially increase India's nuclear weapons production capacity. He also pointed out that any benefits from the deal in terms of India's energy supply and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be very limited. Zia Mian placed the deal in a wider geo-strategic and nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation perspective. He explained how it undermines the NPT itself, decisions of the 1995 NPT Extension and Review Conference and the 2000 NPT Review Conference, as well as United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172. He warned that the deal is driving a nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Philip White (NIT Editor)

Zia Mian (left) and M.V. Ramana at NPT PrepCom workshop

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See Abolition 2000 US-India Working Group Web Site


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