America’s Newest Strategic Partner

“The U.S.-India civil nuclear deal is a strategic win,” according to Secretary of State Condi Rice, and “seen in the larger context of the elevation of India-United States relationship” to “a strategic partnership,” she urged Congress this week to approve it. How can a “civil” nuclear deal do that?

It can’t. It’s really a deal that allows the Indians to import nuclear power plants, while focusing their domestic nuclear program on producing nukes to be delivered via ballistic missile to China.

That’s how this deal makes us “strategic” partners.

So, what’s the deal?

Well, India became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) back in 1957.

The primary mission of the IAEA is to facilitate the widest possible international transfer and safe application of nuclear energy. Its secondary mission is to ensure – insofar as it is able – that the materials, equipment, and technology so transferred are not used in furtherance of a military purpose.

To accomplish its missions, the IAEA requires the subjection to the IAEA safeguards and physical security regime those materials, equipment, and technology so transferred.

In the event the IAEA determines that safeguarded materials or equipment are used in furtherance of a military purpose, the IAEA is required to report that to the UN Security Council.

India has IAEA safeguards agreements in force, covering some – but not all – civil nuclear activities.

But the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force in 1970, and India – which would have had to pledge “not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons” and to subject all of its nuclear activities to a safeguards agreement – refused to sign it.

Then, in 1974, India tested what it claimed was a “peaceful” nuclear explosive device.

As a direct result, the Nuclear Suppliers Group was established. Comprised of 44 nuclear-supplier states – including China, Russia, and the United States – NSG members voluntarily agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and nuclear-related equipment and technology to non-nuclear-weapon states.

The NSG has two sets of guidelines. Part I comprises materials and technology intended specifically for nuclear use, including fissile materials, nuclear reactors and associated equipment, and nuclear material reprocessing and enrichment equipment.

Part II comprises dual-use equipment that could have nuclear applications.

IAEA safeguards are only required on the specific nuclear activity or facility where the NSG Part II imports will be employed.

But, since 1992, to be eligible for importing Part I items from an NSG member – irrespective of whether they are NPT signatories or not – importing states must have in place a comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreement covering all their nuclear activities and facilities.

Hence, the IAEA-NSG nuke proliferation-prevention regime effectively supersedes the NPT. The NSG “verifies” the intended peaceful use of nuclear exports, and the IAEA “verifies” the peaceful use of nuclear imports.

In 2001, the Bush-Cheney administration – citing NSG Part I guidelines – had attempted to prevent the refueling of the safeguarded Tarapur atomic power station by Russia unless India agreed to subject all its nuclear facilities – civil and military – to IAEA safeguards. Russia and India successfully cited the necessity of refueling for emergency “safety” considerations.

Now, Condi’s strategic partnership deal with India will require NSG members – including China and Russia – to permanently “waive” Part I guidelines for India. If they do, that will effectively gut the IAEA-NSG supra-NPT nuke proliferation prevention regime.

But Condi’s real problem is Congress.

You see, as a direct result of the Indian nuclear weapons tests in 1974, Congress amended the Arms Export Control Act to prohibit even “economic assistance” to any “recipient country” unless that country “has entered into an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to place all such equipment, materials, technology, and all nuclear fuel and facilities in such country under the safeguards system of such Agency.”

So French President Chirac will probably turn out to be right. The deal he cut with the Indians is better “because it is not subject to the hazards of the American Congress.”

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.