NEW DELHI – Campaigners for a nuclear-free South Asia are aghast at the potential nightmare that lies ahead following the nuclear technology and fuel deal announced here this week by visiting United States President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"This deal may have further complicated an already difficult situation in South Asia which has two rival self-declared nuclear weapon states," said N.D. Jayaprakash, lead campaigner for the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament (MIND), which counts among its ranks well-known scientists and intellectuals.
"What is sad is that nowhere in all this did the idea that nuclear weapons are not safe in anybody’s hands come up, and now, far from the disarmament debate, the clamor by other countries that they too be allowed to possess nuclear weapons has grown louder," he added.
Pakistan, where Bush was rounding off his four-day South Asian tour on Saturday, was first off the block demanding a civilian nuclear technology deal similar to the one Washington signed with its regional rival on the grounds that it was short on fossil fuel.
But, at a televised press conference in Islamabad, Bush ruled out any such deal with Pakistan. "We discussed the civilian nuclear program and I explained to him [Musharraf] that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories," Bush said.
"What is happening is that, with this deal, the U.S. has itself become the biggest proliferator of nuclear technology," Prof. Anuradha Chinoy, disarmament specialist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told IPS in an interview. "The only difference is that what the U.S. is practicing is selective proliferation."
Chinoy said the deal went against the ideal of universal disarmament and would only make aspirant countries, denied entry into the select nuclear club, even more dangerous and desperate, as could be seen from the examples of Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea. Iran has already accused the U.S. and India of double standards. As its case moves toward a likely referral to the UN Security Council, Iran will certainly raise the "double standards" pitch.
Worst of all, said Chinoy, the "U.S. and India are now partners in violating international law by not involving the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] before agreeing to transfer nuclear fuel and technology."
Both the IAEA and the NSG are United Nations bodies.
Indian newspapers, however, have been hailing the deal as a triumph for its negotiators’ skills. They succeeded in keeping the country’s demonstrated capacity to make nuclear weapons away from international inspections while gaining access to advanced reactors and technology for its civilian program.
On top of that, India has all along refused to be signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it was discriminatory. It carried out nuclear tests in 1974, attracting international sanctions, but defiantly went on to declare itself a nuclear weapons state in 1998 through a second round of tests.
Following Thursday’s deal, Singh told a press conference that under the Indo-U.S. pact the NSG and the IAEA would be made to formulate India-specific safeguards. Under existing rules, by contrast, the NSG cannot supply "dual-use" nuclear technology to India since it does not accept full-scope IAEA safeguards on nuclear facilities.
So far, though, the agreement has received praise from IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei, who has described it as "timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the nonproliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism, and strengthen nuclear safety."
India has been allowed to classify eight of its existing 22 reactors as military and keep them away from IAEA inspectors and also decide whether any future reactor it builds ought to be classified as civilian or military.
Most importantly, India has been able to keep its entire fast-breeder reactor program in the military list. Fast breeders use fission caused by fast neutrons and burn highly concentrated or enriched fuel, and, theoretically, they generate more fissile material than they consume. And the deal has no caps on fissile material, including weapons-grade plutonium.
Even before Bush landed in India on Wednesday, Singh pledged in parliament that the fast breeder program, a pet project of India’s secretive Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), would not be compromised in any way.
"It is possible that DAE officials want to have the option of producing nuclear fuel for weapons in these unsafeguarded reactors," said M.V. Ramana, a well-known physicist at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, located in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Another possible reason for the fierce resistance put up by DAE, through interviews fed to the media by its chief Anil Kakodkar, is that the fast breeder sites also house facilities for the nuclear reactor that India is developing for its submarines. "Indian authorities probably don’t want IAEA inspectors lurking around there," Ramana told IPS.