In December 2006, the “Henry Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act” was passed with strong bipartisan support consistent with the sense of the US Congress that it is in the interest of the US and the non-proliferation regime to negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement with India. The Act stated that India has demonstrated responsible behavior with respect to the nonproliferation of technology related to nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. It specified that civil nuclear cooperation with India would provide greater political and material support to the achievement of US global and regional nonproliferation objectives of dissuading, isolating, sanctioning and containing states that sponsor terrorism and terrorist groups seeking nuclear weapons capability or other WMD capability and their delivery means. Five years later, in July 2013, a ISIS report has clubbed India with a list of several countries posing concerns of illicit nuclear trade consumers in future. The issue needs to be delved into closely.
The report claims that along with several other countries, India has been a benefactor of the AQ Khan network. It alleges that Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and likely India “still depend on illicitly obtaining goods” like vacuum pumps, vacuum measuring equipment, high strength aluminum, ring magnets, etc ((p.37). Arguably several of these items mentioned have dual use utilities except for a few. Besides, there is no clinching evidence whereby it can be claimed that India in particular has illicitly procured any sensitive equipment/materials and thereafter utilized it for nuclear activity clandestinely. Likewise, the assertions that India has been an important benefactor of the AQ Khan network and is presently reliant on illicit nuclear network for procurement of sensitive nuclear materials lack considerable credibility.
The ISIS report claims that “states such as India …… may resist reforms in trade control systems and rigorous enforcement of trade control laws” (p.55). This is contestable. India is cognizant of the challenges posed by proliferation of WMD and their delivery means to its national security and the international order. The danger of terrorists gaining access to WMDs has aggravated the threat of nuclear terrorism globally. Based on these considerations, India recognizes the importance of export controls not only for its own national security but also for the international order. In consistence with these necessities, India has committed to cooperate with the international community to promote and advance the goals of non-proliferation and international security. As a responsible nuclear power possessing advanced and sensitive nuclear technology and materials, India recognizes the critical importance of conscientious handling of its nuclear materials and technology right from its production stage to usage and its safe and secured disposition. Towards that end, India has joined the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) both of which are directed towards the protection of nuclear facilities and safeguards. In November 2004, India submitted its first report on measures taken to implement the obligations set by UNSCR 1540. Following September, India played an exemplary role by promulgating an ordinance to amend the “Unlawful Activities Prevention Act” of 1967, which enhanced punishment for any “unauthorized possession of any bomb, dynamite, or hazardous explosive substance capable of mass destruction or biological or chemical substance of warfare.” Thereafter, India demonstrated consistent adherence to the UNSCR 1540 resolutions by further submitting two more reports to the Security Council.
As a responsible nuclear capable state, India refrains from any illicit nuclear activity involving aiding and abetting terrorists. Its intentions can be discerned from its Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act of 2005 (WMD Act) which criminalizes any transfer of WMD, missiles specially designed for their delivery, and WMD-usable materials, equipment and technologies; or to transfer fissile or radioactive material for use in terrorist acts (Sections 8 & 9). In 2010, the Indian Parliament passed the Foreign Trade Act which has broadened the domain of dual-use controls. Earlier in 2013, India’s efforts to further tightening its export controls was made evident by announcing that India’s national Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) list has been updated to be on par with the existing NSG and MTCR lists and are expected to be “more stringent than those practiced by the NSG and MTCR.”
There is a general belief among a section of non-proliferation advocates that the India-US civil nuclear deal has the potential to increase India’s nuclear weapons inventory. But that is only side of the picture. The civil nuclear deal was by nature a detailed and complex agreement and its completion entailed several intricate measures with wide-ranging implications. Undoubtedly, because of the difficulties involved the deal is subject to numerous interpretations. Despite so, it can be stated quite authoritatively that if at all, India was believed to be a potential proliferator, the Bush administration would not have invested its political capital in facilitating the civil nuclear initiative. The Indo-US nuclear deal was a way of India’s reassurance to the international community that India is a responsible nuclear nation that can further strengthen the nonproliferation regime. As voluntary steps to its civil nuclear initiative, India has placed 12 out of 14 reactors under IAEA Safeguards; refrained from transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not possess them; declared unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing committed to work towards FMCT negotiations. These measures not only strengthen the non-proliferation regime but constituted important CBMs in reassuring our neighbours particularly Pakistan that India does not seek to engage in any arms race.
Arguably, India is a non-NPT member and can be declared a potential terrorist state. But that is not strategically feasible because India poses no proliferation concerns. India’s responsible nuclear record must be upheld by the international community as an exemplar that a clean non-proliferation record is the only way to make our neighbours and the rest of the world feel safe.