When India is aspiring for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, and harmonizing its export control rules with global norms, sporadic allegations have been made against its impeccable non-proliferation credentials.

Recently, David Albright et al, in an ISIS report, clubbed India among a group of “future illicit nuclear trade suppliers of concern” and claimed that India’s enforcement of export control laws is worse than Germany’s. India’s procurement of dual-use technology from the international market is perceived as transposable with nuclear proliferation. This rumination rather raises questions about our understanding of the basic concept of proliferation. Horizontal proliferation – proliferation beyond one’s boundary – is different from the acts of acquiring items for one’s own national program. On the former, India’s record is fairly good despite remaining outside the non-proliferation regime. If India intends proliferation, it would not have “rebuffed Libya’s request for nuclear weapons help in 1978”.

In January 2012, the NTI Nuclear Material Security Index placed India at 28th position, followed by Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. The report asserted that “four countries have particularly low levels of transparency, specifically Israel, North Korea, India and China, on materials and materials security”. For India, adhered to no-first-use nuclear posture, survivability of its nuclear assets, and thereby secrecy, is crucial. It was, in fact, a conscious decision by Indian authorities not to share such information with a private organisation like NTI. This has perhaps led to “guess work” on India’s nuclear inventory security status.

Furthermore, Joshua Pollack, a consultant to the US government, has gone to the extent of saying that “India appears to be the strongest candidate for the Khan network’s fourth customer” (January 2012). He attempted to crack the A.Q. Khan’s “fourth-customer mystery” by jointing the untraced shipments of centrifuge components by Abu Tahir with the mention of India in a South African court document. In fact, he offered little credible evidence to back this contention, other than to point similarities between Indian and Pakistani centrifuge made by Khan, and imaginary link between Khan network and India’s procurement of “flow meter units”.

Pollack has hinted A.Q. Khan’s blaming of foreign members of his network, especially branding Farooq as “a thief, a blackmailer and an agent of the CIA.” Also, Rudd Lubbers, former Dutch Prime Minister, revealed that A.Q. Khan was bailed out twice by the CIA when he was about to be arrested by Dutch authorities. Given this fact, Pollack could have inquired what the CIA, thereby the United States, got out of the tracking of Khan’s activities. Hypothetically, US officials could have confiscated one (missing) shipment to examine what Khan’s dealings were up to. Secondly, though Pollack has strongly referred Khan’s letter to his wife, he seems to have overlooked the mention there about his links with China – “we had cooperation with China for 15 years”. It would have been appropriate to explore what the Sino-Pak nuclear barter was keeping Khan’s missing shipment in mind. Otherwise, Pollack’s assumption (text of article available here), also published in the Playboy magazine, is certainly enticing “Entertainment for [anti-nuclear] Men”.

As far as India’s export control framework is concerned, it matches the global standards and its policy of non-transfer of reprocessing and enrichment technologies, in fact, puts it in an “NPT plus” category. India’s adherence to the UNSCR 1540 has further aligned India with global best practices. The separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities and the IAEA Additional Protocol aimed to increase the confidence of international community in the robustness of India’s export control.

With the Chemical Weapons Convention (Amendment) Act (2012), no Indian company can trade chemicals and precursors placed under the Schedule 2 with countries outside the CWC. The amended Foreign Trade (Development & Regulation) Act 2010 has added new provisions for the control of dual-use items. The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act of 2005 or the WMD Act introduced almost all of the global best practices to the Indian export controls system. India has recently made changes to its national export control list – the Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Electronics, and Technology (SCOMET) List. ‘Category Zero’ of the list includes “nuclear materials, nuclear-related other materials, equipment and technology”.

As far as enforcement of India’s export control is concerned, scope for improvement is always there. However, responsible implementation of comprehensive regulatory mechanism, licensing, and private sector engagement policy has been undertaken since India’s independence with subsequent improvements in all aspects.

An impressive institutional framework has been developed for this purpose. The Directorate-General of Foreign Trade is the nodal agency. The Additional Director-General of Foreign Trade, in charge of SCOMET items, coordinates with different government agencies. Application for the supply of SCOMET items is examined by an Inter-Ministerial Working Group. Representatives from MEA, MoD, DRDO, Department of Defence Production, DAE, DoS, ISRO, National Authority of the CWC, Department of Chemical & Petrochemicals, and intelligence agencies participate in its proceedings. On the ground, India’s customs department has a large manpower base assisted by fully automated IT systems for training and operations. India has also introduced an advanced automated export control system that requires suppliers to register with customs offices under an accredited client system. It would be of everyone’s interest to know what criteria Albright and team used to downgrade India’s enforcement of export control laws.

Lastly, keeping in mind the risk of proliferation, India has been cautious of enforcing trade regulations without creating unnecessary impediments to legitimate trade. At no stage India supported theories that projected nuclear proliferation as a version of ‘balance of power’. Rather, it has always emphasized prevention of nuclear weapons spread is in its own interests.

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