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Will they make an exception for India?
K Subrahmanyam
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January 17, 2006
There have been a large number of testimonies in the United States Congress by nuclear proliferation experts on the desirability or otherwise of Congress extending exceptionalisation to India from the Non Proliferation Treaty provisions denying India, as a nonmember of the NPT, access to civil nuclear technology.

A majority of the specialists were opposed to India being accorded exceptionalisation. A number of them have also visited this country carrying the same message. At the same time experts specialising on geostrategy have favoured the exceptionalisation to India as they argued this was only one aspect of the comprehensive development of the Indo-US relationsship. While the former tended to look at Indo-US relations through the nonproliferation prism, the latter were of the view that development of Indo-US civil nuclear relations is just one aspect of the multifaceted Indo-US partnership now necessitated in the emerging balance of a power world system.

The proliferation specialists have as their reference point the earlier bipolar world with five permanent members in the Security Council who are the legitimised nuclear weapon powers. In their view, the nonproliferation regime was a stabilising factor and any attempt to tinker with it will destabilise the regime. The exceptionalisation of India will destabilise the regime of the last 35 years which has contributed to limit the nuclear weapon powers to five countries. The alternative world view that today's world is a balance of power system with six powers -- US, Russia [Images], the European Union, China, Japan [Images] and India -- does not seem to be acceptable to them.

Of these six, today Japan and India are not permanent members of the Security Council though both of them have staked their claim. Japan is under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella. India, refused US protection and placed between a proliferating China and proliferating Pakistan in a nuclear axis, found it necessary to go nuclear, especially after the nuclear weapons were legitimised through the indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT in 1995.

'This is a big step we are taking with respect to India'

There are only three States which are non-signatories of the NPT -- Israel, India and Pakistan, and all of them are now nuclear weapon States. Israel has been a nuclear weapon state since 1967, India from 1974 and Pakistan from 1987. Of these three, there have been allegations of Israel's proliferation to South Africa. Pakistan became a supermarket for nuclear proliferation. Only India has not proliferated to any other country. The world has lived with this situation for over a decade and extending to India access to civil nuclear energy is not likely to affect the above situation one way or the other.

The history of proliferation tells a story of complete neglect of proliferation by the nuclear weapon powers as well as international NPT regime.

The first major proliferation was from China to Pakistan and many nuclear weapon powers looked away from this proliferation since Pakistan's support was needed to sustain the Afghan mujahideen insurgency. Israeli proliferation to South Africa and the nuclear test over the Indian Ocean in 1979 were white-washed. Now there are reports of the CIA's linkage with Dr A Q Khan, the Pakistani who set up the nuclear supermarket, over three decades.

'Pakistan's nuclear bazaar

At the 1995 NPT extension conference there could not be declarations that Articles I and II of the NPT were being faithfully observed. In other words there was acceptance that the Nonproliferation regime had been damaged beyond repair. But the NPT community could do nothing worthwhile.

By this time it was well known that apart from China the source of major proliferation to the world was Western European companies and laxity of export controls in Western Europe. The supplies to Pakistan and Iraq in terms of equipment, materials and technical services came from Western Europe. But there was no effective action to stop the continuing haemorrage of technology and equipment from Western Europe. The result was Pakistani proliferation to Iran, North Korea and Libya with Dr A Q Khan acting as a sales agent for European firms.

Even today the international community cannot get access to Dr A Q Khan and obtain a comprehensive account of all his proliferation activities because of Pakistan's non-cooperation. Western countries, the companies of which were invvoled in assisting A Q Khan's nuclear supermarket are not keen on his being subjected to accountability.

Those who are worried about the exceptionalisation to India upsetting the nonproliferation regime have done little to mobilise international opinion on the massive proliferation effort of Dr A Q Khan and his linkages with the CIA which destabilised the NPT regime over the last three decades.

Like all religious fundamentalists, the proliferation fundamentalists lay all their emphasis on the text while ignoring the spirit of the agreement. They did not express their resentment to the earlier proliferations and did not initiate action to consider the conduct of the delinquent nations in the UN Security Council as is now sought to be done for Iran.

The proposed exceptionalisation to India is very much in consonance with the spirit of the NPT. All reactors that would have foreign inputs will be subject to safeguards and there will be a clear division of civil and non-civil sectors. The entire arrangement is about civil nuclear energy in the light of the needs of energy for India's fast growing economy. There will be no help or foreign input into the Indian weapon sector which is what nuclear proliferation is about. Helping India to have access to clean energy cannot affect the non-proliferation regime which has been largely damaged by the proliferation activities of China, Pakistan and Western European companies.

The proliferation pundits appear to think that helping a fast growing economy with clean energy is a reward. If that is the case then the sale of civil nuclear reactors to China is a reward for Chinese-Pakistani nuclear proliferation. It would appear that in the view of the proliferation fundamentalists the NPT is a license to proliferate for nuclear weapon powers like China and companies in nuclear weapon countries and advanced nuclear technology countries.

Fortunately the US government and other governments in the world are able to rise above such narrow nuclear proliferation fundamentalism and regard exceptionalism for India from the NPT as an energy issue. In a newly transformed world in which India is one of the six balancers of power, India has proved to be a responsible power not engaged in proliferation nor lax in export controls of nuclear technology, equipment and materials as some prominent members of the NPT have been.

K Subrahmanyam

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