Friday, August 29, 2008

Post-NSG U.S.-India Nuclear Deal Update

On August 21 and 22, the NSG held its first extraordinary plenary session to discuss a U.S.-sponsored waiver to exempt India from international rules barring nuclear trade with countries that do not accept full-scope safeguards over all of their nuclear facilities. Below is a summary and analysis of what transpired.

Opposition widespread

Much to its chagrin, India’s demand for a “clean” and “unconditional” exemption from NSG guidelines was not nearly as uncontroversial as India hoped it would be. All told, 20 countries objected to one or more aspects of the proposed waiver. According to Phil Goff, New Zealand’s Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control, “Around 50 amendments have been proposed to the original text, with many countries speaking in favour of amendments.”

New Zealand was part of a group of six “like-minded” states that led the charge in expressing numerous reservations with the proposed waiver. The other members of this group (hereafter “the Group of six”) included Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. In a joint opening statement, they declared their intention to increase “the level of comfort with the proposed exemption,” by introducing “substantive amendments…based on concepts already enshrined in UN Security Council Resolutions, in domestic legislation of NSG Participating Governments and in bilateral nuclear supply agreements which NSG Participating Governments have concluded over the years.”

Based on the accounts offered by diplomats who attended the two-day session, the proposed amendments would provide for three key conditions: 1) the periodic review of India’s compliance with its nonproliferation commitments, 2) a prohibition on the export of uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent-fuel technologies, and 3) the immediate termination of the waiver if India conducts a nuclear test. If these provisions sound familiar, it is because they are. As one EU diplomat put it, "it's fair to say the issues raised follow closely in line with what is in the Hyde Act."

Despite some reports to the contrary, the Group of Six did not insist that India to sign the NPT or CTBT as a precondition for an exemption. “While New Zealand remains a strong advocate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and would welcome India’s accession to these treaties,” said Goff in press conference earlier this week, “we have not included these elements in our package of proposals.”

India blames the U.S.?

India appears to be genuinely shocked by what transpired at the NSG last week. Eager to capitalize on the inability of the ruling Congress-party led governing coalition to deliver a clean and unconditional waiver, the Hindu nationalist BJP, the main opposition party in the Indian parliament, characterized the August 21-22 session as “fiasco that is the result of shoddy homework.”

Yet the emerging consensus in New Delhi seems to be that the United States didn’t do enough to make India’s case. “Things are really very clear,” said a senior Indian official after the NSG failed to approve an exemption for India. “There was an agreement in 2005 in which we both made certain commitments. We have delivered on all of ours. Now the Americans have to deliver the NSG…not us.”

Hindu correspondent and blogger extraordinaire Siddharth Varadarajan argues that the U.S. purposely avoided lobbying on India’s behalf:

At the NSG…all world powers were active supporters of the India initiative (Russia, France, Britain), passive supporters (Japan, Germany and Canada) or neutral (China). With this degree of policy coherence at the great power level, there was no way a sincere [sic] American effort to deliver a clean and unconditional waiver for India would have run aground. What happened at Vienna, however, was a coordinated attack in which the smaller states were encouraged to do Washington’s business for it.
At least one NSG diplomat corroborates Varadarajan’s charge:
The U.S. was quite inactive in lobbying countries with known concerns about the deal before the Aug 21-22 meeting….Their failure to lobby actively may well have been because they were hoping to use other countries to do their dirty work, and insert conditions they were not in a position to insert themselves because they feared the likely reaction from India.
What’s next?

Having failed to secure an exemption during the August 21-22 session, the NSG is scheduled to meet for a second session beginning on September 4. The U.S. is working on a revised waiver proposal that will have to balance the nonproliferation concerns of the Group of Six and India’s desire for a clean and unconditional exemption.

What might such an revised exemption look like? According to M.V. Ramana, a nuclear expert at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development (CISED), Bangalore, India,
The US will probably try to persuade India to accept at least one of the three proposed conditions, namely, exclusion of enrichment and reprocessing technology….It is hard to say if India will agree to this while accepting a periodic review of its non-proliferation commitments and cessation of cooperation in case of an Indian nuclear test…..But it seems even more unlikely…that the NSG dissenters will be satisfied with such a modified draft.
Despite the U.S.’s best efforts to persuade the Group of Six to soften its stance, there is not yet any indication that Group is prepared to back away from the core concerns it raised during the first NSG session. Here’s to hoping that that remains the case through the September 4-5 session.

In sum, the ball appears to be in India’s court: either it accepts some meaningful conditions or it does not. If it does not, it can either walk away from the U.S.-India nuclear deal or try its luck in a third extraordinary plenary session. A third session would almost certainly prevent the U.S. Congress from taking action on the deal before the Bush administration leaves office.

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