Indian NSG bid: A Bad Bargain

O
ver the past decade, strategic and economic interests of the U.S. and India have dramatically changed. Several analysts were of the view that India has changed sides and now it is time for Russia to rethink its policy. Since then India has given first threat to Russia, the Times of India reported that Indian government plans to stall nuclear projects invested by Russia.

The next day, Times of India again reported that despite of Russian government’s pleas, Indian government has yet to make a decision on MoUs. Clearly, India thinks now it can dictate Russian policies; it is because now India has the U.S. assistance in managing its nuclear ambitions, and does not need any Russian help.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group is going to held plenary meeting this month. These is a need to keep in mind a report “India’s Nuclear Exceptionalism” by Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow said that India is planning to increase the nuclear share in total power generation capacity to 25% by 2050. It will also allow India to stockpile enough weapons-usable nuclear material for over 2600 weapons an estimated within the next decade.

India is expanding its nuclear power program as part of its three-stage program and it has declared construction of various types of nuclear reactors, including the Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) and Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs). The said capacity is going to produce excess amount of fissile material, other than required for fueling the breeder and naval reactors programs.

India is already working to install more than 5 fast breeder reactors which will increase its weapons-grade plutonium production capacity by twenty times to 700 kg every year. Similarly, it’s expansion in its centrifuge enrichment program will enable it to increase production of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons to 160 kg every year, more than requirement of nuclear submarine fuel for five submarines. With such amount of weapons-grade material, India can anytime produce approximately 80 to 90 plutonium based and 7 to 8 Uranium based nuclear weapons, respectively.

For the policy makers in Pakistan, the Study suggests that Pakistan threat perception is justified and therefore has to consider India’s full potential to make nuclear weapons, including both explicit military stocks and unsafeguarded civilian stocks, whether weapon-grade or not, and including material in spent fuel that would still have to be reprocessed.

Existing research produced in other publications and studies does not describe the full potential of Indian nuclear weapons program and estimates up to 110-120 weapons, on the assumptions of much lower production capacity of Indian nuclear reactors, since nuclear tests in 1998. Considering a moderate assumption of fissile material available other than consumed in 1998 tests indicates that India has sufficient material of at least 148 to 198 nuclear weapons only—which is a gross understatement of fact.

India has deliberately kept its fast breeder reactors, and a large part of its so-called civil nuclear program out of the safeguards and monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There is no verifiable mechanism to confirm or deny how much of India’s unsafeguarded weapons-usable and weapons-grade fissile materials has been fabricated into weapons or still remains unweaponized. Thus, India is the only nuclear weapons state which is expanding its civilian nuclear power program outside safeguards on such a large scale which is directly linked to its weapons capability.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group should ask India to bring all its civilian nuclear material and facilities under IAEA safeguards. The NSG membership criteria for non-NPT countries should seek “verifiable separation” through IAEA safeguards on any material or facility designated as “civilian.” This will not only be a non-proliferation measure in so far as all four non-NPT weapon states are concerned, but will also serve to increase transparency for civilian and military streams of India’s nuclear fuel cycle as it will remove the opacity surrounding a large chunk of unsafeguarded civilian fissile material.

A decade ago, Indian Journalist Sanjeev Srivastava in 2005 reported to BBC that India has “nuclear fuel to last only till the end of 2006” and India might have to close down its reactors. Today where India stands is because of the U.S. and the waiver it had received in the form of civil nuclear deal. India therefore has the fastest growing nuclear program outside safeguards among any other non-NPT nuclear state. Soon India will be able to look Russia in the eyes because of the U.S. military assistance. Thus, Russia must review its support to Indian NSG membership because it is more complicated now, and it should not vote for Indian inclusion in NSG.

Current Affairs and Political Science Student holds a Master from NUST, Islamabad

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