The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

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Esther Pan; Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer
Council on Foreign Relations
Thursday, September 4, 2008; 11:37 AM

Introduction

The U.S. Congress on October 1, 2008, gave final approval to an agreement facilitating nuclear cooperation between the United States and India. The deal is seen as a watershed in U.S.-India relations and introduces a new aspect to international nonproliferation efforts. First introduced in the joint statement released by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005, the deal lifts a three-decade U.S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India. It provides U.S. assistance to India's civilian nuclear energy program, and expands U.S.-India cooperation in energy and satellite technology. But critics in the United States say the deal fundamentally reverses half a century of U.S. nonproliferation efforts, undermines attempts to prevent states like Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, and potentially contributes to a nuclear arms race in Asia. "It's an unprecedented deal for India," says Charles D. Ferguson, science and technology fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you look at the three countries outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-Israel, India, and Pakistan-this stands to be a unique deal."

What are the terms of the deal?

The details of the deal include the following:

  • India agrees to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog group, access to its civilian nuclear program. But India would decide which of its many nuclear facilities to classify as civilian. By March 2006, India promised to place fourteen of its twenty-two power reactors under IAEA safeguards permanently. India also promised that all future civilian thermal and breeder reactors shall be placed under IAEA safeguards permanently. Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says these will now include domestically built plants, which India has not been willing to safeguard before now. Military facilities -- and stockpiles of nuclear fuel that India has produced up to now -- will be exempt from inspections or safeguards.
  • India commits to signing an Additional Protocol (PDF) -- which allows more intrusive IAEA inspections -- or its civilian facilities.
  • India agrees to continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.
  • India commits to strengthening the security of its nuclear arsenals.
  • India works toward negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) with the United States banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes.India agrees to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that don't possess them and to support international nonproliferation efforts.
  • U.S. companies will be allowed to build nuclear reactors in India and provide nuclear fuel for its civilian energy program.

What kind of technology would India receive in return?

India would be eligible to buy U.S. dual-use nuclear technology, including materials and equipment that could be used to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, potentially creating the material for nuclear bombs. It would also receive imported fuel for its nuclear reactors.

What do proponents say about the deal?

Proponents of the agreement argue it will bring India closer to the United States at a time when the two countries are forging a strategic relationship to pursue their common interests in fighting terrorism, spreading democracy, and preventing the domination of Asia by any single power. Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- currently serving as an adviser to the State Department on Indian affairs -- says in congressional testimony that the deal recognizes this growing relationship by engaging India, which has proven it is not a nuclear proliferation risk. Other experts say the deal lays out the requirements for India to be recognized as a responsible steward of nuclear power. "This is part of a process of making India a more durable and reliable nuclear partner," Schaffer says.

Other experts say the deal:

  • Would encourage India to accept international safeguards on facilities it has not allowed to be inspected before. This is a major step, experts say, because the existing nonproliferation regime has failed either to force India to give up its nuclear weapons or make it accept international inspections and restrictions on its nuclear facilities. "President Bush's bilateral deal correctly recognizes that it is far better for the nonproliferation community if India works with it rather than against it," writes Seema Gahlaut of the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade and Security in a CSIS policy brief. IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei has strongly endorsed the deal, calling it a pragmatic way to bring India into the nonproliferation community.

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