Will Ireland stop India becoming the world’s 6th “official” nuclear-weapon state?


There are five “official” nuclear-weapon states in this world - the US, the UK, Russia, France and China - that are permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT) [1].


The US is currently proposing that India be granted the privileges of these “official” nuclear-weapon states, even though it has refused to sign the NPT and has developed nuclear weapons.  In effect, the US is proposing that India be recognised as the 6th nuclear-weapon state in this world, while remaining outside the NPT.


Ireland is in a position to stop this happening.


Ireland’s leading role

On 20 November 1959, on the initiative of Ireland, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proposing that the UN Disarmament Committee consider the feasibility of an international agreement under which the nuclear-weapon powers would not hand over control of nuclear weapons to other states, and non-nuclear-weapon states would not manufacture such weapons.


For the next decade, Ireland was to the fore in seeking international agreement on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and on nuclear disarmament.  This led in 1968 to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT), which was formally proposed by Ireland.  On 1 July 1968, the NPT was opened for signing and was signed by 62 states, including Ireland and Iran.


Some states, notably India, Pakistan and Israel, refused to sign the NPT.  India regarded it as discriminatory against non-nuclear states, in that the five states that possessed nuclear weapons prior to 1 January 1967 - the US, the UK, the Soviet Union, France and China - were allowed to keep them under the Treaty, but states without nuclear weapons that signed the Treaty were forbidden to acquire them.


India developed nuclear weapons, exploding its first nuclear device in 1974.  Since it hadn’t signed the NPT, it didn’t break any international obligations by doing so.  But, there was a price to pay.  In response to its nuclear test in 1974, the US imposed sanctions on it, forbidding the export of nuclear-related material and equipment to it from the US.  Those sanctions are still in operation today, over 30 years later.


Nuclear Suppliers Group

India manufactured the nuclear device it tested in 1974 using fissile material from reactors imported from the US and Canada for civil purposes.  This prompted the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) [2] of exporting states, its objective being to ensure that in future such exports were not used for military purposes.  The NSG’s Guidelines [3] are the generally recognised international rules regulating these exports today and, as such, are a key instrument in enforcing the non-proliferation requirements of the NPT.


At the present time, the NSG has 45 member states.  Ireland is one of them.


Since 1974, it has been very difficult for India to import nuclear goods and it has become more difficult over time, as the NSG has tightened its Guidelines.  These Guidelines apply to all states apart from the five “official” nuclear-weapon states.  Since 1992, they have required an importing state to have all nuclear facilities under its jurisdiction subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (the IAEA).  In IAEA jargon, an importing state is required to have a “full-scope” or “comprehensive” safeguards agreement with the IAEA.


Non-nuclear states that have signed up to the NPT must have such a “comprehensive” safeguards agreement with the IAEA under the terms of the NPT itself, and they should all therefore meet this central NSG criterion for importing nuclear goods.  However, some states that meet this criterion, for example, Iran, are subject to other sanctions that limit their ability to import nuclear goods.


India does not meet this central criterion.  Very few of its nuclear facilities are under IAEA safeguards, and since 1992 it has become next to impossible for it to import nuclear goods. 


India has a civil nuclear power programme fuelled by indigenously mined uranium and it wants to expand this programme to meet its rapidly expanding energy needs.  To that end, it is very keen to import nuclear-related material and equipment.  But, it can’t at the moment because it doesn’t satisfy the central criterion in the NSG Guidelines.


Exception for India

The US is determined to change this.  It wants the NSG to change its Guidelines to write into them an exception for India, so that India, and India alone, is allowed to import nuclear goods without having a “comprehensive” safeguards agreement with the IAEA.


If the US has its way, the NSG Guidelines will be amended so that there will be one rule for India, and another for other importing states.  What the US is proposing is akin to amending an important piece of domestic legislation to write into it an exemption for a named individual.


The NSG operates by consensus and the sustained opposition of any one of its 45 member states would be sufficient to prevent such an extraordinary anomaly being introduced into its Guidelines.  As a member of the NSG, Ireland is in a position to prevent it happening.


The next decision-making meeting of the NSG is scheduled to take place in South Africa in April.


US-India nuclear agreement

The US proposal to grant India this extraordinary privilege is part of a sustained effort to make India a reliable ally of the US in world affairs.  To that end, the US signed a nuclear agreement with India in Washington on 18 July 2005.  In this agreement, the US administration undertook to try to persuade the US Congress to amend US law on the control of nuclear exports to make an exception for India, and to persuade the NSG to amend its Guidelines to make an equivalent exception.


The United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act 2006 [4], passed last December, fulfils the first undertaking.  India will not be required to have “comprehensive” IAEA safeguards as a condition for importing nuclear goods from the US, providing the US manages to persuade the NSG to make an equivalent exception in its Guidelines.  This condition is written into the Act itself, so the ban on India importing US nuclear goods will continue, unless and until the NSG is persuaded to amend its Guidelines.  If such an amendment is made, India will be free to import nuclear goods, not just from the US, but from any supplier state.


Congruent foreign policy

In Section 102 of the Act, Congress sets out its reasoning for passing the Act.  It makes interesting reading.  Specifically, it seeks to reconcile what it states to be the critical US foreign policy objective of nuclear non-proliferation (and the central role of the NPT in achieving that objective) with conferring a unique privilege on India, which has refused to sign the NPT and engaged in nuclear proliferation by developing nuclear weapons.


Congress concludes that “it is in the interest of the United States to enter into an agreement for nuclear cooperation ... with a country that has never been a State Party to the NPT”, providing:


“the country ... has a foreign policy that is congruent to that of the United States, and is working with the United States on key foreign policy initiatives related to nonproliferation; ...


“such cooperation will induce the country to give greater political and material support to the achievement of United States global and regional nonproliferation objectives, especially with respect to dissuading, isolating, and, if necessary, sanctioning and containing states that sponsor terrorism and terrorist groups that are seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability or other weapons of mass destruction capability and the means to deliver such weapons; ...”


Not much doubt there that, in seeking to grant this extraordinary privilege to India, the US is simply pursuing US foreign policy goals.  The interesting question is: are all of the 45 members of the NSG happy to assist the US in pursuing these foreign policy goals?


No conditions attached

It should be emphasised that the US is not proposing that the exception for India be conditional upon its joining the NPT, or restricting its nuclear weapons programme in any way.  As the Indian Government stated bluntly on 29 July 2005 [5], shortly after the original agreement was signed:


“The issue of India’s nuclear weapons or NPT has not been raised in our dialogue with the United States. Our dialogue is predicated on India maintaining its strategic [weapons] programme. Our nuclear deterrent cannot be [the] subject of negotiations with foreign governments and is strictly within our sovereign domain. India has rejected demands for joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon State.”


The NPT is a most unusual treaty, in that there are two classes of signatory with very different rights and duties: (i) “nuclear-weapon” states, which are allowed to keep their weapons, and (ii) “non-nuclear-weapon” states, which are not allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.  However, Article IX(3) of the treaty limits the states allowed to sign as a “nuclear-weapon” state to those that “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967”, namely, the US, the UK, the Soviet Union, France and China.  India cannot sign the NPT as a “nuclear-weapon” state since it didn’t explode a nuclear device until 1974, so, if it were to join the NPT now, it would have to sign as a “non-nuclear-weapon” state, and give up its nuclear weapons in order to do so - which it isn’t going to do.


India the 6th nuclear-weapon state

The matter is now in the hands of the NSG.  If it succumbs to US demands to make an exception for India, then any sense of fair play in the international rules governing nuclear affairs will be at an end.  Not that there was much to begin with, since the NPT granted the five powers that possessed nuclear weapons in 1967 the right to keep them and forbad other signatories from acquiring them.  But this US proposal adds a further twist to the unfairness.


In effect, the US is proposing that India be recognised internationally as the 6th nuclear-weapon state in this world while remaining outside the NPT.


The five official nuclear powers enjoy two privileges (1) they are not subject to sanctions, economic or otherwise, because of their possession of nuclear weapons, and (2) they are free to import nuclear-related material and equipment without having all their nuclear facilities subject to IAEA inspection.  Today, India does not enjoy those privileges, but if the NSG amends its Guidelines as the US wants then India will enjoy those privileges.


In effect, it will have been recognised internationally as the 6th nuclear-weapon state in this world.


Ireland is in a position to stop this happening.


Double standards

President Bush signed the Act paving the way for India to be recognised as the world’s 6th nuclear power on 18 December 2006.  Five days later, on 23 December 2006, at the instigation of the US, the Security Council imposed (albeit nugatory) sanctions on Iran, which, like Ireland, has been a signatory to the NPT from the outset, does not possess nuclear weapons, and the IAEA has found no evidence that it has a weapons programme.


Iran is being sanctioned for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment programme, a programme that is its “inalienable right” under Article IV.1 the NPT, which states:


“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the

Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination …”


One could be forgiven for thinking that double standards are being applied.


David Morrison

18 February 2007





[1]  www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc140.pdf

[2]  www.nuclearsuppliersgroup.org/

[3]  www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/inf254r2p1.shtml

[4]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/other-documents/us-india-act.pdf

[5]  pmindia.nic.in/pressrel.htm