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) .
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
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
Some states, notably India, Pakistan
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.
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)  of exporting states,
its objective being to ensure that in future such exports were not used for
military purposes. The NSG’s Guidelines 
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 ,
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.
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
“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,
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?
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 , 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
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
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
Ireland is in a position to stop
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.
18 February 2007