U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement puts NPT regime in jeopardy

by Yumi Kanazaki

The United States and India are accelerating their efforts to put into effect the U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement, a pact that would permit the export to India of nuclear power generation equipment and uranium. India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was created to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world. In Japan, both supporters and opponents of the use of nuclear energy are stepping up their criticism of the agreement, saying it will lead to the collapse of the NPT regime. They believe that such an agreement violates the principles of the NPT in permitting cooperation, even to the extent of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, with a non-member nation of the NPT.

Concern about repercussions on other countries

If the agreement is put into effect, the U.S. will be able to export materials to India and assist India in the use of nuclear energy. On July 22, India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh called for a vote of confidence in his administration with regard to this agreement. A majority of the members of Parliament voted in favor of the motion, paving the way for implementation of the agreement.

Furthermore, on August 1, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which Japan is a member, unanimously approved an agreement providing for safeguards (inspections) by which the IAEA can monitor India’s use of nuclear energy.

But obstacles remain. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which includes Japan, must approve the agreement between the U.S. and India. On July 29, representatives of the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs visited the Foreign Ministry and appealed to the government to oppose the agreement.

The NPT’s signatory nations are divided into nuclear-weapon states--the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom--and non-nuclear-weapon states, which includes all other nations. While recognizing the current possession of nuclear weapons by the nuclear-weapon states only, it also imposes an obligation to reduce nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, the non-nuclear-weapon states have concluded agreements for the application of full-scope safeguards and have had to recognize the IAEA’s right to conduct strict oversight of activities in which nuclear energy is used in order to ensure that nuclear power technology and uranium are used only for peaceful purposes and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

In 1998, India embarked on a program of nuclear testing and Pakistan, in response, began nuclear testing of its own. If the agreement between the U.S. and India is implemented, India will obtain the rights of a nuclear-weapon state with none of the obligations. If an exception is made for India, Pakistan and other nations that have not signed the NPT may demand the same rights. Philip White, International Liaison Officer of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo, has expressed serious concern that the agreement may lead to a nuclear arms race in Asia.

Both the U.S. and India took the occasion of the July 2005 joint statement to begin working on an atomic energy cooperation agreement. The U.S. has a law banning the export of nuclear technology and materials to nations that are not signatories to the NPT. Nevertheless, in December 2006 it passed the Henry J. Hyde U.S.-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act (Hyde Act), which makes an exception for India, and in August 2007, agreement was reached on its terms.

Inspections India will be subject to are limited

The U.S. has stressed the benefits of the agreement. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, said, “The fact that Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA, has been supportive of this deal, I think, supports the notion that this is good for the international nonproliferation regime.” But the inspections that India will be subject to are limited when compared to the strict inspections that signatories to the NPT must submit to. For example, there are 22 nuclear reactors in India, including those under construction, but only 14 of them--those that India has designated for “civilian use”--will be subject to inspection. Reprocessing plants and fast-breeder reactors, from which plutonium can be obtained and used for nuclear weapons, will not be subject to inspection.

If the U.S. halts the supply of uranium, India may refuse to undergo IAEA inspections and may look for other suppliers. This means that even if India conducts another nuclear test and the U.S. applies sanctions, India will still be able to continue nuclear development. Prime Minister Singh has stated that the agreement does not put curbs on India’s future nuclear-related activities.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, associate vice president of the Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry and a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy of the University of Tokyo, noted that people may conclude that inspections are meaningless and that the IAEA’s credibility will be affected. He warned that once the agreement is put into effect, other nations may start developing nuclear weapons in disregard of the NPT.

The possibility that the assistance to India may be put to military use has also been pointed out in the U.S. A report published by the Congressional Research Service in May of this year noted that “…there would be little assurance that assistance to the safeguarded program could not migrate to the military program. For example, U.S. assistance to one of the eight indigenous power reactors, whether focused on nuclear safety, improving operational efficiency, or extending its lifetime, could easily be applied by Indian personnel to one of the similar, but un-safeguarded indigenous power reactors.”

There are reasons behind the rush by the U.S. and India into nuclear cooperation. One is the need to address the rapidly growing demand for energy by India’s population of 1.1 billion, and another is an effort to fight global warming. The assertion is that if India can rely on nuclear energy and not oil or coal, this will help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan in a position to refuse

On the other hand, some have said that the true aim of the U.S. is directly related to its global strategy. Takenori Horimoto, a professor at Shobi University, near Tokyo, and an expert on U.S.-India relations, said the agreement is an attempt to counter China’s power by strengthening U.S-India ties. He added that the U.S. is also trying to stay ahead of France, Russia, and other nations in the global nuclear energy market.

In stating the Japanese government’s stance on the agreement, the Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control and Disarmament Division chose its words carefully, saying that if the agreement between the U.S. and India is implemented it will be necessary to seriously consider whether or not it presents an obstacle to the NPT regime. However, Taro Kono, secretary-general of the non-partisan Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, harshly criticized the government, saying that “it should have immediately expressed its opposition to the agreement.” The viewpoint of Japan, which has called on India to join the NPT, will be the focus of attention.

Japan is in a position to refuse to approve putting the agreement into effect, in particular because the NSG requires the unanimous approval of all 45 member nations. If Japan opposes the agreement, the U.S. and India will be unable to move forward with their plans. The Japanese government must not merely follow the lead of the U.S.; as an A-bombed nation, Japan has a responsibility to the world to make a compelling case for its position after clearly outlining the path to nuclear abolition.

As an A-bombed nation, Japan must express opposition and not yield to U.S. pressure

How should Japan deal with the nuclear agreement between the U.S. and India? The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Kinji Koyama, 72, adjunct research fellow at the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, which is administered by the Foreign Ministry.

What are the problems with the agreement?

It can be described as an agreement to assist India’s nuclear weapons development. It runs counter to the philosophy of the IAEA Statute and the principles of its safeguards, which limit the use of nuclear energy to peaceful purposes, as well as the policies of the NSG.

Considering its impact in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, in some ways I would like to support the agreement, but if exceptions are made just for countries that benefit the interests of the U.S., international treaties will lose their universality.

The need for unanimous approval poses an obstacle to changing NSG policy.

Although the countries of Northern Europe and others are clearly concerned, we must not be complacent. A superpower like the U.S. will apply tremendous diplomatic pressure, and Japan will not be exempt. But if Japan, as the only A-bombed country, does not oppose this agreement, which may close off the path toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, what countries will oppose it?

Is there a way to strike a balance between nuclear cooperation on the one hand and disarmament and non-proliferation on the other?

If you want to get the cooperation of other nations on nuclear energy, first of all you have to promise not to develop nuclear weapons. You must sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and declare a halt to the production of weapons-grade fissile materials such as plutonium and enriched uranium that can be used in the production of nuclear weapons.

It is also important to deal with the nuclear weapons that India already possesses. One proposal is for several countries to share control of India’s nuclear warheads or for control to be entrusted to the U.S. Japan should go before the NSG and other organizations and demand these terms as an absolute minimum.


Nuclear Suppliers Group
The Nuclear Suppliers Group was established in 1974 under the direction of the United States after India began nuclear weapons testing with the use of a nuclear reactor intended for “peaceful purposes.” With 45 member nations, the NSG controls the export of technology and materials that can be used for nuclear activities. The Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna serves as the NSG Point of Contact.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would ban all nuclear tests involving nuclear explosions. Ratification by all 44 countries that are believed to possess the ability to develop nuclear weapons is necessary, but India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed the treaty, and six countries, including the U.S., China, Israel, and Iran have not ratified it.

(Originally published on August 3, 2008)