NEW DELHI - Campaigners for a nuclear-free South Asia are aghast at the potential
nightmare that lies ahead following the nuclear technology and fuel deal announced
here this week by visiting United States President George W. Bush and Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"This deal may have further complicated an already difficult situation in
South Asia which has two rival self-declared nuclear weapon states," said N.D.
Jayaprakash, lead campaigner for the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament
(MIND), which counts among its ranks well-known scientists and intellectuals.
"What is sad is that nowhere in all this did the idea that nuclear weapons
are not safe in anybody's hands come up, and now, far from the disarmament debate,
the clamor by other countries that they too be allowed to possess nuclear weapons
has grown louder," he added.
Pakistan, where Bush was rounding off his four-day South Asian tour on Saturday,
was first off the block demanding a civilian nuclear technology deal similar
to the one Washington signed with its regional rival on the grounds that it
was short on fossil fuel.
But, at a televised press conference in Islamabad, Bush ruled out any such
deal with Pakistan. "We discussed the civilian nuclear program and I explained
to him [Musharraf] that Pakistan and India are different countries with different
needs and different histories," Bush said.
"What is happening is that, with this deal, the U.S. has itself become
the biggest proliferator of nuclear technology," Prof. Anuradha Chinoy,
disarmament specialist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told IPS in
an interview. "The only difference is that what the U.S. is practicing
is selective proliferation."
Chinoy said the deal went against the ideal of universal disarmament and would
only make aspirant countries, denied entry into the select nuclear club, even
more dangerous and desperate, as could be seen from the examples of Iran, Pakistan,
and North Korea. Iran has already accused the U.S. and India of double standards.
As its case moves toward a likely referral to the UN Security Council, Iran
will certainly raise the "double standards" pitch.
Worst of all, said Chinoy, the "U.S. and India are now partners in violating
international law by not involving the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]
and the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] before agreeing to transfer
nuclear fuel and technology."
Both the IAEA and the NSG are United Nations bodies.
Indian newspapers, however, have been hailing the deal as a triumph for its
negotiators' skills. They succeeded in keeping the country's demonstrated capacity
to make nuclear weapons away from international inspections while gaining access
to advanced reactors and technology for its civilian program.
On top of that, India has all along refused to be signatory to the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it was discriminatory. It
carried out nuclear tests in 1974, attracting international sanctions, but defiantly
went on to declare itself a nuclear weapons state in 1998 through a second round
Following Thursday's deal, Singh told a press conference that under the Indo-U.S.
pact the NSG and the IAEA would be made to formulate India-specific safeguards.
Under existing rules, by contrast, the NSG cannot supply "dual-use"
nuclear technology to India since it does not accept full-scope IAEA safeguards
on nuclear facilities.
So far, though, the agreement has received praise from IAEA director general
Mohamed El Baradei, who has described it as "timely for ongoing efforts
to consolidate the nonproliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism, and strengthen
India has been allowed to classify eight of its existing 22 reactors as military
and keep them away from IAEA inspectors and also decide whether any future reactor
it builds ought to be classified as civilian or military.
Most importantly, India has been able to keep its entire fast-breeder reactor
program in the military list. Fast breeders use fission caused by fast neutrons
and burn highly concentrated or enriched fuel, and, theoretically, they generate
more fissile material than they consume. And the deal has no caps on fissile
material, including weapons-grade plutonium.
Even before Bush landed in India on Wednesday, Singh pledged in parliament
that the fast breeder program, a pet project of India's secretive Department
of Atomic Energy (DAE), would not be compromised in any way.
"It is possible that DAE officials want to have the option of producing
nuclear fuel for weapons in these unsafeguarded reactors," said M.V. Ramana,
a well-known physicist at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment
and Development, located in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Another possible reason for the fierce resistance put up by DAE, through interviews
fed to the media by its chief Anil Kakodkar, is that the fast breeder sites
also house facilities for the nuclear reactor that India is developing for its
submarines. "Indian authorities probably don't want IAEA inspectors lurking
around there," Ramana told IPS.