Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The US-India Nuclear Deal: Constraining the Indian Nuclear Program

A friend of mine saw this article by Professor M. D. Nalapat and asked me the following question:

Does the nuclear deal with the United States limit India's nuclear program in any way?

I think it does.

Firstly, the safeguards regime breaks up existing synergies in the Indian nuclear establishment. By segregating India's establishments into a "civilian" and a "military" sector - the flow of knowledge between these establishments is interrupted and a sizable portion of the facilities now under the civilian sector will have to be duplicated inside the military sector. This is part of a changeover cost that India will have to absorb. As Prof. Nalapat suggests, this could very easily impair India's building of the Thorium based power cycle.

Secondly, as several high ranking NSC types in India have editorialized, the deal ends up enforcing an effective cap on India's weapons grade Pu production. By placing intrusive safeguards on a number of reactors, the deal places limits on India's ability to rapidly turn all of its reactors into weapons grade plutonium factories at any particular instant. If India takes any facility off the "civilian" list then the deal is automatically voided.

Thirdly, the deal firms up India's voluntary moratorium on testing into a deal-breaking clause. To many people this is unacceptable. There is an inward-looking streak in India on foreign policy issues. Per the logic of this inward looking view - decisions of national security should possess an extraordinary degree of autonomy. India's decision to test will rest on its perceptions of the local security situation, and there is no reason why India's decision to test or not to test should be linked to anything other than that.

So why do I still support the idea of the deal?

Well because - we do not have the Uranium to fuel up Tarapur and the Non-Proliferation movement throughout the last thirty years has successfully stifled our technology sector. In my opinion the need for Uranium at Tarapur and the need for an uninterrupted global exposure of our technology sector far outweigh the limitations listed above.

The question of what exactly constitutes credible minimum deterrence is an open one. There are several ways of thinking about the problem, but bearing in mind that credibility does not hinge entirely on the apparent size of the stockpile alone, perhaps it is possible to have an open mind on certain things.

Ultimately, in the even that the nuclear program successfully delivers the Thorium based power solution, we will have to repeatedly choose between whether to make fuel rods or to make weapons with our fissile material. Remember weapons sit in holes in the ground and rot away spending their precious energy irradiating the heavy metal shell that encase them, and fuel rods will make energy which will drive prosperity.

This will always be a difficult choice to make.

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