The US and Indian governments are both having a difficult time trying to justify to various stakeholders the India-US nuclear deal, as part of which the 123 agreement on nuclear cooperation has just been concluded. Under the agreement, which is part of a broad sweep of foreign policy being enacted to bring India closer into the embrace of the United States, it would become much easier for India to obtain technology, equipment and nuclear fuel that have all remained elusive for several decades now, following the nuclear tests that India conducted in 1974 and 1998. With this deal, America is reversing the sanctions it imposed on India, greatly limiting nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

A new stance

In doing so, it has been forced to be creative, because the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forbids such cooperation with states - like India - that have not signed the treaty. Under the Treaty a nuclear weapons State has been defined as the one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January, 1967, and transfer to nuclear technology is only permitted to non-weapons states, with safeguards. India, like Pakistan and Israel, presents a paradox to the treaty; it possesses nuclear weapons, but is not formally recognised under the treaty as a weapons state. So, the US is doing the next best thing, and according India the privileges of being a weapons state - including nuclear cooperation with the US - despite its refusal to sign the NPT.

Why this change of heart? Mainly because the US is now hoping to do business with India in nuclear technology and materials as with any other nuclear weapons or non-nuclear weapons State party to the NPT. As a non-signatory State to the Treaty India is not supposed to derive this privilege from the nuclear weapons states. However, with big money involved, the deal is being stitched together so that India too can buy some technologies that are now available to very close allies of the US like Japan or EURATOM.

To assuage fears of renewed proliferation of nuclear weapons, the US says that by signing the deal with India it is bringing India into the non-proliferation regime as more of India's nuclear facilities will now be subjected to IAEA safeguards. As part of the negotiations India has agreed to bifurcate its nuclear activity into clearly identified civilian and military categories, with the provision of former being open to IAEA inspections. The US has agreed upon this India-specific deal as an exception, in spite of resistance from within and without, because it thinks that India has not contributed to proliferation. In other words, the US is arguing - with India happily nodding in agreement - that India has behaved as a responsible custodian of nuclear technology, and that it is therefore worthy of an exception to the NPT.

With big money involved, the deal is being stitched together so that India too can buy some technologies that are now available to very close allies of the US like Japan or EURATOM.

 •  Deterrence: Who? How? Really?

Against the spirit of the Henry Hyde Act, which bars the US government from nuclear cooperation with India, if India decides to conduct another nuclear test or violates IAEA safeguards agreement, US will not immediately exercise its right of return of materials and technology but, giving due considerations to circumstances which prompted India's action, will work to ensure the continuity of India's nuclear fuel supply from other sources around the world. The text of the 123 Agreement has even gone as far as identifying France, Russia and the UK as potential suppliers in the eventuality of US terminating its supply. Moreover, the US would support India to build up a strategic nuclear fuel reserve ensuring that India will not be stranded like it was when fuel for Tarapur plant was stopped after India's first test.

The issue which clinched the 123 agreement was India's offer to subject a new reprocessing facility, which will be built exclusively for this purpose, to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards in return for the consent to reprocess the spent fuel, even though the current US President is on record saying that enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for a country to move forward with nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. India will be free to maintain and develop its nuclear arsenal. The Deal will not have any impact on this. In fact, with external resources available for its nuclear energy programme, it will be able to divert its internal resources for strengthening its strategic programme. Eight nuclear reactors out of 22, and an upcoming Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor will remain dedicated for military purposes outside the purview of IAEA.

Hence, in essence, India will enjoy all the powers of a nuclear weapons State under the NPT, especially if the Nuclear Suppliers Group of 45 countries also yields to the US-like concessions to India. This is by no means certain, but the US is willing to campaign with the NSG to engage in nuclear trade with India after it has helped India sign an agreement with IAEA on safeguards. Australia, Canada, South Africa and others are only too keen to go along with the US so that they can do business with India giving up their long standing commitment to non-proliferation.

But 123 may not yet be a done deal. In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the deal with the US cannot be re-negotiated, and has declined to revise any of the agreed terms, despite opposition from the BJP as well as his allies in the Left parties. A vote in Parliament has also been ruled out. Ironically, however, US law is more demanding, and President Bush must obtain the consent of the US Congress before the deal becomes final. And it is not at all clear that American legislators, who are now led by opposition Democrats, will go along with the Republican president's plans. Twenty-three US lawmakers have written a letter to the US President on 25 July 2007, expressing concern over India's growing ties with Iran including in the domain of defence partnership. India hopes that the increasingly powerful Indian-American lobby will see the deal through in the US Congress, however.

Upsetting the non-proliferation regime

With the text of this agreement being released just days prior to the annual Hiroshima day, there is consternation among those who believe in a world free of nuclear weapons. India claims that with this deal the global order has been changed. And it is right. It has upset the non-proliferation regime. Globally and regionally it is going to lead to reconfiguration of forces, possibly leading to a renewed arms race.

The National Command Authority of Pakistan, which oversees the nuclear programme there, chaired by President Musharraf, has already expressed its displeasure at the deal and pledged to maintain (read upgrade) its credible minimum deterrence. Pakistan views this deal as disturbing the regional strategic stability and has asserted that it cannot remain oblivious to its security requirements. An International Panel on Fissile Materials report predicts at least four to five times increase in India's weapons grade plutonium production rate. The present Indian stock is estimated to be sufficient for about 100 nuclear warheads. This is obviously alarming for Pakistan. Already, there are news reports that Pakistan and China might enter into a similar agreement on nuclear cooperation.

What India and Pakistan need, in the interest of people of the sub-continent, is a mutually reassuring deal to suspend the nuclear arms race rather than something which will fuel the nuclear fire. The peace process undertaken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf is in danger of being eclipsed by the US-India nuclear deal.

The US seems to be more worried about the business interests of its corporations than the more worthy cause of disarmament, and it has once again proved that to maintain its global hegemony it does not mind throwing all national and international norms and laws to the wind. With Nicholas Burns, the chief diplomat-architect of the 123 agreement, hinting at subsequent non-nuclear military cooperation with what he describes as a 'soon to be the largest country in the world', we are going to see more of a unipolar world, posing a threat to the smaller countries, especially the unfortunate ones out of favour with the US Government. It is quite clear that US wants to court India as a strategic ally with the objective of developing joint military capabilities and perhaps even establishing military bases on Indian territory, that it is willing to play along the Indian nuclear ambitions.

Understandably, this circumvention of the NPT is making some other signatories to the treaty wonder about the utility of their acceding to it. In May this year, for example, the Malaysian government declared its view that "cases whereby a non-party [to the NPT] is accorded preferential treatment in comparison to States Parties, constitutes a gross violation of the spirit and letter of the Treaty", and called for a "total and complete prohibition on the transfer of all nuclear related materials, resources, assistance and cooperation in nuclear scientific or technological fields to States non-parties to the Treaty, without exception". At the preparatory committee meeting for the 2010 NPT review conference held in May-June, 2007 in Vienna, the New Agenda Coalition countries, Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden along with Japan have urged India, besides Pakistan and Israel, to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear weapons States in order to accomplish the universality of the Treaty.

The Indian position for some time now has been to ignore such calls politely. It has become common practice for many observers in India to point to the dual standards of the NPT, and argue that India must puruse its own nuclear interest. Now that India is poised to switch from the pariah side to the pariah-making side of this duplicity with the blessing of the nuclear club, we will inevitably spur similar aspirations among others who have thus far stayed away from the nuclear race.