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Presentation by Special Envoy of the Prime Minister Mr Shyam Saran on "India and the Nuclear Domain" at the India International Centre

New Delhi
February 18, 2008

Ever since India and the United States declared their intention to resume bilateral cooperation in civilian uses of nuclear energy on July 18, 2005, there has been a national debate on India’s place in the nuclear domain, both civilian and strategic. This debate is welcome. It enables public opinion to be educated on what has hitherto remained a relatively esoteric field. In this connection, may I commend the IIC for sustaining this initiative in the public domain. Attention has been focused on the significance of nuclear energy to our achieving energy security. There has also been a scrutiny of our strategic weapons programme and how that relates to our national security. These are important issues and need sober and objective reflection based on reliable information.

In the course of this debate, we have also drifted away from what has been, for decades, independent India’s conviction that it must lead the way towards a non-violent, equitable and peaceful world, a world free from the shadow of mass annihilation. 

My objective today will be, as someone associated with the negotiations on the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, to endeavour to explain the original motivation behind the initiative and its implications for our strategic programme. I will also touch upon the issue of nuclear disarmament and explain why, in the current international context, it is a goal that India should advocate with renewed vigour.

Let me share with you the mandate which Prime Minister gave to us as negotiators when we took up this initiative with the United States. Since 1974, India had been the target of an increasingly selective, rigorous and continually expanding regime of technology-denial, not only in the nuclear field but encompassing other dual use technologies as well. It was our aim to seek the dismantlement of these inequitable regimes, which would become progressively more detrimental and significantly impact upon India’s maturing economy, as its key sectors, required constant technological upgradation.

In pursuing this objective, we were acutely aware of the following: 

(i) The multilateral technology-denial regimes whose targeting of India we sought to end such as the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) would require the United States to take the initiative as the principal initiator and leader of these regimes, and also because it remains the world’s pre-eminent source of new and innovative technologies.

(ii) Since our PNE in 1974, technology denial was first limited to nuclear-related technologies and then progressively expanded to cover a growing range of dual-use technologies. For this historical reason, it was clear to us that unless we tackled the nuclear issue, we would not be able to obtain access to other useful technologies. It is only by turning the nuclear key that we would be able to open the door to enter global trade in dual use and sophisticated technologies.

There was another important consideration behind the initiative we took in July 2005. We were becoming increasingly aware that we would face a progressively more depleted market for conventional energy resources. Concerns over climate change would act as a further constraint on us. We had to adopt a strategy of diversifying our energy mix, with a graduated shift from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels, from non-renewable to renewable sources of energy and from conventional to non-conventional sources of energy. Nuclear energy occupies a key place in this strategy and for good reasons. Despite the technology denial regimes which we had to contend with, our scientists had succeeded in putting in place a comprehensive, sophisticated and innovative nuclear industry, with a highly trained manpower able to sustain a major expansion in nuclear power. Our constraints in this regard were availability of domestic uranium and a technological capability still limited to smaller capacity reactors of about 700 MW, when the world was moving to 1600 MW reactors. If we were to envisage a major expansion in nuclear power in the medium term, to say 60,000 MW plus by the year 2030, then import of higher capacity reactors and uranium fuel, would be necessary.

This in no way detracts from the continued pursuit of Dr. Bhabha’s visionary 3-stage nuclear energy development programme, which may yield significant results in the longer term. But in the short and medium-term, a significant expansion of nuclear power is only possible if the constraints we face on import of uranium and of large-capacity reactors, are removed.

Furthermore, it is not really correct to put indigenous development and international collaboration as antithetical to one another. In fact they are integrally linked. Each cycle of international collaboration prepares the ground for higher level of indigenous development. A higher level of technological sophistication then enables a much more discriminatory and productive new cycle of technological collaboration and eventually partnerships. Let us not forget that Dr. Bhabha himself vigorously promoted international cooperation in nuclear energy which enabled India to lay the foundation of our current nuclear programme. He was, in his time, one of the most highly respected scientists among the international nuclear community.

Let me repeat, the mandate to the negotiators was:

(i) to seek the dismantlement of the multilateral technology denial regimes targeting India; 
(ii) to seek an accelerated development of our nuclear power generation capability to enable a significant contribution to India’s energy security in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

The negotiators were also given a firm guideline: in seeking to achieve the above objectives, we should not accept any limitation whatsoever on our strategic weapons programme, which must remain inviolate and fully autonomous. In practical terms, this implied that 

(i) our strategic weapons programme would be outside the purview of any international safeguards regime or any form of external scrutiny; 
(ii) our ability to further develop and produce such weapons would not be constrained in any manner; and 
(iii) we would retain our legal right to conduct a nuclear test should that, at any time in the future, be deemed necessary in our over-riding national interest. 

The negotiating team was further instructed to ensure that India’s indigenous R&D programme i.e. the 3-stage long-term nuclear development strategy envisioned by Bhabha, would also proceed uninhibited and not be subject to external scrutiny. It was felt that this being a programme which had major potential for commercial exploitation of thorium-based nuclear energy in the future, we ought to safeguard its integrity for the present.

The July 18 Joint Statement incorporated a series of reciprocal commitments. On India’s side, there was reaffirmation of some existing commitments, such as continuing a moratorium on nuclear testing and participating in multilateral negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty. There was acknowledgement of steps already taken by India as part of its responsibilities under UNSC resolution 1540 and under the already concluded Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. These relate to strengthening controls on the export of sensitive technologies including reprocessing and enrichment technologies. These controls provided assurance to our partners that whatever we received under international cooperation would not be diverted to third countries. The new element was our commitment to separate our civilian from military nuclear facilities and offer the former voluntarily for IAEA safeguards. This was necessary in order for us to give our international partners the assurance that whatever we would receive as technology or equipment for our civilian facilities would not be diverted to benefit our strategic programme. This was, to our mind, a legitimate expectation on part of the international community. Nevertheless, we reserved to ourselves the right to determine which facilities would be designated as civilian; further the separation process would be carried out in graduated steps upto 2014 so as to avoid any dislocation in our nuclear industry.

What India obtained, reciprocally, in return, was a U.S. commitment to adjust its own laws so as to permit full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India, which is bilateral; and also a commitment to work with friends and allies to bring about a change in international, multilateral regimes, such as the NSG, to enable the international community to also engage India in full civil nuclear energy cooperation, which is multilateral. With the U.S. delivering on these commitments, India would become fully integrated into the global nuclear energy market after a gap of over 40 years. And this, it would be able to achieve without accepting any limitation or constraint on its strategic weapons programme. In this regard, the negotiators fulfilled the mandate given to them by the Prime Minister. 

The July 18 Joint Statement was then translated into more elaborate and specific arrangements in a Separation Plan, presented to Parliament in March 2006 and in the text of a bilateral cooperation agreement, or the so-called 123 Agreement, between India and the U.S., concluded in July 2007. 

In working out these arrangements, the mandate given to the negotiators was to stay within the parameters of the July 18 Joint Statement and to ensure that there would be no repeat of the Tarapur experience. In practical terms this meant ensuring that there would never again be a threat of reactor operations being disrupted due to a suspension of fuel supplies. We would also need to ensure that India has the right to reprocess foreign origin spent fuel. In both these respects, the U.S. aided Tarapur nuclear facility had suffered and this hung over the negotiations as a negative legacy. There had been U.S. unilateral suspension of fuel supplies, just as there had been a refusal to allow India to reprocess spent fuel, which kept accumulating as hazardous waste, which the U.S. was also not willing to take back.

This is the background to the multi-layered fuel supply assurances which were spelt out in the Separation Plan, and incorporated in toto in the 123 Agreement. This is also the reason why India was prepared to engage in difficult and sometimes frustrating negotiations to ensure its upfront entitlement to reprocess foreign origin spent fuel. Eventually, the U.S. side agreed to India’s demand.

The negotiators have been criticized by some for having agreed to permanent IAEA safeguards on its civilian facilities. Our position right from the outset had been that we have no problem with permanent safeguards provided there are permanent supplies of fuel. The multi-layered fuel supply assurances are unique in international nuclear negotiations and include India’s right to take “corrective measures”, should any disruption still occur despite these assurances. India’s entitlement to build strategic reserves of fuel for its civilian reactors, to last the lifetime of such reactors, is also unique. Frankly, I do not think that we could have secured any better safeguards for our interests. 

Criticism has been leveled at various provisions of the Hyde Act and it is argued that irrespective of what the 123 Agreement may say, we would be subject to the several onerous provisions of the Act.

Let me clarify that the operative heart of the Hyde Act, incorporates three permanent and unconditional waivers from relevant provisions of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954. In layman terms, the Hyde Act allows the U.S. Administration to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with India, waiving the following requirements:

(i) that the partner country should not have exploded a nuclear explosive device in the past; this waiver is necessary because India exploded a series of nuclear explosive devices in May 1998;
(ii) that the partner country must have all its nuclear facilities and activities under full-scope safeguards; this waiver is necessary because India has a strategic programme which would not be subject to international safeguards; nor would its indigenous R&D programme; and
(iii) that the partner country is not currently engaged in the development and production of nuclear explosive devices; this waiver is required precisely because there is no freeze or capping of India’s strategic weapons programme. It is an acknowledgement that we will continue to develop and produce additional strategic weapons.

Irrespective of what else the Hyde Act may contain, these 3 permanent and unconditional waivers are extremely significant because they acknowledge that India has an ongoing strategic programme. No restraint on this programme is envisaged as a condition for engaging India in civil nuclear energy cooperation. This is a significant gain for India and should not be lost sight of. Just juxtapose this with the UNSC Resolution 1172 of June 6, 1998, which called upon India to stop, roll-back and eliminate its strategic programme and join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.

There are, of course, several extraneous and prescriptive provisions in the Hyde Act which we do not agree with and in negotiating the 123 Agreement we have been more than careful to exclude such provisions. If the U.S. Congress considers the 123 Agreement, as currently drafted, as being in contravention with their own understanding of the Hyde Act, the agreement would be voted down. That would be the end of the matter. If, however, the U.S. Congress does approve the 123 Agreement, then this would confirm that the provisions of the Agreement are what would govern the commitments of the two sides. 

While there has been intense focus on the Indo-US bilateral agreement, much of the commentary on the subject has lost sight of the multilateral regime whose adjustment in favour of India is what we are aiming at. Our objective is not merely to seek the U.S. as a partner. Our objective is to enable India to have a wide choice of partners in pursuing nuclear commerce, and high technology trade. But we cannot attain this objective without the U.S. taking the lead on our behalf. Yes, Russia and France are countries which are friendly to India and extremely keen to engage in nuclear commerce with us. However, there should be no doubt that neither they nor others will make an exception for India unilaterally unless the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group adjusts its guidelines in the same manner as the U.S. is prepared to do. Whatever be the reservations that have been expressed about our relations with the U.S., no other friendly country, member of the NSG has the necessary standing to lead the process of opening up the existing multilateral regime to accommodate India. The U.S. is in a unique position precisely because it initiated these restrictive regimes in the first place and also because it remains the pre-eminent source of new sensitive technologies.

The process we are engaged in will face several challenges ahead even if the controversies at home were somehow resolved. We still await the finalisation of the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Thereafter, the NSG will meet to consider exempting India from its current guidelines. These guidelines, like pre-Hyde Act U.S. legislation, require that its members engage in civil nuclear energy cooperation only with countries that have all their nuclear facilities and activities under full scope safeguards. It is our expectation that there would be a fairly simple and clean exemption from these guidelines, without any conditionalities or even expectations regarding India’s conduct in future. Finally, the U.S. Congress has to vote to approve the 123 Agreement. Only when these separate landmarks have been achieved, can we really have the practical possibility of resuming civil nuclear energy cooperation with the international community.

I am certain that you will agree that this initiative of the Prime Minister represents a significant and unprecedented effort to expand India’s choices, create a more conducive and supportive international environment to advance India’s developmental goals and mark the emergence of India as a major global player, in a rapidly transforming international landscape.

What enabled India to even attempt such a major and pathbreaking initiative? Would it not have been wiser and more prudent to engage in an incremental pursuit of more limited gains which would, cumulatively, and hopefully add up to something significant eventually? Let me try and address these very relevant questions. 

In pursuing this initiative in 2005, India took advantage of a significant change in international, including U.S. and Western perceptions of India. This change can be traced to the following developments:

(i) Fifteen years of accelerated and sustained economic growth, coupled with the steady globalisation of the Indian economy, marked the emergence of India as an economic power-house, even as its democratic structures gave it a reputation for political stability. The prospects for continued and steady growth of India’s economy made it an indispensable partner for countries across the globe.

(ii)A globalising world found itself confronted with a number of trans-national, cross-cutting issues such as international terrorism, drug trafficking, global pandemics and the twin challenges of energy and climate change. In seeking solutions to such global challenges, the active involvement of India as a large, populous and continental sized economy, has become indispensable. This is another reason why India’s global profile has increased. 

(iii) India had emerged as a country with significant defence capabilities and has an enviable record of activism in UN peacekeeping. In December 2005, its swift response to the Tsunami disaster and its ability to extend significant assistance to affected countries also demonstrated its capabilities to contribute to maritime security and help deal with natural disasters and;

(iv)Despite a 4-decade effort to put India in a technological corral and constrain its nuclear and space capabilities, Western countries led by the U.S., had failed to achieve their objective. Technology denial may have slowed down India’s development in some respects, but on the other hand, India was now a country with a wide-range of sophisticated and sensitive technologies, isolating which made no sense, particularly at a time when engaging India promised much more by way of political and economic gains, not the least by partnering its outstanding scientists in the collaborative development of cutting edge technologies such as the International Thermo Nuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) project. India was able to get a clear message across to the world – you cannot continue to treat India as a target, even as you seek to engage it as a partner.

India was able to move with a sense of confidence to leverage the above favourable developments not merely to seek an upgradation in its relations with key regional and global players but to mobilize them collectively to reflect India’s emergence in multilateral regimes. These had so far excluded India such as the UN Security Council or worse, targeted it as an adversary like the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.

In pursuing this objective, India was able to also take advantage of the fact that post-Cold War, as a result of the increasing globalisation of the world economy and the emergence of transnational, cross-cutting issues, the international landscape was characterized by the presence of a cluster of major powers, who were compelled to collaborate as much as to compete with one another. The potential for military competition and conflict between them was constrained by the increasing interdependence of their economies. India could, therefore, upgrade its relations with all major powers, without this becoming a competitive zero-sum game which was the hall-mark of the bipolar Cold war. One may characterize this as a strategy of global de-hyphenation. It was our assessment that this favourable international constellation could change and therefore, we needed to take advantage of this window of opportunity so as to fix our diplomatic gains for the long-term. There are already some changes such as renewed tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and there may be further changes down the road. The international environment for India may not be as propitious as it has been during the past few years. 

It is legitimate to expect that Government would not do anything to compromise the autonomy of its strategic programme. However, the strategic programme that we are talking about is one based on our own nuclear doctrine. This incorporates the concept of a deterrent which is credible at a minimum level of nuclear and delivery assets. There is also a non-first use pledge, which implies that those assets must survive a first strike and retain retaliatory capability. The need for a triad of forces, including a submarine based deterrent, derives from this. This also imposes requirements for secure and survivable command, control and communication systems. While we strive to retain strategic autonomy for the future, it is equally important that we ensure as expeditiously as possible, that all the elements of our credible minimum deterrent are in place. 

We should also examine what is the likely role of nuclear weapons in terms of ensuring India’s security. The traditional concept of nuclear deterrence is with reference to States and that is how we have defined our deterrent as well. However, even in this respect, our nuclear doctrine affirms India’s conviction that its security would be enhanced, not diminished, if we were able to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. It is this conviction which underlines our continued advocacy of nuclear disarmament. While asserting our right to a nuclear deterrent, we should not forget this other dimension of our security posture. 

In fact, recent developments have made nuclear disarmament, compelling and urgent and India is well-placed to lead a global effort in pursuit of this objective. The nature of the dangers which nuclear weapons pose has dramatically intensified with the growing risk that such weapons may be acquired by terrorists or Jihadi groups who could threaten to use, or worse, even utilize such weapons to carry out attacks against targets which may be located anywhere in the world. No country, including India, is safe from such attack. The mounting concern over the likelihood that, in a situation of chaos, Pakistan’s nuclear assets may fall into the hands of Jihadi elements, fired by the ideology of extremism and mindless violence, underscores how real this danger has become. While States may be deterred by nuclear weapons, terrorist or Jihadi groups cannot. How do you threaten nuclear retaliation against such non-State actors?

The danger posed by proliferation of nuclear weapons to non-State actors is of a different and more threatening dimension than that from proliferation to additional States. A different approach is required, based on a new global consensus, but which in fact would be more effective in dealing with proliferation in all its aspects. 

India has all along argued that as long as the world is divided between those who possess nuclear weapons and those who do not, there will always be a strong incentive for countries outside the club to seek to enter it. Recent experience indicates that the NPT and technology denial regimes may delay the emergence of new nuclear weapon states. They are unlikely to prevent it. As long as there exists such motivation among states, there will inevitably be a clandestine market for nuclear technology and material, as demonstrated by A.Q. Khan’s nuclear super-market. If such a clandestine market continues to flourish, as it does even today, the danger of nuclear explosives or fissile material and technical know-how enabling the manufacture of nuclear weapons, falling into the hands of non-state actors, such as Jihadi groups, will continue to haunt our world. India has to be deeply concerned about the danger it faces, as do other states, from this new and growing threat. 

The elimination of a clandestine, world-wide market in nuclear know-how, material and possibly, even nuclear explosives, can only be achieved by returning to what India had proposed as a grand-bargain, when it sponsored negotiations on a Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1965. India had proposed that non-nuclear weapon states should commit themselves to never developing or acquiring nuclear weapons, in return for a legal and time-bound commitment by nuclear weapon states to eliminate their arsenals. Today, as a nuclear weapon state, India is in an unique position, to take the lead in resurrecting the original grand bargain, because the danger of nuclear terrorism today threatens to engulf all states, including nuclear weapon states. 

On January 4, 2007, Messrs George Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn, put nuclear disarmament back on the international agenda, in an article they jointly wrote in The Wall Street Journal. They have now followed up their original initiative with a second article in the same newspaper, which appeared on January 15, 2008. What has led these Cold War veterans, to espouse the cause of nuclear disarmament? Why have they now seen it fit to quote approvingly from Rajiv Gandhi’s Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament of 1988, when at that time most Western governments dismissed it as fantasy?

The disturbing new element in dealing with nuclear weapons is precisely the danger that they could fall into the hands of non-state actors, against whom no deterrence could work. However, for Messrs Shultz and his compatriots, nuclear disarmament is still a distant goal, while in the meantime, they suggest graduated steps to reduce nuclear arsenals and reliance on them, more rigorous controls over the spread of sensitive technologies and a further strengthening of the current non-proliferation regime. They continue to rely on an asymmetrical approach, in which states with nuclear weapons and with advanced nuclear technology, would be treated differently than those who did not possess them. India is today in a position to take the initiative of Shultz and Co. forward, towards framing a new global consensus, which brings the goal of nuclear disarmament from a distant destination, “the top of a very tall mountain”, as they call it, to being accepted as an urgent and compelling mission. India understands the danger from nuclear weapons and has suffered from the clandestine proliferation of nuclear weapons in its neighbourhood. It has also been a victim of terrorism for several decades. It is perhaps the best placed to fashion a global consensus on achieving nuclear disarmament as an urgent objective, not only because of the mass-destruction character of these weapons, but also because their link with international terrorism, poses a global threat. A multilaterally negotiated treaty which prohibits the development, production and use of nuclear weapons, on the model of the Chemical Weapons Convention, is within our grasp. Elaborate verification and intrusive monitoring methods that would be required to ensure compliance, would only be accepted if they are universally applicable.

India was justified in exercising its nuclear weapons option at a time when nuclear disarmament seemed all but abandoned by the existing nuclear weapon states. Its security was also being threatened by clandestine proliferation in its own neighbourhood, without any remedial action being taken at the international level. In a world, populated by states producing and deploying nuclear weapons, India’s strategic autonomy must be safeguarded. However, we must not forget that despite being a nuclear weapon state, India remains convinced that its security would be enhanced, not diminished, if a world free of nuclear weapons were to be achieved. Today, the country’s security is further threatened by the risk of proliferation to non-state actors and terrorist groups. So also is the security of all other states, nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states alike. It is only through the urgent and complete elimination of nuclear weapons that it may be possible to minimize, if not entirely dispel the threat of nuclear terrorism by non-state actors. Therefore, even as we work to strengthen our credible minimum deterrent, we ought to take a fresh initiative to realize Rajiv Gandhi’s vision of a non-violent world, free from the scourge of nuclear weapons.
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