Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Dateline Vienna: NSG meets again, amidst rumblings of uncertainty

The NSG meeting has started. Here’s the state of play. Many countries are unhappy with the new draft. And they feel the leaked State Department letter has given them ammunition…

NSG meets amidst rumblings of uncertainty
Several countries believe new draft waiver for India is ‘disappointing’

Siddharth Varadarajan

Vienna: The Nuclear Suppliers Group is meeting again here on Thursday to review a fresh American proposal to exempt India from the 45-nation cartel’s requirement of full-scope safeguards as a condition for nuclear exports.

Full-scope safeguards means each and every nuclear facility in a country must be placed under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, something India refuses to do since it has a nuclear weapons programme.

An earlier United States proposal was shot down at a special plenary of the NSG in Vienna on August 21 and 22, with many countries demanding the imposition of stricter conditions on India. The new draft, which was finalized by the U.S. in consultation with India on Friday night and made available to NSG members the next day, was meant to reflect those demands but several countries have told The Hindu the fresh provisions are inadequate.

“This is a very disappointing text from the point of view of the three major issues raised by us last time on testing, transfer of sensitive technology and review”, said a diplomat from a country which had raised strong objections in the previous meeting. “I can’t see how they expect us to accept this”.

The belief of diplomats from the hold-out states is that the September 4-5 meeting will also prove inconclusive and that India will have to make further compromises if it hopes to win approval for the proposed exemption.

The ‘leaking’ of the U.S. State Department letter containing a strong elaboration of the Bush administration’s approach to nuclear cooperation with India has also queered the pitch with several countries preparing to arm themselves with passages from it for Thursday’s NSG meeting. “I think it is fair to say we will be quoting from bits of the letter”, one diplomat told me on Wednesday. “When Washington is clear about its own benchmarks for [nuclear] trade with India, why should the NSG be asked to settle for something less?” said a diplomat from another country.

On the other hand, diplomats from countries broadly supportive of India’s position say they will press for adoption of the waiver the way it stands. “But the main battle has to be waged by your principal partner, the U.S.”, a diplomat from a former Soviet Bloc state said. He added that the principle of consensus meant even one country with objections could hold up the process.

Asked whether the leaked State Department letter — with its unambiguous language on the termination of both nuclear cooperation and all fuel supply assurances in the event of an Indian nuclear test – might serve to allay fears in the NSG that Washington was being too “soft” on India, one diplomat said the letter was indeed reassuring. “I think the assurances contained in the State Department’s response are very positive”, he said. “But our concern is that they apply only to the United States. What we would like is for Russia and France to be also held to the same assurances and understandings.”

The bottom line for that diplomat’s country, and others with which it is consulting, he said, is that “we have to tie [the exemption] to the moratorium – that’s the minimum”. “If that’s not there, I can’t see us making headway”, said another diplomat.

The new draft adds more explicit language on consultations, including a reference to “acting in accordance with Paragraph 16 of the NSG guidelines” if one or more members “consider that circumstances have arisen which require consultations”.

This paragraph specifes a procedure and range of measures, including termination of supplies. 16(c) of the guidelines say, inter alia,

“In the event that one or more suppliers believe that there has been a violation of supplier/recipient understanding resulting from these Guidelines, particularly in the case of an explosion of a nuclear device, or illegal termination or violation of IAEA safeguards by a recipient, suppliers should consult promptly through diplomatic channels in order to determine and assess the reality and extent of the alleged violation … Upon the findings of such consultations, the suppliers, bearing in mind Article XII of the IAEA Statute, should agree on an appropriate response and possible action, which could include the termination of nuclear transfers to that recipient”.

But critics within the NSG are not satisfied. “Proposing more consultations is not enough. Because of the requirement of consensus, there is every likelihood of lack of action in the event of [a test by India] happening”, said one diplomat. “So we feel the waiver should clarify that there will be disincentives for India to testing … The consequences should be clear and upfront”.

The critics are also not very pleased with the ‘compromise’ formula in which their concerns will be reflected in a chairman’s statement. “There was a version of a chairman’s statement that was circulating when it was pulled at the request of the Government of India”, one diplomat said. “But from our point of view, this is not a runner. We want an unambiguous, clear waiver in one text”.

These countries feel the State Department disclosure has strengthened their hands, even though its full import was still being digested. “I think there is room for improvement on both sides. There is scope for compromise, also by India”, one official said.

Assessment of new NSG draft

The changes in the draft waiver may be “minor” in terms of volume – as non-proliferation critics have charged — but the addition and subtraction of key words in key places shows a serious attempt has been made to grapple with the more than 50 amendments which were demanded the last time the NSG met.

In paragraph 1(a), what was earlier a reiteration of the NSG’s desire to contribute to the widest possible implementation of the objectives of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty has become “objectives and provisions” of the NPT. This is a concession by India, since the “provisions” are what spell out the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, with the latter expected to have full-scope safeguards.

Paras 1 and 2 also remove references to the NPT as the “traditional” non-proliferation regime and drop the idea of Indian being a “contributing partner” in the non-proliferation regime. These changes essentially are meant to allay concerns of NSG members that the NPT itself is in some way old or obsolete.

Also Para 1 (b) now speaks of the NSG seeking to “avert” the further spread of nuclear weapons, rather than “limit” it.

Though several NSG states wanted a formal review mechanism – a red line for India which said this might jeopardize billions of dollars worth of investment – the new draft provides for NSG members to notify each other of transfers to India and the details of their bilateral agreements with India. But consultation now shall be, inter alia, about matters connected with implementation of the “statement” rather than the “Guidelines” as it was in the earlier draft, thus more tightly highlighting the centrality of India’s non-proliferation commitments.

There are two other changes in the waiver which are significant. First, the link between India’s commitments and the NSG’s decision has been tightened. Earlier, the link was simply “In view of the above”, i.e. India’s commitments, the NSG was deciding to waive it guidelines. Now, it says, “Based on the commitments and actions mentioned above”, i.e. in the paragraph outlining India’s obligations, the NSG was acting. Though the connection is more direct, this wording also falls short of the demand made by some to make the waiver decision explicitly conditional on India’s implementation of its commitments.

Second, the paragraph requiring consultation with India by the NSG prior to the adoption of any changes to its guidelines has been diluted somewhat to the country’s detriment.

The issue is important because one of India’s commitments is “adherence to NSG guidelines” despite not being a member of the group. This commitment could expose India to being compelled to adhere to policies it did not play a role in formulating and which it might even oppose. The earlier draft had spelt out a mechanism for consultation with India and said “participation of India in the decisions regarding proposed amendments will facilitate their implementation by India”. The new draft adds “effective” before the word “implementation”. It also drops the earlier requirement that the NSG consult with India “on a non-discriminatory basis and solicit such comments on the amendments as [India] may wish to make”.

4 comments on “Dateline Vienna: NSG meets again, amidst rumblings of uncertainty

  1. Anonymous
    September 5, 2008

    What is the status of FMCT related junk in the treaty? Does anyone know? That is very dangerous if we need to keep nuclear weapons in future.

  2. Anonymous
    September 5, 2008

    Other countries have tested 20 – 100s of devices of various designs to perfect them for over last 30 – 60 years. Could India have acquired that knowledge with just one test? US still tests its weapons today some in computer simulations other “sub critical” underground. However the reason to add the line allowing testing is, that it should not be imposed by a treaty, just like it does not on China, France, Russia , US or other NWS . As the deal stands testing can cost tens of billions dollars in form of fuel cut off , loss off investment , sanctions etc.. not to mention loss of economic revenues that depend on that electricity which may be affected. Thus making a test financially unacceptable. So saying that we can test if we want is disingenuous at best, why not put the right to test in the deal and not bear that cost?

  3. dilip
    September 4, 2008

    The Nuclear deal presented to India is a customized one suited for India’s needs and opposition from the NSG members is a natural thing to expect. Any amendments in the structure should be carefully dealt with. The former President Dr. A. P. J. Adbul Kalam has gone of the record stating that India doesn’t need a Pokhran 3, as India is capable enough to hit out its adversaries from the fruitful works of Pokhran 2. Building up a fuel reserve is what matters the most to India, I think the need of the hour here is to have a constructive international debate which would give a lot more clarity of what’s in store for India and the world as a whole.

  4. Shivanand Kanavi
    September 4, 2008

    Nuclear testing is a “right” that nobody grants. If India wants to have Pokharan-3 then it has to calculate the risk and do it, whether it goes ahead with this deal or not, just as it did in 1974 and 1998. Vajpayee has already said in 1998-99 that India will not come in the way of CTBT. Moreover India appears to have enough technical expertise to use computer simulations, subcritical tests etc to refine its arsenal. Though India had genuine concerns regarding mechanisms of verification. Thus the hullabaloo over right to test is actually academic. The vagueness built into ‘consultative mechanisms’ and ‘corrective measures’ gives both the parties some lattitude. However Sen Berman is right in worrying about the uneven playing field that US businesses will have if NSG gives a clean waiver. After all, India may not buy anything from US if all these strings come attached to it. Moreover what about military and other dual use technology sales. If these conditions apply to them too then India might shop for them elsewhere. If any attempt is made by skeptics to put conditions in NSG waiver then France, Russia and even Canada, Japan and Germany may not agree for commercial reasons as their businesses too would be hard put to sell to India. However one point for clarifications, what if India (Uranium Corp or private sector) gets mines in Niger, Namibia or elsewhere, what would be conditions attached to those leases?So what finally will emerge from NSG would be interesting from the commercial angle!

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This entry was posted on September 4, 2008 by in Nuclear Issues.



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