The Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG's) plan to “strengthen” its guidelines on supplying sensitive nuclear technology has made New Delhi cautious and confident at the same time — though not in equal measure.
The waiver of all conditions by the NSG in September 2008 was a crucial step in operationalising the landmark India-US nuclear deal. With no strings attached, it allowed the 46 member-countries (of the group) to give enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology (ENR) to India.
Though the full details are not yet known, the NSG is altering its guidelines. The philosophy behind the move is to “strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies”.
Under the proposed norms, signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (India has not given its assent to it) will be a requirement for getting ENR from other countries.
In the past two years, Russia and France have time and again pledged their willingness to give ENR to India. And big powers including the US, Russia, France and Germany have said they will support India’s membership in the NSG.
Indian officials say the NSG cannot go back on its promise of the clean waiver.
“The clean waiver is a subject matter between India and the NSG. We haven’t heard anything from them so far,” an Indian official said.
Officials also believe the new guidelines are aimed at containing countries such as North Korea and Pakistan.
New Delhi is emboldened by a US state department statement that said: “The NSG’s NPT references, including those in the ENR guidelines, in no way detract from the exception granted to India by NSG members in 2008 and in no way reflect upon India’s nonproliferation records.”
Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar said: “From the Indian point of view the important thing is that the NSG had given a clean waiver to India and we want to emphasise that.”
MK Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat who has been voicing reservations about the Indo-US nuclear deal, said: “There is a clear double standard here on the part of the US. They proactively worked for changing the NSG guidelines, which of course is by consensus. They are not saying anything about whether India can still get ENR from the NSG countries in the wake of the changed guidelines.”The government is also facing political opposition.
“At the time of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, the Left parties had pointed out that contrary to the claim of the Prime Minister and the UPA government, India will not be able to import enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology,” said the CPI(M) Politburo in a statement.
From a business point of view, it is not a very straight issue. It will take a while before India needs the reprocessing technologies because they will be required only after the imported reactors are commissioned.
“The technology transfer is at the heart of commerce with the US. The Americans know it well. They won’t be doing something specifically to squeeze India at the NSG at a time when they are ending tech sanctions on India,” a senior official said.
But here US business interests are also involved. There are a host of problems including nuclear liability issues.