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'Don't extort favours from India'

The Congress would be ill-advised to try to extort concessions, says a US expert.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2006 11:28 IST

The US Congress would be ill-advised to try to extort concessions from India on its weapons programme because of a "petty canard" that the nuclear deal would enable New Delhi to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal, according to an American defence expert.

Criticism of the nuclear deal rests upon two crucial assumptions, says Ashley J Tellis, a senior associate specialising in international security, defence, and Asian strategic issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

First, that New Delhi in fact seeks the largest nuclear weapons inventory its capacity and resources permit; and, second, that the Indian desire for a larger nuclear arsenal has been stymied thus far by a shortage of natural uranium.

But India is in fact currently separating far less weapons grade plutonium annually than it has the capability to produce, notes Tellis in a new study: Atoms for War? US-Indian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation and India's Nuclear Arsenal.

Thus, the evidence suggests that the government of India is in no hurry to build the biggest nuclear stockpile it could construct based on material factors alone; it also undermines the assumption that India wishes to build the biggest nuclear arsenal it possibly can.

Further, India's capacity to produce a huge nuclear arsenal is not affected by prospective Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation as India already has the indigenous reserves of natural uranium necessary to undergird the largest possible nuclear arsenal it may desire.

Consequently, the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation initiative will not materially contribute towards New Delhi's strategic capacities in any consequential way either directly or by freeing up its internal resources, says Tellis.

The current shortage of natural uranium in India caused by constrictions in its mining and milling capacity too is a transient problem that is in the process of being redressed, while the nuclear deal does not in any way affect New Delhi's ability to do so.

All this implies that the shortages of uranium fuel experienced by India at present are a near-term aberration, and not an enduring limitation resulting from the dearth of physical resources.

"As such, the short-term shortage does not offer a viable basis either for Congress to extort any concessions from India in regards to its weapons programme or for supporting the petty canard that imported natural uranium will lead to a substantial increase in the size of India's nuclear weapons programme," Tellis concludes.