International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohammad ElBaradei’s endorsement of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is not surprising. Speaking at the HT Leadership Summit in New Delhi last week, Mr ElBaradei said that the deal would “not only benefit India as it would give it access to fuel and technology”, but would also allow the country to participate better in global efforts towards eliminating all nuclear weapons. At a time when the deal is being tossed about in a storm of controversy, his observations assume special significance. For unlike what some observers seem to believe, shorn of its political hues, the nuclear deal actually means more good news than bad for India.
Curiously, it is also quite in line with India’s own foreign policy objectives of ultimate global nuclear disarmament as it signals a new approach from Washington towards checking nuclear proliferation in the world. Never mind if the US seeks to do this by preventing new entrants in the nuclear club, while dealing with the three principal ‘outliers’ outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Israel, India and Pakistan. For the last 30 years, India has meticulously kept its nuclear commitments and has not exported its nuclear goods or technology. That is why, besides the head of the IAEA, even major powers like France, Britain and Russia have no reservations in lending their support to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Barely 3 gigawatts of nuclear plants are currently connected to India’s power grid. So, policymakers’ vision for nuclear energy supply to grow to 30 GW over the next generation will remain a fantasy unless we have access to advanced nuclear technologies and nuclear fuels like those offered under the deal. Squeezing the civilian nuclear power sector is a relatively small sacrifice when compared to the extra breathing space the country would receive through imported fuel supplies.
At the end of the day, it is inarguable that it is in India’s interest to bring its political strength more fully into the world’s non-proliferation efforts. And all the better if this involves a new approach to technology-sharing and managing a more proliferation-proof fuel cycle that are so crucial in the fight against global warming.