Indians should savour the moment. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) exemption ended India’s nuclear isolation in theory. The signing of the Indo-French civil nuclear agreement ended its isolation in practice. India can now order as many reactors as it feels are economically viable. Hopefully, the agreement should spur the US Senate into approving the 123 agreement. And by December, it is expected a similar nuclear understanding with Russia will be officially completed.
The agreement with France is ironic given that the diplomatic heavy-lifting to bring India into the N-deal was done by the US. However, Paris has long advocated that India not be treated as a pariah in the nuclear field, irrespective of its N-tests or refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is still important for India to conclude its 123 agreement. The US is the repository for most of the dual-use technology that India’s private sector wishes to access. It is also important to lock Washington’s establishment into accepting India’s new-found nuclear status. It seems unlikely, but a future US administration less enamoured of India could, in theory, seek to roll back the generosity showed by President George W Bush. Having a fully-concluded agreement would help insure against that possibility.
India’s Department of Atomic Energy should also look at Areva, France’s nuclear power corporation, as more than just a source of reactors and nuclear fuel. Areva is the corporate culmination of the world’s most successful nuclear power programme. The DAE, after decades of isolation, has internalised a belief that self-reliance means keeping the rest of the world at arm’s length. Areva has shown the opposite. It has become the cornerstone of French energy security because it is not scared to cooperate with other countries, seek the best components from other firms and vertically integrate its nuclear capability by seeking assets overseas. The Indian Space Research Organisation has a similar mindset and is a commercially-competitive part of the global space industry. With the entire world at its doorstep thanks to the Indo-US nuclear deal, the DAE needs to aggressively follow the Areva path.