This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.
Perhaps the most bewildering sentence in David Albright’s latest report — that purports to prove that India’s record on nuclear non-proliferation is not impeccable as claimed — is this one:
When (IREL - Indian Rare Earths Limited - the unit that reportedly enriches uranium for the nuclear submarine project) procures internationally for the Indian centrifuge program, it does not reveal the true end-use of items. [ISIS]
It would be rather out of place for India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) or its units to place advertisements announcing the tender for the “Supply of 100 vacuum pumps for India’s secret naval reactor programme”. Albright and his team from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) have taken it upon themselves to prove that India’s ‘impeccable’ record on proliferation is not so impeccable after all. In their eagerness to achieve this objective, they end up diluting their raison d’Ãªtre, which presumably, is to check the spread of nuclear weapons.
Albright’s latest report focusses on the Rattehalli Rare Materials Plant (RMP) that uses gas centrifuges to enrich uranium for India’s naval reactor project. Though supposedly ‘secret’, the existence and purpose of the Rattehalli plant are common knowledge, and have been so for a long time (See this post). The report raises two issues: first, that India procured components for this plant from local and foreign suppliers in a ‘deceptive or illicit’ manner; and second, that the manner in which it procured those components presents a possible proliferation risk. What is important to note is that Albright’s report does not produce a single instance of the latter actually happening.
Scanning through over 200 tender notifications published in the Times of India over a twenty year period, ISIS analysts found that since IREL didn’t state that the components were for use in an IAEA-unsafeguarded uranium enrichment plant, suppliers and their principals easily avoided the liability that arises from the knowledge that they were selling dual-use technology to India. ISIS then suggests that a side-effect of this procurement process is that suppliers could end up with access to sensitive technologies, which they could then pass on to other customers.
Company officials who possess this information could sell the item or underlying technology to other customers with the expectation that few legal consequences would result from Indian prosecutors.
In addition to public advertisements, (IREL) has also invited tenders directly from specific companies. Little is publicly known about these solicitations for tenders, but (IREL) may have developed long-term relationships with certain companies, may view a particular company as the only source for an item, or might depend on a certain company when it needs an item quickly. [ISIS emphasis added]Too many probabilities there. One probability it does not mention however, is that of Indian authorities conducting background checks on suppliers before sharing sensitive information. In any case, from this ‘evidence’, Albright goes on to offer advice to the Indian government and the United States Congress. He calls upon India to stop illegal and ‘questionable’ purchases of direct-use (for nuclear weapons) or dual-use items, and also to tighten its procurement process to prevent those probable proliferation risks. India has no incentive to stop procuring components for its nuclear weapons programme, and Albright does not offer any new ideas on this front. But India does have an incentive to plug loopholes that could, even remotely, result in nuclear technologies getting into wrong hands. However, as long as the nuclear cartel denies India ‘legitimate’ access to high-tech components, it will have to continue with its existing buying strategy. Unless it is fully integrated into the international nuclear technology market, with terms that are similar to those of the five states that the NPT acknowledges as nuclear-weapon states, India will not find it in its interests to accept these recommendations, however much they may be desirable.
Albright also advises the US Congress to make the nuclear deal with India conditional on the president certifying, on an annual recurring basis, that Indian entities have not been found to be engaging in illicit procurement and that they have not contributed to proliferation to undesirable third countries. This is somewhat similar to the position taken by the Brookings Institution’s Ivo Daalder, who also argues that the US Congress can and should impose additional conditions, albeit after negotiations with India. But Daalder takes a more reasonable line — that Congress should rule out the transfer (by the United States) of uranium enrichment technology to India. This is different from Albright, whose recommendations are so designed to wreck the entire deal rather than genuinely address proliferation concerns.
Indeed, Albright’s diagnosis can be just as easily used as an argument in favour of completely integrating India into the international nuclear mainstream, as a result of which it will have every incentive to co-operate with the likes of ISIS on preventing proliferation. Not only does ISIS base its case on hypothetical possibilities, it ignores the reality that all observed cases of proliferation have been by states that wilfully transfer nuclear technology to others in a deliberate, sustained manner. Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Libya didn’t acquire or come close to acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities by analysing newspaper advertisements. They acquired complete designs and critical components from their benefactors who happen to be ‘legitimate’ nuclear states. And there is nothing to prevent them from doing it again.
Related Links: The Arms Control Wonks have two related posts; Selig Harrison, Stephen Cohen, Karl Inderfurth, Dennis Kux, Frank Wisner, Teresita Schaffer and others have written an open letter to the US Congress in support of the deal.
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