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India and Nuclear Security

Aparna Pande

Recent terrorist attacks in Brussels have highlighted concerns about Jihadis endangering Belgium’s nuclear safety. Other nuclear-armed countries (including India and Pakistan) frequently targeted by terrorists must also include the safety of their nuclear facilities in the list of threats they must deal with.

The threat of terrorism will be on the agenda later this week when leaders from 51 countries meet in Washington DC for the sixth Nuclear Security Summit. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to cancel his participation due to crises at home but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be attending his first Nuclear Security Summit.

Both India and Pakistan live in a neighborhood troubled by growing radical Islamism alongside threats to the security of nuclear weapons. Sharif’s absence might make the deliberations of the nuclear summit less intensive in relation to South Asia though the Pakistani delegation will probably still hear about the world’s anxiety about Pakistani nukes. Modi, on the other hand, would seek greater acceptance for India as a responsible nuclear power.

The aim of the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS), first launched in April 2010 was an attempt by Washington to bring “high-level attention to the global threat posed by nuclear terrorism and advance a common approach to strengthening nuclear security.” Forty seven countries, including India and Pakistan, participated in the first conference held in Washington DC.

The aim of these annual summits is to increase trust amongst countries so that they cooperate in ratifying treaties on nuclear security and prevention of nuclear terrorism, implementing security guidelines with the help of the IAEA, educating and training their personnel and reinforcing facilities and thus building an overall culture that promotes nuclear security.

The Indian nuclear program started off as a purely civilian program. Fear of catastrophic global destruction through nuclear weapons meant that for decades Indian leaders supported global nuclear disarmament. However, realpolitik and the fact that China, two years after the 1962 India-China war, tested nuclear weapons meant that India too needed to build its nuclear weapons potential.

Even though India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India is a responsible nuclear power. India’s nuclear doctrine has an explicit no-first use clause and India has joined a number of global conventions.

New Delhi signed the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and later endorsed the 2005 amendment that binds states to protect their nuclear facilities and material. India is a member of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, a United Nations treaty that criminalizes acts of nuclear terrorism.

India has an exemplary record with respect to preventing trafficking in materials, technology, and equipment relevant to nuclear security. As yet no case of leakage of materials from India’s massive nuclear program, inadvertent or advertent, has come to light. Every year since 2002, India has introduced a resolution on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the UN General Assembly. To India’s credit this resolution has always been adopted by consensus.

India has also offered to sign the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) that would prohibit further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. India has also completed all requirements for membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group and will soon be joining the global nuclear club.

India’s entry into the global nuclear club can in many ways be traced to the closer strategic ties with the United States and the 2005 civilian nuclear agreement. This agreement lifted a thirty year- long American moratorium on nuclear trade with India, offering to provide U.S. assistance to India’s civilian nuclear energy program, and also expanded cooperation in energy and satellite technology.

The agreement had three aims, symbolic, strategic and economic. Indians express pride in their independent nuclear program and thus Washington’s reluctance to accept India’s nuclear program, its levying of sanctions India and stoppage of fuel supply in 1974 to the Tarapur nuclear plant were all part of recent memory for most Indian leaders. Indians needed recognition for their nuclear program and this came in the form of the US-India civil-nuclear deal.

The 2005 agreement demonstrated not only that the US accepted India’s nuclear program but that it was willing to provide an exception to India from stringent limitations that India had already overcome. The strategic aspect was the desire by Washington to boost already deepening ties with India in the security arena, including counter-terrorism.

While the first two aims were achieved with relative ease, it is the economic dimension that has yet to reach fruition. Initially the reason was that India had not signed the nuclear liability convention and then in 2010 when India passed a nuclear liability act it was set up in a way that held nuclear power suppliers liable for any accident to their plants.

Just last month, in February 2016 India finally ratified the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). While this opens doors to global companies like Westinghouse, General Electric and others, India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010 means that potential investors will need to work through a “patchwork” of regulations and bear in mind that “India’s current domestic nuclear liability laws still allow electric companies to obtain reimbursement against suppliers of nuclear power plants in the event of an accident.”

Since 2008 India has signed or is in the process of signing civilian nuclear agreements with United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and South Korea. India has 21 operating nuclear reactors with many more under construction. While nuclear power will never compete with coal or gas yet the more reactors India has for civilian energy as well as for military purposes the greater the need for security, the more the need for cooperation with other countries and for transparency.

Considering the initial secrecy New Delhi has come a long way from not discussing its nuclear program to participating in conferences and signing agreements. An economically strong and self-confident India feels a lot more reassured about its place in the world. The underlying aim of the Nuclear Security Summit is to build a level of trust so that countries will share information and be transparent about their security practices.

However, the Indian system of decision-making has traditionally preferred opacity. New Delhi’s fears are primarily to do with security concerns with two nuclear-armed countries as neighbors, Pakistan and China.

One deliverable New Delhi may offer at the Nuclear Security Summit 2016 is the establishment of a Global Center for Nuclear Excellence. While that is a great goal, as a country that hopes to be a superpower one day, maybe deeper discussions on security and nuclear terrorism are needed.

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