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India And The Illicit Nuclear Trade – OpEd

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For more than a decade, India has intensified its efforts to become a De-Jure member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – a global nuclear cartel, which was established in response to India’s nuclear test in 1974. The US-India nuclear deal of 2008 has already enabled India to gain access to the global nuclear market and allowed it to import Uranium and other nuclear material for its civilian nuclear power plants. As a result of its persistent efforts, India has become a de-facto NSG member – the only nuclear weapon state with most of its facilities outside the IAEA safeguards and that has access to the global nuclear market without fulfilling the basic prerequisites. A number of countries including Pakistan have raised serious concerns over the US exceptionalism towards India and warned the global community that India can divert nuclear material for its military purposes. The open source reports on India’s nuclear technology procurement network have vindicated these countries’ concerns. There are several Indian companies which are engaged in illicit nuclear procurement.

As per these reports, “India relies on private contractors to procure goods for use in unsafeguarded nuclear facilities, which are not subject to IAEA verification. These contractors import primarily from a small group of countries, including Germany, China, and the United States — all NSG member states.” It also revealed that there are 86 companies that contracted with two or more unsafeguarded nuclear facilities in India. The top origin countries for these shipments are members of the NSG. It shows that India has long been using its de-facto nuclear power status to acquire nuclear technology and resources for its military as well as unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. For a long period of time, India has refused to bring those civilian unsafeguarded nuclear power plants under the IAEA safeguards. It has not provided a logical explanation to the IAEA for not safeguarding civilian unsafeguarded power plants.

The new reports give ample evidence that India’s nuclear program is directly benefiting from weak global monitoring and verification protocols. There is a persistent gap in theory and practice of these monitoring and verification protocols as countries like India which is a non-signatory to the NPT, get benefit of vague mechanisms. Subsequently, Indian nuclear trade for its civilian nuclear program ends up in its military and unsafeguarded nuclear program. 

India’s nuclear program poses a significant threat to regional and global security and the global nuclear cooperation that ends up in Indian military program equally threatens credibility of global non-proliferation regimes. Under the umbrella of 123 Agreement, Indian domestic nuclear reserves have already been diverted to its weapons development program. It will significantly boost India’s weapons capability. It also means, international nuclear cooperation with India, directly contributes to the Indian military program. Such a drastic scenario has full potential to lead South Asia towards an unending nuclear arms race. 

Reports further offer a bleak picture of Indian nuclear cooperation with NSG member states. It states, “Indian companies that exhibit risk of supplying unsafeguarded facilities tend to procure directly from NSG member states. Ninety-two per cent of shipments to Indian companies that have procured for two or more Indian unsafeguarded facilities originated from companies in NSG member states. This may reflect the impact of India’s NSG waiver and the general assessment of lower due diligence risk.”

Nuclear policy experts in New Delhi have strongly been proposing for global nuclear mainstreaming of India’s nuclear program and that too without India’s legal integration in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. For that, Indian lobbies have long been trying to influence global norms just to provide India a safe entry into the global mainstream. Unfortunately, there’s significant relaxation been made to the global regimes only to accommodate Indian aspirations. However, such practices have drastically affected the efficacy of the global non-proliferation regime. The India-centric accommodation has also been the bone of contention among the legitimate members of NSG, which have followed legal as well as institutional procedures to become part of the global nuclear regime, whereas India wants to have access to the global market without meeting the legal procedures. 

These reports should warn the international community that India has not been clear about its nuclear trade and transaction. The supply chain of its nuclear material, which should have been solely directed to its peaceful nuclear program, ends up in its unsafeguarded nuclear program which is directly contributing to its weapons development. If not restricted at this point of time, India will likely to continue its efforts to grow and modernize its nuclear program at the cost of regional stability. 

It has become the need of hour to identify, monitor and disrupt India’s illicit nuclear proliferation network which has been indirectly facilitated from the NSG waiver. Indian companies remain active and continue to procure nuclear dual-use goods from foreign firms for potential use in its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities or nuclear weapons program. There is need of greater involvement from IAEA and other international instruments to monitor and verify India’s nuclear cooperation with the countries which are part of broader NSG cartel. This is the only way forward to stop India’s systematic nuclear proliferation network.

*The author is Islamabad based freelance writer and holds Master Degree in International Relations from NUML University Islamabad.

2 thoughts on “India And The Illicit Nuclear Trade – OpEd

  • Avatar
    June 15, 2020 at 7:20 pm
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    That looks revealing. Why Indian Ministery of External Affairs has kept silence over such a report that claims to exposed Indian illicit nuclear trade? Are we becoming North Korea? Whats happening?

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  • Avatar
    June 16, 2020 at 11:09 am
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    There are several foreign intelligence reports leaked internationally, indicating that India is running covert operations like financing foreign think tanks and news outlets to influence the political decision makers and civil society of major states. A well-funded and covert Indian agenda is to let us believe that India has a strong nuclear non-proliferation track record. On the opposite, the highly troubling state of affairs though is unnoticed. Indian history of illegal nuclear procurement, proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons technology and techniques, poor nuclear export controls and mismanagement of nuclear facilities is generally forgotten.

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