Jeffrey LewisIndia's Nonproliferation Record

And the fact is that India has a record of nonproliferation, which is exceptional …

Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Briefing on the Signing of the Global Partnership Agreement Between the United States and India, July 19, 2005.

That was not the impression David Albright gave to attendees during the Institute for Science and International Security’s briefing on fissile material stocks (co-hosted with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).

Corey Hinderstein produced the first satellite photograph of the Rattehalli Rare Materials Plant (RMP) where India has a small gas centrifuge pilot plant.

Then Paul asked Albright to comment on India’s nonproliferation record. Albright revealed three things that I hadn’t heard. He claimed:

  • India openly attempts to procure prohibited items for its gas centrifuge plant. One tactic is to sell tenders to companies that then procure the items. Albright implied the government doesn’t ask too many questions. (I found that India has a website where you can search the tenders. Go ahead and peruse the 297 tenders frorm the Department Of Atomic Energy, including one for Anhydrous Ammonia—essential to any well stocked meth lab.)
  • In the 1980s, India used many of the same front companies as the AQ Khan network, including Trade Fin in South Africa. In theory, India might have fed some centrifuge design information back into the network in developing specifications for feed and piping systems. Also, Paul reported in 2005 that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that Asher Karni pled guilty to exporting items to India that are “controlled for nuclear non-proliferation reasons.”
  • Although India does have an export control list, India does not adequately enforce export controls (Albright compared India unfavorably to Germany). Albright claims to have seen dual-use items related to gas centrifuges, such as valves, for sale. The United States sanctioned several Indian firms for proliferation activity.

I can’t wait for the reaction to this post on the Bharat-Rakshak bulletin boards.

Late Update: Several Indian news outletsincluding Rediff—also picked up Albright’s comments.

And Bharat-Rakshak is buzzing. For some reason Albright’s comments are being attributed to me—which is weird, since I don’t know anything about Indian proliferation behavior.

I do take offense at one author’s suggestion that the description of the “small … pilot plant” at Mysore is an implicitly racist effort to denigrate the scientific capabilities of “slimy dark Indians.”

Former Indian AEC Chairman PK Iyengar claimed the plant would comprise “several hundred… centrifuges made of domestically produced maraging steel.” That is pretty much a small, pilot plant. Albright and Hinderstein indicated that a forthcoming monograph would discuss the scale of the enrichment effort, which may be larger than is previously believed. Until then, I am sticking with “small pilot plant.”

As for the implication that I somehow detest Indians, the author is invited to arrange a time to make that particular claim to my face.


  1. RT (History)

    I’d like to know what criteria David Albright uses to determine that India’s enforcement of export control laws is worse than Germany’s. I’m particularly surprised that such a determination should come from Albright, given his work in Iraq and the copious German involvement there.

    One thing I know for sure. If India was intent on proliferating, like some of its neighbors were (are?), it would not have spurned an offer by Libya in 1978 to pay $15 billion in return for nuclear weapons help. This was at a time when the NSG/NPT framework was coming down hard on India and India had no incentive not to externally subvert the framework.

    I’d like to see some numbers, specifics – any substantiation. Without it, this seems to be just carping.

  2. Nitin (History)

    All that stuff about racism is baloney.

    But I’m surprised that Albright and his colleagues seem to suggest that there is an equivalence between India procuring nuclear technology from the international market and wilfully indulging in nuclear proliferation.

    Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is in India’s interests too. Unfortunately, the faith-based agenda of Albright and his types strengthens the hands of those in India who advocate the so-called ‘non-aligned’ thumb-your-nose-at-the-West nuclear policy.

    I’ve written about this on my blog.

  3. Stephanie Lieggi (History)

    I’ve been repeatedly surprised recently at the number of experts that can’t seem to keep their Khan’s straight.

    I’ve seen a number of references—including here and in a recent Carnegie chronology—linking Asher Karni with the AQ Khan network.

    However, there is no evidence that Karni was tied to the AQ Khan network in any way. Karni’s link to Pakistan’s nuclear program was through Humayun Khan, who (along with his company Pakland) have been working with the Pakistani military for years.

    The issues for the international nonproliferation community of the Karni-Khan network and the AQ Khan network may be similar—but they also have unique aspects to them that shouldn’t be confused.

    As a side note—for a comprehensive and detailed look at India’s export control system, I suggest you check out the recent CITS report on the subject.

    [Right, I see that now. It’s been changed. Jeffrey]

  4. Josh (History)

    Thank you to Stephanie for pointing out the misleading discussion of Asher Karni in the Carnegie Endowment’s AQ Khan nuclear chronology. The comprehensive chronology, which covers all of AQ Khan’s proliferation-related activities from the early 1970’s to 2003, has been amended to reflect Stephanie’s legitimate concerns. It can be found at

  5. gulikas (History)

    David’s work is ususally fine quality – and his info on the secretive Indian centrifuge program is very interesting and welcome. However, his ruminations on India’s nonproliferation record raise questions about his knowedge of basic concepts. In his enthusiasm for making headlines he has come up with a bunch of strange facts! The np record usually cited by India/pro-India folks refers to proliferation beyond its boundaries (what used to be called horizontal proliferation many years ago)—which is different from the acts of acquiring items for one’s own national program (vertical proliferation). On the former, India’s record is pretty good – esp. when you consider that it was not bound by any regimes (like for instance Germany). And David’s example of Germany as a model country is esp. curious since his own case studies on Pakistan and Saddam implicate a bunch of German companies and scientists! Finally, what exactly is a “model” country (as per David’s quote in Rediff)? Even the US n and m programs got help (vertical prolif?) from escapees from Nazi Germany and in 2005, US companies continue to be indicted for exporting stuff to all kinds of countries (horizontal prolif?)…