Jeffrey LewisNSG Side Deals on India

Glenn Kessler has an interesting little story in the Washington Post about the agreement to waive Nuclear Suppliers Group restrictions on civil nuclear trade with India. Kessler cites “sources familiar with the discussions” making two claims:

1. “[The NSG] privately agreed last weekend that none of its members plans to sell sensitive technologies to India .. [to] persuade several skeptical member states to support a waiver authorizing nuclear trade with India…”

2. “The NSG separately is nearing consensus on a total ban on sensitive sales to countries such as India that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty … [This was] another factor in persuading countries such as Ireland, New Zealand and Austria to end their effort to write such trade restrictions into the waiver for India.”

Here is the money quote:

“In the discussions about how to handle enrichment and reprocessing, it was made clear that nobody had any plans to transfer such technologies to India in the foreseeable future,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was describing private diplomatic exchanges. While such statements were not binding, he said, the NSG countries recognized that they were planning to “tighten up” the rules on such sales in the near future, allowing them to achieve the same restrictions on India later without causing a diplomatic rupture now.

It is a good bit of reporting. US policy is to generally oppose the transfer of such materials. In case that wasn’t clear before, let me remind you of the Answer to Question 5 of the 45 Questions:

Consistent with standing U.S. policy, the U.S. government will not assist India in the design, construction, or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies through the transfer of dual-use items, whether under the Agreement or outside the Agreement. The United States rarely transfers dual-use items for sensitive nuclear activities to any cooperating party and no such transfers are currently pending.

I am glad to see that the NSG countries reached a private understanding to block the sale of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to India. Some Indian officials have described this as a red line. I hope so.

A prohibition on enrichment and reprocessing technologies — either private or formal — doesn’t, however, address my core concerns: that carving out an exception for India undermines the rule of law and allows India to use the international marketplace to mitigate the effect of any sanctions following a resumption of nuclear testing.


  1. Observer

    Nor does it address the concern that India will now be able to purchase natural uranium — which is a limiting factor in the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.


  2. Sam (History)

    Two other possible side deals offered by the US to:
    1)India: no tendering until the deal clears Congress, in return for this sweetheart deal
    2)China: you get to offer Pakistan the same deal, no guarantees on acceptance, in return for signing off on India

  3. Dan (History)

    Jeffrey – Is it not entirely possible that the prohibition on transferring duel use materials and technology to India is a smoke screen. By trading peaceful nuclear fuel outside of the NPT with India, the US is essentially providing them with a resource for more bomb making material…their own, which is now freed up to supply the Indian program. Am I wrong? Is there no doubt that the Indian Nuclear Infrastructure will now begin to produce more weapons?

  4. Silver Sabre

    “Some Indian officials have described this as a red line. I hope so.”

    I’m just curious as to the intense dislike of India that I sense here.

    In any case, I don’t see any need for India of enrichment or reprocessing tech. India already has both, albeit not as advanced as the likes of Russia.

    I’m also curious as to the assumption that India will somehow test nuclear weapons imminently.

    I don’t see why.

    However, the most likely country to test nukes is the US, given all the noises. Obviously China would want to follow suit and THAT would be the most likely trigger for India.

    Thus, the best way to make sure India does not test is to make sure that the US does not.

  5. Siddharth

    WaPo’s non-news on ENR at the NSG

    Glenn Kessler in today’s Washington Post has a “sensational” story about how the Nuclear Suppliers Group last week reached a gentleman’s understanding about not supplying India with sensitive nuclear technology. Three things here. First, this is not news. I reported this in The Hindu on September 7:

    Asked for his assessment of the waiver, a diplomat from a European country which initially wanted much stronger conditional language said his government had joined the consensus “very reluctantly”. “I wouldn’t say we’re happy”, he said, adding that his country and several others had been “leaned on at the highest levels”. The diplomat said the final form of the waiver was an improvement over the previous draft, especially the chapeau of paragraph 3 which established what he described as a “strong link” between commitment and action. Nevertheless, his country agreed to sign on mainly because it had received two key assurances during consultations within the various steering committees. First, that no participating government (PG) currently intended to transfer ENR equipment to India, and second, that PGs would take India’s compliance with its commitments into account before agreeing to any nuclear transfers. The diplomat added that his government, and many others, had reiterated these assurances in their national statements before adoption of the waiver decision. Though there was no separate chairman’s statement elaborating these assurances, the diplomat said the national statements now formed part of the NSG’s internal records and could always be referred to in the future.

    Second, this was not an ‘agreement’ within the NSG plenary but an informal assurance provided by some supplier countries, in an ad hoc steering committee, that they had no “current” intentions of transferring ENR items to India. Third, a number of countries tried to have a chairman’s statement reflect these assurances but this was resisted by others and no such statement was made…

    But Kessler is right (or rather the non-pro U.S. officials who spun this story are right) that the NSG will likely adopt future guidelines formally restricting access to ENR. These guidelines could involve NPT membership, non-replicability, adherence to the Additional Protocol and tighter safeguards measures. Consensus on all of these won’t be easy, except for NPT membership. Ensuring new guidelines that block access are not adopted will be tomorrow’s major challenge for Indian diplomacy.

  6. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    Oh man, anyone who believes this, I’ve got some beachfront property here in beautiful New Mexico to sell you.

    Or maybe you’ll send me a $20,000 deposit and your social security number because I have this inheritance from Nigerian royalty that is stuck in a bank in London…

  7. Daryl Kimball (History)

    Jeffrey and Siddarth:

    Glenn does some great reporting. But he had a little help tracking this one down.

    Please note that ACA’s Note for Reporters <; which was published and sent on our email system the afternoon of the 6th of Sept says in part:

    “In addition, in the course of the NSG meeting, the United States confirmed that participating NSG governments expressed assurances that they did not intend to transfer enrichment or reprocessing technology to India.”

    This is the same posting that includes the text of the NSG waiver that has been published by the Hindu and ACW (and every other news outlet).

    As we noted then, the NSG waiver falls well short of what should have been done, but the practical effect (no E&R transfers and consequences if there is a test) may be the same.

    How “bout some credit where credit is due?


  8. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Now…. if some brilliant guy in the Bush Administration will just tag the US-India nuclear deal onto the “must pass” $700 billion mortgage securities bailout package as an amendment…

  9. Manne (History)

    Frankly, it is cute to see you guys looking for fig leaves. The sooner you come out of denial the better it will be for genuine non-prolif efforts. But alas! I see no hope till you give up the strawman the very US State Dept built so carefully over the years.