Author : Ankita Dutta

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 09, 2023 Updated 9 Days ago
New Delhi’s increasing bilateral outreach to the individual member states of the EU presents an opportunity to promote cooperation
Europe overcoming India’s nuclear status This piece is part of the essay series, 25 Years Since Pokhran: Reviewing India’s Nuclear Odyssey
Between May 11 and May 13, 1998, India conducted a series of nuclear tests, declaring itself a nuclear weapon state. Former National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon, perfectly captured the rationale behind India’s nuclear tests of 1998 in his book, Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy, where he says: “In the late 1990s, India was in a situation where two of its neighbours with whom India had fought wars after independence, Pakistan and China, were already armed with nuclear weapons and were working together to build their capabilities and proliferate them in Asia. The international non-proliferation regime was not in any position to address this problem. India, therefore, chose to become a declared Nuclear Weapon State in 1998.” Adding that as these weapons were to prevent nuclear threats and blackmail, the Vajpayee government declared a ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy under its doctrine of Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD). While the tests were aimed at securing India from nuclear threats, they caused a lot of consternation within the Western world. As a result, while the US imposed economic sanctions on India with Japan suspending aid, the response from the European Union (EU) countries was divided. France supported New Delhi’s decision to conduct the tests; the United Kingdom (UK) stopped short of outright condemnation; and countries like Germany, Sweden and Denmark suspended bilateral aid to India. The relations between India and Europe on nuclear issues including non-proliferation have come a long way since then.
While the US imposed economic sanctions on India with Japan suspending aid, the response from the European Union (EU) countries was divided.
Nuclear non-proliferation, arms export control, and disarmament have been key priorities for European countries and the EU as a whole. In 2003, the EU published its strategy against the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which made “non-proliferation a central goal of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)...objective is to prevent, deter, halt and, where possible, eliminate proliferation of concern worldwide.” Within this anti-WMD framework, the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) remain the cornerstones of the non-proliferation regime. The EU and its member states are also part of the various other treaties and agreements on nuclear non-proliferation and have supported over 120 projects on non-proliferation, arms export control, and disarmament amounting to over €360 million. In short, the EU and its member states have made multiple commitments to the non-proliferation regime. Over a period of time, there has been a subtle normalisation of dialogue on nuclear issues between Europe and India. India and the EU signed their strategic partnership  in 2004 and political dialogue on non-proliferation has consistently been a part of the larger agenda. In this regard, three developments are critical to mention—first, the EU’s strategy on WMD stipulated the inclusion of a non-proliferation clause in the agreements that the Union signs with third countries. This clause entailed that the parties “contribute to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery through full compliance with and national implementation of their existing obligations under international disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and agreements and other relevant international obligations.” However, India had raised concerns about the political conditionality associated with the clause. With the scope of India–EU relations expanding under the strategic partnership, the EU dropped references to the inclusion of the non-proliferation clause when the mandate to start the free trade agreement negotiations was approved by the EU Council in 2007.
India and the EU signed their strategic partnership  in 2004 and political dialogue on non-proliferation has consistently been a part of the larger agenda.
Second, impetus was provided by the conclusion of the India–US civil nuclear deal, following the granting of India-specific waivers by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The road to the granting of waivers saw some of the European members of the grouping raising concerns over unconditional waivers as requested by India on the grounds that “an unconditional waiver would strongly undermine the non-proliferation regime”. However, after India and the US expended immense diplomatic effort, New Delhi was granted the NSG waiver. The US-India Nuclear Deal and clean waiver from the NSG ended India’s isolation from the international nuclear order as New Delhi agreed to place its civilian nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safeguards. This was further compounded by the fact that despite staying outside the legal nuclear frameworks, India has consistently emphasised that it is a ‘responsible nuclear power’ by highlighting that it has never contributed to nuclear proliferation or violated any of the agreements on non-proliferation. Moreover, in the past decade, India has become a member of three critical multilateral export control regimes—the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016, Wassenaar Agreement in 2017, and the Australia Group in 2018. While the European countries granted waivers to India, the issue of New Delhi being a non-signatory to the NPT has been a lingering issue for its membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which remains pending. On this issue, within the European countries, key strands of divisions are visible. The first includes countries such as France and the UK, who support India’s inclusion in the NSG. And then there are countries such as Ireland and Austria, who oppose India’s membership on the grounds that New Delhi’s non-signatory status on the NPT.
India and the EU also signed a ‘research and development cooperation in the field of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy’ to facilitate cooperation in the peaceful and non-explosive uses of nuclear energy.
Third, at the bilateral level, the NSG waiver and safeguard agreements with the IAEA have paved the way for many European countries to sign nuclear cooperation agreements with India. Civil nuclear cooperation is a key pillar of the India–France strategic partnership and can be traced back to the 1950s. France was the only Western country that supported India’s nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998. It was also the first country to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with India in 2008, following the NSG waiver. Apart from France, India also has nuclear cooperation agreements with the UK and Czech Republic. More importantly, India and the EU also signed a ‘research and development cooperation in the field of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy’ to facilitate cooperation in the peaceful and non-explosive uses of nuclear energy. This agreement was negotiated over a period of 13 years and was signed in 2020. For a long time, India–EU conversations were constrained on the issues related to nuclear non-proliferation due to a different policy outlook. However, in the past few years, the situation appears to be changing with the EU’s renewed approach towards India and New Delhi’s own unique and positive track record on the issue of non-proliferation. With expanding cooperation on nuclear issues between India and the EU, New Delhi’s increasing outreach to the individual member states of the EU bilaterally presents an opportunity to enhance their respective understanding of each other’s concerns and promote cooperation.
Ankita Dutta is a Fellow at the Strategic Studies Programme at ORF.
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Author

Ankita Dutta

Ankita Dutta

Ankita Dutta was a Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. Her research interests include European affairs and politics European Union and affairs Indian foreign policy ...

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