Originally Published 2014-07-08 09:01:47 Published on Jul 08, 2014
The allegation of Indian expansion of its uranium enrichment facilities is based on a report released by IHS Jane's, which has already been dismissed by both the US and the Indian governments as speculative. Indeed, the IHS Jane's report merely identifies a "possible" new uranium hexafluoride plant.
Why The New York Times is wrong
The recent editorial in the New York Times, titled "India's Role in the Nuclear Race", showcases how even a reputed newspaper can be irresponsible in coming up with agenda-driven arguments based on everything else but facts.

The editorial, discussing India's pitch for NSG membership, claims that India should not be granted this membership until it proves itself to be willing to lead the campaign against the spread of nuclear weapons. The editorial, in fact, argues that by expanding its stockpiles of enriched uranium to be used for nuclear weapons, India is making Pakistan, "a nation with fastest growing nuclear arsenal," anxious and thus contributing to a nuclear arms race. Unfortunately, the allegation of Indian expansion of its uranium enrichment facilities is based on a report released by IHS Jane's, which has already been dismissed by both the US and the Indian governments as speculative. Indeed, the IHS Jane's report merely identifies a "possible" new uranium hexafluoride plant.

The editorial stresses on the growing anxiety in Pakistan based on this speculative report, instead of pondering upon the grave consequences of a rapid increase of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, which is primarily aimed at counter-balancing the conventional superiority that India possesses. This accepted rationale that drives Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, especially the developments of tactical nuclear weapons, also nullifies any chances of it entering into negotiations with India over nuclear weapons, while the latter remains conventionally superior.

The editorial also argues that India has long sought to carve out a special exception for itself in the nuclear sphere. Unfortunately, this too is factually incorrect an argument to make. India has for long faced isolation over its nuclear program. Despite facing numerous sanctions, and being outside the non-proliferation regime, it has upheld the norms and values of nuclear non-proliferation in its conduct of nuclear activities, be it export of technology, fissile material, or parts of reactors it possessed. It has been India's responsible behaviour and restraint which made the US and many other Western nations see in India a reliable and a like-minded partner in so far as the goal of nuclear non-proliferation was concerned. It is this recognition that brought about the India-US civil nuclear agreement and the subsequent NSG waiver.

The editorial sways away from considerations of India's full membership to the NSG to criticizing the India-US civil nuclear deal, on grounds that it did not require India to "stop producing bomb-making material or forsake nuclear testing," a clear reference to Indian position on FMCT and CTBT. It then suggests that India should sign CTBT and stop producing fissile material if it is to become an NSG member. The editorial blatantly ignores the fact that India has already showcased its position of restraining the expansion of its nuclear stockpile by participating in the negotiations of Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and that it is Pakistan which is showing zero restraint in the production of fissile material. As far as signing the CTBT goes, the double-standard is again captured considering that recognized nuclear weapon states like China and the US have failed to ratify the treaty, in the first place, making it defunct.

The editorial also lodges complaints over Indian nuclear liability law that has nothing to do with either considerations of India's NSG membership or "India's role in nuclear race," as the title of the editorial reads. The editorial fails to recognize the value of new standards of responsible practices in the nuclear energy domain which the law introduces, and instead, merely puts across the apprehensions of American firms engaged in nuclear energy market.

The editorial argues that the additional protocol ratified by India carries fewer obligations than those ratified by other major states. This statement, however, demands a careful examination of the additional protocols of nuclear weapons states. As in the case of NPT nuclear-weapon states (NWS), India will continue to retain undeclared nuclear activities outside of safeguards.

Indian additional protocol contains a broad exemption for unsafeguarded activities. This exemption, however, is also enjoyed by the US, in the form of national security exemption that allows Washington to exclude the implementation of the safeguards in cases that would "result in access by the agency to activities with direct national security significance to the United States." While what constitutes as an activity of national security significance remains ambiguous, the exemption given to the US could be broader than what India has.

While the Indian protocol gives physical access to the IAEA inspectors to its declared civilian nuclear facilities, the Russian and Chinese protocols do not allow IAEA inspectors physical access to any facilities. Also, under their respective Additional Protocols, both Russia and China are required to provide information on nuclear imports and exports, which India will also provide, bringing the protocols at par. Although, unlike India, Russia and China provide information on activities relating to the nuclear fuel cycle, this information is, however, restricted only to the transfer of activities to non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). The information of activities on the domestic nuclear fuel cycles in Russia and China continues to remain unavailable to the IAEA.

As far as France and the UK are concerned, though they do not have any exemption like that of the US, the safeguards only apply to activities related to transfers to the NNWS, and not to the ones aimed at fulfilling their domestic nuclear goals.

The concern expressed in the editorial over India getting a veto on Pakistan's membership to the NSG in future is unsound, considering that it will be Pakistan's nuclear conduct that will influence the position of not just India but also the 48 members of the NSG. Despite mentioning how Pakistan, today, has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal, the editorial fails to recognize the gravity of threat that Pakistan thereby poses. It continues to expand its stock of fissile material, and indulges in the development of tactical nuclear weapons. It has had a long record of involvement in activities related to nuclear proliferation.

The debate on India's membership continued in the recently held annual NSG meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 26-27, 2014. While serious discussions are needed to better assess both risks and merits of India's membership, such a clearly biased editorial fails to contribute to the debate in any form.

(The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.