The Narendra Modi government has moved swiftly to ratify the Additional Protocol (AP) to the India-specific nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Essentially, the government has bagged a low-hanging fruit left behind by the Manmohan Singh administration which had done all the hard work of negotiating and signing a credible document, but had fallen short of delivering the final punch. The timely ratification just ahead of a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) — the closely knit 48-member club that controls the global flows of nuclear material — offers India several advantages. By clearing the decks for the enforcement of the AP, the government has bolstered its case for NSG membership. Apart from creating openings that could be possibly used for easier access to advanced nuclear technology, a presence in the NSG, which functions on the basis of consensus, would arm India with the power to protect its core interests. This would be a substantial gain, given that non-proliferation zealotry is significant within the ranks of the NSG, notwithstanding its decision to relax the technology ban on India after the 2008 Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. Following the NSG’s step, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia have signed bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with New Delhi.
The ratification of the AP reinforces India’s credentials as a country committed to non-proliferation, for transfer of data on India’s nuclear exports to the IAEA is a core element of the document. The ratification may also improve the atmospherics of the visit in September to the U.S. by Prime Minister Modi. India has now fulfilled a commitment that it had made in the Indo-U.S. joint statement of 2005. Despite the advantages that accrue from the ratification of the AP — which demands greater transparency in India’s civilian nuclear establishments that are under international safeguards, but is hardly an intrusive document — impediments to nuclear commerce between New Delhi and the rest of the world remain. The Nuclear Liability Bill, which puts the onus of damages on the supplier, continues to hamper normalisation of India’s nuclear trade with countries including the U.S. and France. The bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement between India and Japan, which would allow New Delhi to import nuclear know-how from Tokyo, is also not yet concluded. The Modi government therefore has significant hurdles to cross beyond the ratification of the AP, before India is accepted as a nuclear weapon power, outside the framework of the NPT, freely engaging in nuclear commerce. It is only when that happens can atomic energy expand as a growing and salient component of India’s energy security basket.