India’s alleged involvement in illicit nuclear trade networks came under fire in a detailed report issued by a major security-focused think tank here, the Institute for Science and International Security.
In its 114-page report on “Future World of Illicit Nuclear Trade,” authors David Albright, Andrea Stricker, and Houston Wood argued that India despite being a non-Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory, was “expected to maintain or improve nuclear arsenals via illicit trade, in violation of originating state laws and international law.”
According to ISIS India was in fact among a group of “illicit nuclear trade suppliers of concern,” including China, Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Russia and a host of “rogue states” such as Iran, North Korea, Syria “and possibly a Khan-type network.”
Outlining numerous specific concerns about India’s involvement in illicit procurement the July report unveiled on October 1 said that New Delhi “On one hand, seeks parts, equipment, and technology for its civilian nuclear power program, an effort facilitated by the 2008 U.S.-India agreement on civilian nuclear trade, while at the same time engaging in illicit activities to obtain key items for its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons programme.”
It also pulled no punches in emphasising that India benefitted from the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear smuggling network which was “exposed and rolled up in 2003 and 2004,” also noting that nuclear smugglers allegedly supplying Iran with components, “placed orders from Germany and Turkey to an Indian valve company.” In this specific case four shipments of 856 valves went from India to Turkey and then on to Iran, the report said.
The ISIS study however exonerated some aspects of India’s nuclear development, pointing out that India used commercial, electricity production reactors to make plutonium for its nuclear weapons, including heavy water reactors.
This method, used by India “as a way to surge plutonium production following its 1999 nuclear tests and the formal launch of its nuclear arms race with Pakistan, did not however entail the use of reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, “so their use did not involve a violation of any international agreements.”
However ISIS underscored India’s dependence on foreign procurement to acquire major components, such as the fact that it was “known to have procured on several occasions at least one of the required chemicals, tributyl phosphate (TBP), for its own programme abroad rather than making the TBP itself.”
A long list of components were said to have been illicitly procured by India and other nations such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, including vacuum measuring equipment, vacuum pumps, fast-acting valves, ring magnets, specialized oils, specialized epoxy resins, computerized control equipment, high-grade maraging steel, high-strength aluminum, high-strength carbon fibre, CNC machine tools.
In terms of policy recommendations to stem the rise of illicit nuclear trade in the future the ISIS report said that “proliferant states, such as India and Pakistan, which have depended or did depend on overseas, illegal procurements for their nuclear programmes, may resist reforms in trade control systems and rigorous enforcement of trade control laws.”
India was also considered to feature in the list of “future possible turntable countries or countries of diversion concern” and one policy response would be to initiate an international effort to improve and standardise security and classification rules among responsible nations.
Additionally domestic intelligence agencies involved in investigating and analyzing illicit trade had to be developed in India, “but as these countries implement their controls more effectively, they can also strengthen government/industry cooperation,” the report said.
Ultimately it would be necessary to “pressure partners such as India and Pakistan to stop breaking U.S. and other nations’ laws to equip their nuclear weapons or unsafeguarded nuclear programmes, ISIS noted, adding that negotiations toward tension reduction and caps on fissile material and nuclear weapons production between India and Pakistan would also help.