Siddharth Varadarajan

Sign NPT, accept full safeguards, U.S. wants U.N. to tell India

In a measure of how the official line in Washington on India’s nuclear status has changed from the Bush to the Obama administrations, the U.S. is circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling, inter alia, for all Indian nuclear facilities to be placed under international safeguards and not just those that have been declared “civilian” under the July 2005 Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement.

The ostensible rationale for the resolution President Barack Obama would like adopted at the special UNSC session he will chair on September 24 is to demonstrate the seriousness of his stated commitment to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

But there is a sting in the tail for India: For the first time since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force, the UNSC is going to demand that all states outside the treaty sign it immediately or begin adhering to its provisions.

The only other time the UNSC has adopted such a prescriptive demand for a country or group of countries that never accepted the treaty was in 1998, when it passed resolution 1172 urging India and Pakistan to sign the NPT as well as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the wake of the nuclear tests both countries conducted in May that year.

Since then, 1172 has been treated by the international community, and the U.S. in particular, as a dead letter as far as India is concerned.

Indeed, the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement, followed by the Indian safeguards agreement at the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers group exemption was meant to underline Washington’s desire to treat as irrelevant India’s non-adherence to the NPT.

Of special concern to India, therefore, is the third operational paragraph of Mr. Obama’s proposed resolution, which says the U.N.: “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to join the Treaty so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and in any case to adhere to its terms;”.

For a country like India, that is not a party to the NPT and did not explode a nuclear device prior to 1968, the phrase “to join the treaty… and in any case to adhere to its terms” essentially means it should open up all nuclear facilities for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency so that the latter can ensure that Indian reactors and fissile material stocks are not being used for weapons purposes.

Preambular paragraph 15 also reaffirms “all other relevant non-proliferation resolutions adopted by the Security Council,” an implicit reference to Resolution 1172.

Taken together, these references to India may lack enforceability but they do signal a quiet return to the “roll back” rhetoric and discourse of the Clinton era, before President George W. Bush pushed for India to be made an exception to the requirements of the NPT-related non-proliferation architecture.

Over the past few months, U.S. administration officials have revived the push for NPT universality at various international forums and sought to get the G8 to back a ban on enrichment and reprocessing technology sales to countries like India that have not signed the treaty.

Though these moves have been accompanied by statements of support for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and the beginning of talks on reprocessing, the repeated foregrounding of the NPT suggests growing American impatience with the Bush administration premise that India’s nuclear credentials warrant it being placed in a category different from Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Other provisions

The draft resolution also contains a range of other provisions on the CTBT, the permanence of safeguards and so on, as well explicitly requiring that all situations of “non-compliance with non-proliferation obligations” be brought to the UNSC which would then determine whether this non-compliance was a threat to international peace and security.

The only reference the resolution makes to the actual abolition of nuclear weapons is its call for all NPT and non-NPT members to undertake to pursue good faith negotiations on “a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” By clubbing together non-NPT states with all NPT states (i.e. both the nuclear and non-nuclear), this formulation avoids extending de facto recognition to the nuclear weapon status of India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 6:45:02 PM |

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