The best way to get a handle on the otherwise dense safeguards agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency is to see what its American critics are saying. We already have Dr Jeffrey Lewis, the man who posted a leaked copy of the agreement on armscontrolwonk.com early Thursday morning, headlining his post “India safeguards agreement stinks.” He is concerned over the fact that nowhere is the word “perpetuity” mentioned. In other words, even the indigenous reactors that New Delhi is offering for safeguards will have a loophole which will permit us to take them out, if needed. He has called on the IAEA to scrap this agreement and come up with another, tighter, document.
What is remarkable is the latitude India has managed with regard to what it will place under safeguards. First, the Agency has accepted that India “on the basis of its sole determination” will identify and “voluntarily” offer a facility for safeguards. In the separation plan announced on March 2, 2006, India agreed to put into safeguards eight indigenous power reactors, in addition to six already under safeguards. It said that it could consider placing some future reactors as well. In addition, certain facilities like the Nuclear Fuel Complex, too, could be put under the IAEA verification regime. People like Lewis complain that under this agreement India will have the right, under certain circumstances, to pull even these eight reactors out of the safeguards regime.
The preamble to the agreement lists all the Indian requirements noting that while India would place its civilian nuclear facilities under Agency safeguards, it will also provide assurance against withdrawal of material from civilian use at any time. Further, for India to accept the safeguards, the Agency understood India’s need “to obtain access to the international fuel market including reliable, uninterrupted and continuous access to fuel supplies from companies in several nation. “ It understood that India could set up a “strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption in supply” and it also accepted that India “may take corrective measures to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies.” There is much of a to do over specifying the so-called corrective measures. Left wanted to know whether India would have the ability to withdraw indigenous or imported reactors from safeguards if the US or other parties reneged on fuel supply. Critics in India and abroad, for different reasons, say that India should spell it out. That would be most foolish. If you reveal the sanctions you will take in the event of the other party reneging on its part of the deal, you’re blunting your own weapon.
Critics will say that this is only stated in the preamble. Aren’t preambles statements ? The statement that India is a “sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic “ is not without meaning. More important is that this preamble concludes noting that “taking into account the above India and the agency have agreed to as follows:” and then spells out the clauses in the agreement.
The key here is the understanding both the IAEA and India have of each other. Clearly the IAEA accepts India’s record in living up to its commitments in letter and in spirit. The practical fact it recognizes is that India will have as many as eight indigenous reactors, and the fast breeder test reactor, uranium enrichment facilities, and the Power Reactor Fuel Reprocessing plant outside the safeguards regime. So there is no incentive for India to cheat and transfer nuclear material from the safeguarded civilian programme to its military one.
With this agreement, India can have its cake and eat it too. The India-specific provisions have made an extraordinary exception for India. The IAEA is the policeman of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and what it has done is to provide a legal sanction for trade, even though we are, by its reckoning, an illegal nuclear weapons state.