Tag Archives | nuclear

Winning the small nuclear battles

Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama must move forward on nuclear trade when they meet this week.

Some newspapers and political parties would have us believe that the PM is in New York with the express intention of selling India’s soul to America.

They contend that India’s Nuclear Liability Act (NLA), which allows for costs to be imposed on the supplier in the event of a nuclear disaster in India, is about to be sold down the river by the PM in order to remove impediments to the participation of U.S. firms in civil nuclear trade with India.  There was furor when it emerged that the Attorney General had issued an opinion indicating that the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL) had the right to waive the liability provision, if provided for in a contract.

Outraged opposition parties and left-leaning media outlets argued that India was bypassing its own law to please the U.S.  A few observations on the subject:

The language in the NLA appears to be fairly clear on the applicability of supplier liability.  Clause 17 reads:

The operator of the nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for nuclear
damage in accordance with section 6, shall have a right of recourse where-

(a)    such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;
(b)    the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his
employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects
or sub-standard services;
(c)    the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of
an individual done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.  [THE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NUCLEAR DAMAGE ACT, 2010]

We’ll leave matters relating to the legal interpretation of the language in the Act to the experts on the subject, but if our admittedly untrained legal interpretation is correct, clause 17(a) does allow for supplier-side liability if “expressly provided for” in a contract between the operator (in most cases, GoI) and the supplier.

If this is indeed true, then the question of “bypassing” Indian law simply doesn’t arise.  The law itself does not make supplier-side liability mandatory.  Further, it the begs question of what the opposition — which was out screaming blue murder this past month — was doing when the bill was being debated in 2010.  Even assuming their very busy schedule of staging walkouts in Parliament got in the way of them expressing an opinion when the bill was being debated, what have they been doing the past two years since its enactment?

The NLA in its current state is simply incompatible with the IAEA Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), which India undertook a commitment to accede to.  Contingent on these incompatibilities, India has signed the CSC but not ratified it, as ratification would require a change in our liability laws.  It is strange then that we appear so eager to be brought into the mainstream of the global framework for civil nuclear commerce and yet not want to be bound by its rules.

The issues pertaining to supplier-side liability are not U.S.-specific.  The truth is that no one is willing to do business with India given the costs imposed by the NLA on suppliers.  The Russians have refused to bring Kudankulam 3 and 4 under the ambit of the NLA.  The French company Areva has also made it clear that it will not be able to move forward, given the language in the NLA. The Canadians have expressed reservations.  Potential Indian suppliers themselves appear to be uneasy with supplier-side liability with FICCI warning that the NLA “threatens to completely undo the government’s efforts to accelerate nuclear power generation…”

The AG’s interpretation that the operator had the ability to contractually invoke or exclude supplier-side liability actually dates back to October 2012, when his legal opinion was provided during negotiations on Kudamkulam with the Russians.  There was not so much as a whimper in the left-leaning media then, but apparently now this interpretation causes a “dilution” in our liability laws to allow the prime minister to carry as a “gift” to the U.S.

The Cold War ended two decades ago, folks.  There is no benefit in India pretending to be more soviet than the Soviet Union in 2013.

Many in India are yet to appreciate the impact the NLA has had on the general mood towards India in DC.  This was about more than just nuclear commerce.  Presidents of the U.S. do not make phone calls to their Chinese counterparts asking them to drop their opposition to a third country’s bid for an NSG waiver merely at the prospect of being able to sell few nuclear reactors.  India would have most likely remained a nuclear paraih were it not for the efforts of the Bush administration.

Since obtaining an NSG waiver, the UPA has bungled like only it can.  Debates on nuclear liability were emotive rather than pragmatic, drawing wrong lessons from the Bhopal tragedy.  While the NLA automatically precluded the possibility of the participation of U.S. companies in civil nuclear commerce with India, companies in Russia and France, which were initially underwritten by their governments, were able to enter into exploratory discussions with India.  With Russia and France no longer willing to abide by the NLA, the prime minister arrives in the U.S. attempting to salvage a relationship and an economy.

Realistically, neither the U.S. nor India have each other on their list of top priorities at the moment. The Obama administration is faced with a precarious situation in Syria and is battling opposition on healthcare reform and budget disputes.  Meanwhile, with India heading to polls in May 2014, the UPA is effectively in a holding pattern with very little political capital at its disposal for brave new ideas.

Under the circumstances, if a pre-early works agreement can indeed be concluded between NPCIL and Westinghouse, it might help arrest the doom and gloom and allow both sides to reevaluate positions sometime next year.  This is about as much as we can hope for when Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama meet on Friday.

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Don’t fear the MIRVs!

India’s induction of MIRVs can enhance nuclear stability in Asia.

Yesterday’s Times of India carries excerpts from the Federation of American Scientists’ report entitled “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2013.” It’s co-author, Hans Kristensen, spoke to the Times of India on reports that future enhancements to India’s strategic missiles would carry multiple independent targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs):

Kristensen told TOI that MIRVs are not in keeping with New Delhi’s policy of minimum deterrence and that Indian officials needed to explain why they want to develop the technology because it could lead to a buildup with China. “MIRV is developed for a particular strategic objective, normally to quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on missiles or to be able to hit a lot of targets in a single attack. Both of those objectives are incompatible with India’s policy of minimum deterrence because they would significantly increase the size of the arsenal and signal a shift to a nuclear counterforce war-fighting doctrine,” Kristensen told TOI.

The report says that such moves by India and China could set off an increased and more intense nuclear arms race in Asia. “The United States, Russia, and the international arms control community should discourage this competition by significantly curtailing their own MIRVed weapon systems and ballistic missile defense programs,” it says. [Times of India]

Mr. Kristensen’s statements defy logic because the development and deployment of MIRVs is not only in keeping with India’s nuclear weapons doctrine, they are an essential component of it.  India’s policy of No First Use (NFU) means that it must necessarily ensure both the survivability of its nuclear assets in the event of a preemptive attack by an adversary, as well as maintain the ability to respond in a manner that will impose unacceptable costs on the enemy.

Both components of the NFU (i.e., survivability of its arsenal and assured imposition of unacceptable costs) will be enhanced through the induction of MIRVs.  This better assures the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent, which, in turn, also enhances nuclear stability between India and China.

India has quite lucidly articulated its position in its Nuclear Doctrine (emphasis added):

2.3. India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence. In this policy of “retaliation only”, the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors. India’s peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that :

(a) any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat: and (b) any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor

4.3(i):  India’s nuclear forces and their command and control shall be organised for very high survivability against surprise attacks and for rapid punitive response. They shall be designed and deployed to ensure survival against a first strike and to endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor. [Federation of American Scientists] (1999 Draft)

The nuclear programs of both China and India continue to evolve today, thereby contributing to a more competitive nuclear dynamic in the region, whether one side would acknowledge it or not.  A legitimate question for us to ask here is whether both countries (and the region) would be better served and stability enhanced if India and China were to engage each other in nuclear confidence building measures.

The answer, of course, is yes.  India for its part has indicated an interest in entering into a strategic dialog on nuclear issues with China.  However, not only does China continue to refuse to engage India in talks over nuclear CBMs, it remains unwilling to even acknowledge India as a nuclear weapons power.

India’s options are indeed limited if China simply refuses to talk. Meanwhile, territorial disputes between India and China remain unresolved, China’s clandestine assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program — brazenly flouting all non-proliferation norms — continues, and its belligerence towards India and other neighbors has increased in proportion to its growing global clout. Under such circumstances, efforts to enhance the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent are both necessary and entirely in keeping with India’s national security interests.

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…and then there was fire

What Agni-V’s success means to India.

Yesterday, India conducted a successful test of the much-awaited Agni-V nuclear-capable missile off Wheeler Island, Orissa.  Agni-V incorporates advanced technologies including composite rocket motors and micro-navigation systems, and has a range of over 5,000 km. The test itself is the most significant technological demonstrator of India’s evolving nuclear capability since the Pokhran tests of 1998.

By all standards, yesterday’s test was a long time coming.  Hindered by high-technology denial regimes led primarily by the U.S., India’s strategic missiles program has experienced delays and setbacks over the course of the last 15 years.  However, the absence of criticism from the U.S. on yesterday’s test is a testament to how far the Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship has come since Pokhran.  As Shashank Joshi notes, “[i]f this had happened 15 years ago, it would have been condemned by the U.S.”

However, it is important to exercise caution and not get unduly carried away with yesterday’s successful test.  Unfortunately, India’s mainstream media has displayed misguided, almost vulgar bellicosity in its reporting of the success of Agni-V.  The same mainstream media that claimed that India wasn’t even prepared for war against Pakistan just two weeks ago, was all set to launch a punitive nuclear attack against China yesterday.  Some TV news channels also featured animated videos of Agni-V hitting targets in China!  This shrillness, rhetoric and lack of credible analysis does a tremendous disservice to the profession of journalism and to the people of India.

Yes, Agni-V was an important step, but India has many more significant challenges to overcome in the evolution of its nuclear capability.  The significance of Agni-V ties directly with India’s “No First Use” (NFU) nuclear doctrine, which requires a mature secondary-strike capability for any NFU position to be credible.  Effectively, a secondary-strike capability means having the ability to retaliate in an imposed nuclear war via land (typically, missiles), air (strategic bombers) and sea (submarines) — the so-called “nuclear triad.”

However, two of the three legs of India’s nuclear triad  are only just evolving.  Agni-V’s successful launch notwithstanding, it will take several years before it can be fully inducted into India’s armed forces.  Further, as India’s stature and interests on the global stage grow, there will be a need in the future to adequately consider and account for threats beyond its shores and neighborhood.  This will mean the development of missiles with ranges longer than Agni-V, which will take not only advanced technological expertise to achieve, but also considerable political will.

India’s sea-based deterrent is also lagging.  Since India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant, was revealed about two years ago, its operationalization has been significantly impacted by delays in its sea trials.  It is unlikely therefore, that it can be inducted into the armed forces before 2014.  Moreover, India’s submarine-based ballistic missile program is at a nascent stage.  While the short-range SLBM Sagarika (K-15) has undergone some trials, the longer-range K-4 is still under development and is unlikely to be ready for tests in the next 4-5 years, going by previous record.  This means that India is unlikely to realistically achieve credible sea-based deterrence before 2020.

India’s avowed position of never employing a nuclear weapon first in combat means that it must develop its secondary-strike capability with purpose.  It can ill-afford to go through additional iterations of lethargy and ineffectual decision-making in operationalizing and maturing its nuclear triad.  Naturally, India’s nuclear arsenal must also quantitatively and qualitatively evolve to reflect current and emerging threats.  The value of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems lies in convincing adversaries of their credibility and ability to inflict unacceptable damage in retaliation, should the need arise. The need of the hour therefore is to focus on these aspects rather than engage in injudicious and myopic chest-thumping.

 

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Nuclear nonproliferation ayatollahs

The Good Ol’ Boys Club of 1968 is dead.  Move on.

On his blog, Michael Krepon revisits the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement today and asks whether it was a worthwhile project, when considered against the backdrop of existing nonproliferation norms and the idea of “Indian exceptionalism” that led to the eventual implementation of the nuclear deal. This comes on the heels of additional criteria laid out by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) curbing Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technology transfers to non-NPT signatories.  It appears that the nonproliferation ayatollahs in DC have awoken from a long slumber and have once again set their sights on India and the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider some of the arguments put forth by Dr. Krepon:

One, even with the positive outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, nonproliferation norms took a hit from the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal and, at best, will take time to reinforce. The deal has added to the IAEA’s woes and has made the NSG a weaker institution.

Two, negative nuclear trend lines within Pakistan have grown steeper and will be harder to reverse.

All good DC nonprolif ayatollahs like to make the case that Pakistan’s nuclear mess is inexorably linked to India’s status as a nuclear power.  But Pakistan has been operating outside the nonproliferation system for decades to develop nuclear weapons and build up its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems.  A gentleman by the name of AQ Khan can provide full and complete information about how Pakistan managed to develop a nuclear program in the first place.

And contrary to popular myth, Pakistan sought to build a nuclear weapons program well before India conducted a nuclear test in 1974.  Pakistan was up to no-good decades before the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal; the only difference post the nuclear deal is that it is far more brazen in admitting its violation of nonproliferation norms.  The rhetoric has changed, but actions haven’t.

Three, the arc of U.S.-Indian relations has improved, but with far less loft than the Bush administration’s deal makers conceived. Trade and investment will grow, as will defense sales and cooperation in some areas. This would have been the case whether or not the Bush administration had decided to pursue the civil nuclear deal. Indeed, these advances were delayed because it took five years of high-level attention to close this deal.

That Indo-U.S. trade would have grown with or without the nuclear deal is perhaps a fair argument. But the question here is not about if Indo-U.S. trade will grow, but by what magnitude.  Since 2000, Indo-U.S. trade has grown at an average of 13% year over year, and while Indo-U.S. trade dipped in 2009, it can largely be attributed to the global economic downturn.

Despite this, Indo-U.S. trade grew by 30% in 2010 — faster than at any time during the decade.  Bilateral trade will likely grow further were the U.S. to participate in India’s nuclear energy market, valued at $150 billion.  Let’s also not forget the the civil nuclear deal was passed in Congress in 2008.  Three years is an insufficient period of time to draw such broad conclusions on the utility of the nuclear deal — especially given the financial crisis.

Four, the notion of India joining the “nonproliferation mainstream,” as advocates of the deal predicted, has been a mirage. Instead, New Delhi has closed ranks with NAM states balking at stronger nonproliferation norms. India remains in limbo on the CTBT, seemingly far from ready to sign or to resume underground tests. Fissile material production for nuclear weapons continues; India, like Pakistan, may have doubled its inventory of nuclear weapons over the past decade.

Again, this is disingenuous.  It was Brazil and Egypt via the NAM that raised (valid, in my opinion) concerns about the nature of Additional Protocols articulated by the NSG; India for its part has always opposed the NPT in its current structure.  Its position on the discriminatory nature of the NPT has not changed, pre- or post-nuclear deal.  Yes, India hasn’t signed the CTBT, but if it is truly as spectacular as some would like us to believe it is, then why hasn’t the U.S. ratified the CTBT yet?

Further, comparing India and Pakistan on nuclear weapons production is absurd.  Yes, India has increased its inventory of nuclear weapons, because serious production only commenced after Pokhran-II in 1998.  Even this was severely curtailed because India’s CIRUS reactor was shut down for repairs in 1997 and was only reopened in 2003.  Contrast this against Pakistan, which went from having about 60 nuclear weapons in 2007 to an estimated 110 in 2011.  Still think India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs are comparable?  I guess not; but then the ability to distinguish between problem and solution has never been a hallmark of nonproliferation ayatollahs.

Five, New Delhi continues to titrate improved strategic cooperation with the United States, especially given domestic political sensitivities about U.S. infringements on Indian sovereignty. New Delhi also continues to improve ties with Beijing. It is folly to presume that Washington can leverage New Delhi’s dealings with Beijing. The civil nuclear deal was a poor choice to help India become a stronger counterweight to China.

Why, then, did the Bush administration make this deal the centerpiece of bilateral relations during its second term? Why tackle the toughest nut first, incurring unnecessary and perhaps long-lasting damage to nonproliferation norms? It’s obvious why New Delhi embraced the Bush administration’s gift horse of a civil nuclear deal. Those in India who argued that it was a Trojan horse have been proven wrong on every count. So far, U.S. backers of the deal have also been proven wrong on every count. [Arms Control Wonk]

First, India, left to its own, will always pursue an independent foreign policy; this was true in the decades past as it is true now.  Next, with the U.S.’s relative decline, it is not in a position to dictate to other countries whom they should or shouldn’t befriend, particularly when those countries are aspirant future powers.  If New Delhi continues to improve ties with China, so does the U.S.; it is the reality of the world we live in.

Now, India has dithered in the recent past on ties with the U.S., and those of us hoping for better bilateral relations have called on New Delhi to do its share of heavy-lifting too, and not just issue a litany of demands to the U.S. with a sense of entitlement, as is sometimes its wont.  But let’s also be clear that the reason why India and the U.S. ought to forge better ties with each other is because they share the same fundamental ideals about the global order, and not because one can be used as leverage against a third power.

In the end, DC’s nonproliferation ayatollahs are stuck in a time and place far removed from the present.  The nonproliferation order requires a major overhaul if it is to be relevant in the world today.  What does it say about the NPT’s value and enforceability in the world today, when a sitting NWS member scoffed at established rules and provided nuclear technology to anyone willing to pay, without any repercussions?

The Good Ol’ Boys Club of 1968 is dead.  If Nuclear Weapons States were really concerned about nonproliferation, they would bring India in as a member nuclear weapons state.  This requires structural reform, and unless the regime is reformed to reflect the realities of the 21st century, it will continue to grow less relevant with each passing day, as will its cheerleaders.

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