Tag Archives | nuclear proliferation

Reactors of the grandfathered kind

Getting under the China-Pakistan nuclear deal

Among the news that Asif Zardari brought back from Beijing was that of a deal under which China would supply two more 300MWe(?) reactors to add to the existing ones at the Chashma complex. China, unsurprisingly, has remained silent on the deal. For good reason—because it will likely be a contravention of the rules of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) that China joined in June 2004.

Here’s some background. China applied to join the NSG in January 2004, at its membership was to come up for consideration at the NSG meeting in May that year. Joining the NSG would require it to refrain from supplying nuclear technology and fuel to countries that were not signatories to the NPT. But there is a loophole in the NSG rules—states who had contracted to do this before they joined the NSG are allowed to fulfill their commitments.

In other words, if China were to sign a deal with Pakistan (a non-signatory to the NPT) before it became a member of the NSG, then it could continue its supply relationship even after joining the NPT. And that is exactly what China did. In March 2004, it emerged that a deal was in the works, and indeed, a supply agreement was signed on 4th May. On 28th May, the NSG approved China’s membership, which took effect on 10th June 2004. (This still required Pakistan to accept IAEA safeguards on the reactors, which it did in February 2007.) [See these sources]

Thus the second nuclear reactor at Chasma (Chasnupp 2) was ‘grandfathered’. It is unclear how many reactors were included in the deal they signed on 4th May 2004. That’s not the only thing that is murky. Now, unless China and Pakistan claim that the third and fourth reactors at Chashma were part of the same deal (and they might, because this was talked about), and hence qualify to be grandfathered as well, the deal that President Zardari announced will require China to cock a snook at the rest of the NSG members. It’ll be interesting to see what China says when it breaks its silence. But if it was part of the older deal then President Zardari didn’t bring back anything new.

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Mira Kamdar’s confused diatribe

The fastest growing democracy is indeed transforming America and the world.

Mira Kamdar is right about one thing: not “all opponents of the deal (or even those who dare question some of its provisions)” should be smeared as “nonproliferation ayatollahs” and “enemies of India”. Some are merely confused. Like Ms Kamdar herself, for instance.

In her diatribe in the Washington Post she is not even indulging in the flawed guns vs butter argument. Hers is a flawed butter vs butter argument, for “The US-India deal will divert billions of dollars away from India’s real development needs in sustainable agriculture, education, health care, housing, sanitation and roads.” Such a tall claim would have required some logical arguments using facts to connect claim to conclusion. She doesn’t offer any. But just look at some overall numbers and you’ll realise how ridiculous Ms Kamdar is. According to her own figures, the deal will result in US$100 billion of business for US companies over 20 years. That is, on an average, US$5 billion a year. India’s annual GDP is around US$1000 billion. Even if we ignore economic growth, the deal is worth a 0.5% of GDP per year. Even if all of that came from public funds, that still leaves a lot for agriculture, education, health, housing, sanitation and roads. When you consider that the Indian economy is expected to grow between 6-8% per annum and that India could well permit private investment in the power sector, it turns out that it’s not a big deal after all.

Now, money doesn’t mean much to Ms Kamdar. She sees it as a bad thing that the deal will enrich “deep-pocketed” US and Indian corporations. But then at the next moment, money goes from being a bad thing to an invisible thing. For she says “India gets unfettered access to nuclear fuel and technology, and it doesn’t have to do anything in return.” The US$100 billion over 20 years suddenly disappeared. So do “the tens of thousands of jobs”.

She also contends that the deal “will distract India from developing clean energy sources”, for even “under the rosiest of projections, (nuclear contributes) a mere 8 percent of India’s total energy needs—and won’t even do that until 2030.” Now, nuclear energy is clean energy, and it is available now. And it is too presumptive of Ms Kamdar to suggest that other sources will be ignored, not least when India ranks fourth in the world in wind power generation.

Ms Kamdar is even more confused about geopolitics. The deal “risks triggering a new arms race in Asia…a miffed and unstable Pakistan will seek nuclear parity with India, and China will fume at a transparent US ploy to balance Beijing’s rise by building up India as a counterweight next door.” No facts again, but here is one. Pakistan’s arsenal of warheads is estimated to be larger than India’s. It has an opaque deal with China which allows it to continue developing its arsenal. To seek nuclear parity then, Pakistan might have to give up some of its warheads. And why, what’s wrong with China fuming at being balanced? Perhaps Ms Kamdar truly believes narratives of China’s “peaceful rise”. Those who don’t—and India certainly shouldn’t—would do well to buy insurance.

Ms Kamdar’s piece is addressed to the US Congress. She is asking it to give up a lucrative commercial opportunity that could rekindle the United States’ moribund nuclear power industry. She is asking the US not to even attempt to balance the rise of China’s geopolitical power. And she is implicitly asking the US Congress to continue backing a flawed non-proliferation regime that didn’t prevent, apprehend nor punish acts of proliferation when they occurred. Well, that’s for the US Congress to chew on.

The rest of us still have to get back into our chairs, having fallen off after reading that the deal was responsible for corrupting Indian politics.

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Lying to the legislature

Maybe, maybe not. It does not matter

The Indian prime minister told his legislature that India has the right to conduct a nuclear test. The US president told his, that the United States has the right to cease co-operation and repossess whatever was sold to India. Neither is being untruthful. But it is amazing that many Indians should automatically assume that it is their prime minister who lied to their parliament. Surely, they can’t be unaware of the rich tradition of US presidents lying to the US Congress?

The spanner that the non-proliferation ayatollahs threw into the works at the Nuclear Suppliers Group does not change the essential logic. As this blog has argued before, speeches, letters, understandings and agreements do not matter as much as the interests of the two countries. The editorial of the Times of India got it right:

At the end of the day, the US cannot take any position other than to assert that it has the right to terminate cooperation in such an eventuality. On India’s part, we have been equally vigorous in maintaining our right to test in compelling circumstances. This argument would be decided by sovereign decisions and national interests, not by legalistic wording. [TOI]

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Nuclear test outsourcing

A Q Khan, China and the truth (2)

On May 28th 1998, Pakistan ‘responded’ to India’s Pokharan-II nuclear tests with tests of its own. There are reports that suggest that at least one of the six devices it tested was a North Korean one.

Almost exactly ten years prior to that, on May 26th 1990, China tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nor test site. That test, it is now revealed, was conducted on behalf of Pakistan, its nuclear protege. Thomas Reed, a former top US defence department official, also writes that:

In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966. [Physics Today emphasis added]

Among the things China got in return was Pakistani centrifuge technology which it needed for its nuclear power programme.

Mr Reed’s account destroys the pretence—by the Reagan and the Bush Sr administrations in the late 1980s—that the United States was unaware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Now, that the Reagan and Bush administrations were deliberately untruthful in their testimonies to the US Congress and the public is well-known. But this is the first time that a senior US government official is making a direct admission that the US government knew exactly what was cooking between Pakistan and China.

As Steve Coll writes on his new blog (linkthanks BOK), the US authorities are reluctant to allow such news to get out.

Reed’s article draws upon the work of Danny Stillman, a nuclear scientist who worked during the Cold War in the national-security division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he monitored the Soviet and Chinese nuclear-weapons programs. Later, Stillman travelled frequently to China as part of a series of exchanges between American and Chinese weapons scientists. The exchanges were designed in part to encourage China to sign on to the test-ban treaty by assuring its scientists that they could maintain their nuclear-weapons stockpile without testing, as the United States planned to do. Along the way, Stillman gathered a great deal of information about the history of the Chinese program, but he has had difficulty winning clearance for publication of this material from the US intelligence community. He and Reed are preparing to publish a book entitled “The Nuclear Express.” [Think Tank/The New Yorker]

Mr Reed also mentions that “During the 1990s, China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments—though not full-scale device tests—for France at Lop Nur”. And his account suggests that there is a lot that he knows but is not telling. For instance, which were the other “third-world” countries that Premier Deng transferred nuclear technology to?

Related Link: China, Pakistan and the Bomb (1977-97)—declassified US government records.

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Six small states, one big one, and the nuclear cartel

It is easy to take a moral position when there is little cost to it

Before China publicly signaled its opposition to clearing the decks for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, six small states were instrumental in throwing a spanner in the works. They opposed the first draft of the proposal to unconditionally lift the ban in export of nuclear material to India. Now emboldened by China’s ‘unofficial’ position, they may yet block the revised draft.

But why are these small states, minor players on the international scene, behaving in this manner? Are they being merely being racist or are they acting as the world’s “conscience keepers” ? Or as Paul Nelson, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University argues, their domestic perspectives on nuclear power and nuclear weapons may be preventing them from understanding India’s compulsions. [via Idaho Samizdata, which has a good post on this topic]

Whatever it might be, it only reflects that they have calculated that it is inexpensive for them to take the position they did. In fact, they have little to lose, in the short-term, from taking an anti-India position. They are geographically distant and, except for Norwegian peace diplomacy in Sri Lanka, are removed from the geopolitics of India and its neighbourhood. More importantly, India’s trade with these states is miniscule. The Commerce Ministry’s latest trade figures (as of February 2008) explain why these countries could afford to be more concerned about nuclear non-proliferation. Clearly they don’t really have much of a share of emerging India.

Country Exports (%) Imports (%)
Ireland 0.2 0.1
Austria 0.12 0.24
New Zealand 0.09 0.14
Netherlands 3.18 0.84
Norway 0.17 0.67
Switzerland 0.37 4.13

Now, the Netherlands and Switzerland played a role in permitting A Q Khan and the Pakistani nuclear underground to operate for so long and cause so much damage to non-proliferation, the cause they now ostensibly espouse.

But John 8:7 does not apply in international relations. What really makes the Dutch and Swiss stand inexplicable is that there is reasonable inward foreign investment coming into India from these countries, as well as some trade. They are also likely to be beneficiaries from an opening of India’s nuclear power sector to foreign investment. Perhaps their position is designed to extract a quid pro quo at a later date, or indeed motivated by a quid pro quo with other parties.

In any event, by overplaying their hand, the six small states are risking pushing the NSG into irrelevance. The dynamics of cartels being what they are, the interests of the United States, Russia and France being what they are, and the NSG being what it is (a cartel and not a treaty), the question for India is one of timing and convenience.

This episode serves to highlight the need for India to develop deep economic linkages with countries that are a source of fuel supplies and technology. At the same time it is important to ensure that countries do not find taking anti-India positions costless or inexpensive.

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A Q Khan, China and the truth

Bidirectional proliferation

Please don’t yawn. Savour the details. The Centrifugist revealed his side of the story to Simon Henderson. The latter’s article in The Sunday Times should put paid to the “Khan’s was a rogue operation” farce. It also tells the story of how China and Pakistan helped each other in nuclear technology.

(Khan’s) team was also the recipient of a gift from China of a design for an atomic bomb and enough highly enriched uranium for two devices, after Beijing decided to back Khan to jump-start Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I remember being told about China’s nuclear generosity by an outraged British official in the 1980s. I later asked what Beijing had received in return. It was an enrichment plant.

The plant is at Hanzhong in central China. C-130 Hercules transports of the Pakistan air force made more than 100 flights to China carrying centrifuge equipment. Beijing needed the plant, not for bombs but to fuel its nuclear power plants. Centrifuge technology is good for both levels of enrichment, hence the current concern that Iran’s nascent plant at Natanz has a military purpose. China could not make the Pakistan-supplied centrifuges work properly, so replaced them with Russian centrifuges. What happened to the Pakistani centrifuges? A good question. They were not returned to Pakistan. Could they have ended up in Iran?

…Musharraf said Khan had shipped examples of centrifuges to North Korea. Correct, but with the connivance and at the instruction of the Pakistan military. [Times]

(linkthanks: the indefatigable Swami Iyer)

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The Turks who spied for Pakistan (and the Americans who aided them)

The bottom is not only foggy. It’s leaky

The Sunday Times finds Turks in the rabbit hole. Turkish intelligence agents paid senior American officials to get hold of nuclear technology related information, and passed this on to Pakistan’s ISI (and Israel). A Pakistani embassy official’s daughter worked as a translator at the FBI, equipped with a top secret securlty clearance. In addition to the well-known case of a plane-load of Saudi citizens that were allowed to leave the United States after 9/11, comes the revelation that a senior State department official managed to get a few of these agents released and repatriated after they were caught in the dragnet.

Sibel Edmonds, a whistleblower, has implicated “one well-known senior official in the US State Department” and an unstated number of “senior Pentagon officials—including household names”.

Update: Larisa Alexandrovna, over at The Huffington Post, does what The Sunday Times stopped short of: name names; and the BRAD Blog has more details; Lukery’s blog (mirrored on The Daily Kos) is also one of the places to go on this story.

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