Thursday, October 2, 2008

US Senate passes Indian nuclear deal; where next for nuclear non-proliferation?

The NYT made one last desperate case against it but the Senate was unusually busy today, and passed the US-India nuclear agreement that got through the Nuclear Supplier's Group with New Zealand's reluctant support.

At the moment this move by New Zealand looks like a very good tactical retreat. Firstly we have the move by the US to sign a free trade agreement with the P4 nations. Secondly there may be secret side agreements in Vienna that would make us happier, or maybe not. Thirdly US lawmakers seem to be clear that a nuclear weapons test by India would end the US supply of uranium (but can the same be said for France and Russia?

In private correspondence with Congress that was made public last month, the administration said the United States would terminate nuclear trade with India if it conducted another nuclear test. But the administration refused to add such terms to the Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver, and an amendment to the bill that would have made them explicit failed to pass last night. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the amendment was not necessary because U.S. laws made it clear that the deal was off if India tested again.

"There should be no doubt" because of the floor debate, Kimball said. "There will be practical consequences if India tests."

Both presidential candidates are in favour of the deal.

But the agreement had the strong support of both presidential candidates, helping grease the way to victory. The House approved the bill Saturday, 298 to 117.

Just to throw the cat among the pigeons. If India is to become part of the "mainstream" of civilian nuclear trade then it seems only fair that so should Israel.
(While we are at it Israeli "nuclear opacity" may have run its course.)

Given the current parlous situation, good luck to Kevin Rudd's efforts to reinvigorate international non-proliferation efforts I say and lets hope Gareth Evans is serious about his efforts to bring India, Israel and Pakistan under some form of restraint.

Australia's former foreign minister, Gareth Evans, will co-chair the event with Yoriko Kawaguchi, an ex-foreign minister in Japan, the government said. Senior Indian diplomat Brajesh Mishra and Pakistan's ex-army chief Jehangir Karamat are to be among the delegates.

Evans has recently said all nuclear powers _ including those who have refused to join the nonproliferation treaty such as India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel _ must be included in the new process if the world is to ever achieve disarmament.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why India and not Israel? Here's why

Siddharth Varadarajan

'Why India and not Israel?" asks Avner Cohen in today's Ha'aretz:

India's exemption could become a precedent for a new approach to Israel's nuclear question. For the first time, Israel is presented with an opportunity for a new, different nuclear future on both the international and regional levels. Israel is also boycotted, if not treated as a leper, over the nuclear issue, despite the fact that it has demonstrated more caution in relation to nuclear weapons than India. In contrast to New Delhi, Israel has never denigrated the non-proliferation treaty, certainly not in public, despite its refusal to sign it. As opposed to India and the U.S., Israel is a signatory to the treaty banning nuclear testing.

So why not? There are three good reasons why....

1. Unlike India, there is no compelling energy demand-related logic at work here, even in the medium or long-term, which would warrant any relaxation in Israel's status.

2. Unlike India, Israel has been guilty of outbound nuclear weapons proliferation activity on a scale even worse than Pakistan. The Israelis closely worked with the apartheid South African regime on nuclear weapons. Beit-Hallahmi and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms and why (I.B.Tauris, 1988) provides a useful overview of what was known in the public domain at the end of the 1980s. The Nuclear Weapons Archive also has a good account of the Israeli connection in its account of South Africa's nuclear programme. But the U.S. Army's Warner D. Farr has the most damning assessment of the extent of this relationship in a 1999 monograph published by the USAF Counterproliferation Center at Maxwell Air Force Base:

A bright flash in the south Indian Ocean, observed by an American satellite on 22 September 1979, is widely believed to be a South Africa-Israel joint nuclear test. It was, according to some, the third test of a neutron bomb. The first two were hidden in clouds to fool the satellite and the third was an accident—the weather cleared. Experts differ on these possible tests. Several writers report that the scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory believed it to have been a nuclear explosion while a presidential panel decided otherwise. President Carter was just entering the Iran hostage nightmare and may have easily decided not to alter 30 years of looking the other way. The explosion was almost certainly an Israeli bomb, tested at the invitation of the South Africans. It was more advanced than the “gun type” bombs developed by the South Africans. One report claims it was a test of a nuclear artillery shell. A 1997 Israeli newspaper quoted South African deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, as confirming it was an Israeli test with South African logistical support. (to see the footnotes, I suggest you read Farr's article at its original link)

There's also the Federation of American Scientists press release on that 1979 flash detected by the Vela satellite and the eventual confirmation of the Israel-South Africa link.

3. Unlike India, any attempt to make an exception for Israel will definitely generate pressure of a break-out from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is no country which can credibly cite the Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver for India as an excuse to quit the treaty. But if Israel gets to have its nuclear weapons and access civilian nuclear trade, I am willing to bet there would be at least half a dozen regional states which will likely start making noises about quitting the NPT.

Labels: Nuclear Issues, West Asia

posted by Siddharth Varadarajan at 12:22 PM

Anonymous Siddharth said...

From Dan Yurman's excellent blog, Nuke Notes, here's a relevant extract from a 2007 post:

The 'Vela" incident resolved?

Although South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons in 1993, 14 years earlier it was right in the thick of a still unresolved controversy. Much of the U.S. information about it reportedly remains classified, and is therefore unknown as to content or even if it exists, so the following is a summary of open source speculation from some of the more credible analysts.

Also according to NTI [] on September 22, 1979, a U.S. Vela surveillance satellite detected a "brief, intense, double flash of light near the southern tip of Africa." Due to its characteristics, U.S. nuclear weapons experts estimated that the flash could have resulted from the test of a nuclear device with a yield of 2-4 kilotons. South Africa emerged as the prime source, but the South African government denied that it had conducted a nuclear test. Subsequently, noting that South Africa did not supply a complete nuclear device with HEU until November 1979, AEC head Waldo Stumpf said that "this should put to rest speculations as to whether South Africa was responsible for the 'double flash' over the South Atlantic Ocean."

Non-denial denial

Other speculation alleged that Israel had conducted a nuclear test, either alone or in conjunction with South Africa. Additional speculation was that the blast was designed, in part, to test the capabilities of anti-missile radars to detect incoming MIRV warheads behind the electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) of the first upper atmosphere explosion. Significantly, U.S. experts assigned to investigate the explosion disputed whether the EMP detectors of the Vela satellite were operating at the time of the blast. If so then the EMP theory is just another wild idea about the blast.

According to, in an April 20, 1997 article the Israeli Ha'aretz newspaper, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad confirmed for the first time that a flare over the Indian Ocean detected by an American satellite in September 1979 was from a nuclear test. The article said that Israel helped South Africa develop its bomb designs in return for 550 tons of raw uranium and other assistance. Assuming the ore was milled into yellowcake, the yield at four pounds per ton would have been 2,200 pounds. This doesn't make much sense. If the South Africans already had uranium enrichment facilities, why would they give the Israelis "raw" uranium?

In July 1997 Pahad denied in a statement to an Albuquerque, NM, newspaper he had made the original remarks to the Israeli newspaper. The significance of the location of the denial is that Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists, located in New Mexico, were at the forefront of open source attribution that a nuclear blast had taken place. The South Africans tried to blame the flash on meteorites entering the earth's upper atmosphere.

In his 2006 book On the Brink, retired CIA clandestine service officer Tyler Drumheller wrote of his 1983-1988 tour in South Africa:

"We had operational successes, most importantly regarding Pretoria's nuclear capability. My sources collectively provided incontrovertible evidence that the apartheid government had in fact tested a nuclear bomb in the south Atlantic in 1979, and that they had developed a delivery system [emphasis added] with assistance from the Israelis."