The United States has created a history by concluding the long overdue civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India. This move came as a surprise to many countries which were not expecting such developments to take place. But for India, this is one of the most important steps taken by the United States during the last almost two decades since the cold war end.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush succeeded in what his predecessor failed to do and that is the successful culmination of the civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Paradigm shift in the U.S. nuclear policy toward India was made possible due to the strategic shift in the recognition of India as a major global player that has a significant role to play in ensuring regional and global peace and security, thereby shaping a prosperous and constructive world.

The Hyde Act allows the U.S. Administration to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with India by waiving three permanent and unconditional provisions of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Had President Bush and his administration not convinced the U.S. Congress to exempt India from certain Atomic Energy Act provisions, the successful conclusion of the civil nuclear cooperation could not have taken place. These waivers include:

• that the partner country should not have exploded a nuclear explosive device in the past. This waiver is necessary because India had exploded a series of nuclear device in May 1998.

• that the partner country must have all its nuclear facilities and activities under full-scope safeguards. This waiver becomes necessary because India has rejected to place its strategic nuclear weapons program under the international safeguards.

• that the partner country is not currently engaged in the development and production of nuclear explosive devices. This waiver is required because there is no freeze or capping of India’s strategic weapons program. India will continue to carry out its nuclear weapons program. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh special envoy Mr. Shyam Saran has made it very clear that if the U.S. Congress considers the 123 Agreement currently drafted as being in contravention with their own understanding of the Hyde Act, the agreement would be voted down.[1]

Regional and Global Response

Many countries have come out in support of this agreement and many opposed. It is always clear, Pakistan never wants any form of cooperation between India and its ally the United States. From the Islamabad perspective, this is one of the important steps taken so far by the United States favoring India despite it not being a member of nuclear regime, reflecting closeness between the two largest democracies. One reason as to why Pakistan is not happy with this is the fact that the United States is moving closer to engaging India, which would result in the United States tilting in favor of India. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has been quoted as saying, “the whole nuclear non-proliferation treaty will unravel. It’s only a matter of time before other countries will act in the same way.” The question of undermining nuclear non-proliferation arises when the cooperation is with India. The question does not arise when they were proliferating nuclear related materials to other countries. Instead of raising the question they should ask themselves where they stand today.[2]

Russia is one country that had supported the deal start from the very beginning. Russia has insisted on making an exception for India to give it access to civilian nuclear fuel and technology outside of the NPT regime. According to Russian Foreign Minister Official, “we cannot ignore India’s energy requirements. It is a rapidly developing country with a good non-proliferation record. We should probably make an exception in this case without adopting new norms that may erode the NPT regime.”[3]

The initial indication of the Canada government was positive. It would be keen to engage in civilian nuclear cooperation should the agreement be consummated. It was on 26 September, the Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew also announced that Canada was willing to resume trade with India in dual-use nuclear technologies without infringing on the rules of the NSG or the IAEA. An agreement to cooperate on nuclear safety measures was adopted.[4]

It is worth mentioning for countries that have come out sharply against the ease of restriction to India for the supply of nuclear fuel, reactors, and technology to India is the commitment made by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh way back in 2004 that, “India is a responsible nuclear power. We are fully conscious of the immense responsibilities that come with the possession of advanced technologies, both civilian and strategic. While we are determined to utilize our indigenous resources and capabilities to fulfill our national interests, we are doing so in a manner that is not contrary to the larger goals of nuclear non-proliferation.” He further added that India would not be the source of proliferation of sensitive technologies. We will also ensure the safeguarding of those technologies that we already possess. We will remain faithful to this approach, as we have been for the last several decades. We have done so despite the well-known glaring examples of proliferation that has directly affected our security interests.[5]

Outcome of the Civilian Nuclear Cooperation

The outcome of the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the United States was significant as it opens up opportunities for New Delhi to engage in nuclear dialogues with other countries such as Germany, Russia, France, Australia, Japan, Canada, Kazakhstan, etc. Ever since India had earned the waiver from the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSGs) on September 2008 to resume the nuclear commerce with the rest of the world, we have seen some unimaginable agreement between India and other countries. India and Kazakhstan signed the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement during the latter’s President Visit to India on the eve of republic day on 24 January 2009. The agreement is in consonant with the increasing nuclear fuel demand to meet India’s fuel starved nuclear power plants. With this, Kazakhstan would be exporting uranium to India. Kazakhstan became the fourth country with which India had signed the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. Before this, India had signed the same agreement with the United States, France and Russia. The agreement is significant because Kazakhstan is the third largest producer of uranium, accounting for fifteen per cent of world production.[6] While Canada’s Saskatchewan province is also readying a high profile delegation to pitch for nuclear sales to India as well.[7]

The successful completion of the historic agreement will only strengthen Indo-Russian cooperation in nuclear related technologies and reactors. India’s isolation from nuclear cooperation has handicapped the possibility of cooperation between the two countries. But with this, India can expect to receive critical nuclear related technology from Russia. The U.S. cannot object to Russia supplying fuel and reactors to India. This was even made clear by the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, who said that, “We think the proper sequencing would be that if India needs nuclear fuel for its reactors in Tarapur, then the proper way to do this would be to have the US Congress Act, hopefully, change our laws, have the NSG Act and change NSG practices, then countries would be free to engage at that point in civil nuclear trade with India.” This is one of the strategic advantages for India. This also gives a clear impression that the agreement is not just between India and the U.S.

Once India and the U.S. declare the joint statement for civil nuclear cooperation, Russian President Putin had offered to build four nuclear power plants in India.[8] Then India and Russia entered into a uranium supply agreement for the second time on 11 February 2009, since NSGs lifted curbs on selling some nuclear fuel and equipment to India. The agreement was between Russia’s leading nuclear company TVEL and India’s Department of Atomic Energy. Both sides signed two contracts for supplying Uranium for Indian nuclear reactors. Under this agreement, TVEL will have a long-term supply of 2,000 tons of natural uranium pellets for India’s pressurized heavy water reactors.  Another contract was for the supply of about 60 tons of low-enriched uranium pellets for boiling water reactors units at Tarapur. Uranium imported from Russia will be used in the domestic pressurized heavy water reactors under IAEA safeguards.[9]


[1] Lecture by Prime Minister Special Envoy Shyam Saran on, “India and the Nuclear Domain”, Strategic Digest (New Delhi), vol. 38(3), March 2008, p. 261.

[2] See, “Pakistan Says Deal Will Encourage Proliferation”, Times of India (Pune), 18 March 2006.

[3] See, “Russia Want NPT Exception for India”, Times of India (Pune), 4 April 2006.

[4] Kartika Sasikumar, “India’s Emergence as a ‘Responsible’ Nuclear Power”, International Journal (Canada), vol. LXII(4), Fall 2007, p. 828.

[5] C. Raja Mohan, “India’s Nuclear Diplomacy and the Global Order”, in Arvind Gupta, (ed.), India in a Changing Global Nuclear Order (New Delhi: An IDSA-Indian Pugwash Publication, 2009), p. 138.

[6] See, “India, Kazakhstan Ink for Uranium Supply”, Indian Express (Pune), 25 January 2009.

[7] See, “India to Sign IAEA Pact on Feb 2”, Times of India (Pune), 31 January 2009.

[8] Deepa M. Ollapally, “India and Russia: Renewing the Relationship”, in Harsh V. Pant (ed.), Indian Foreign Policy in a Uniplar World (New Delhi: Routledge, 2009), pp. 196-98.

[9] See, “India Signs Uranium Deal with Russia”, Asian Age (Mumbai), 12 February 2009.