With the conclusion of the civilian nuclear agreement between India and Canada late last week, history turned full circle. In 1974, India exploded a peaceful nuclear device using plutonium from a reactor that was based on a Canadian design. That event led to a long nuclear freeze for India.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded the agreement at the Commonwealth heads of government summit in Port of Spain on Saturday. With this nuclear cooperation agreement under its belt, India has a wide range of partners to choose from. There are similar agreements with the US, Russia, France, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Argentina and Namibia. India needs both raw materials such as uranium ore and advanced nuclear reactors and reprocessing technology. All this is possible now.
In making these choices, we must not rely exclusively on one or a few partners both for raw materials and technology. Commercial and strategic sense requires that we not do so. If our experience with sourcing weapons and other sensitive technology is anything to go by, such dependence is always dangerous. The country’s experience post-Pokhran I showed this clearly and painfully. Nuclear trade is an area that is constantly subject to interference by leading powers. A healthy mix of suppliers is a sure way to avoid this problem.
A diversity of nuclear suppliers can be used to other ends, too. The US, for example, is not willing to transfer sensitive technologies to India. A greater volume of nuclear business with other countries can be used to “persuade” the US to see reason. The US is experiencing a nuclear renaissance for the first time after the 1960s. Its companies need Indian business and this may help them lobby with their government to do business in accordance with what India requires.
To do this, the best deals should go to those countries and companies that decide to involve India in technology transfers. Contracts of lower value can be given to those lower on the cooperation ladder and finally, no business to those who are against such arrangements with India. At the moment, only the US falls in that category.
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