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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Another Treaty, Another Call for Strategic Direction

FMCT Talks Ramping Up; But no National Strategy on Ramping Up FM

Following UN sanctions on Iran to thwart its nuclear fissile material enrichment program, there are signs US is reviving the currently dormant Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. There was lot of talk about this treaty during India-US civil-nuclear treaty negotiations. There was some talk that FMCT will not be pursued anytime soon because US itself is unlike to ratify such a treaty. Looks like US is pursuing the treaty, albeit making it non-verifiable. The caveat may be no-sell for most non-nuclear weapons states.

In any case, the discussion about limiting weapon grade fissile material production is been revived and India better start thinking about how much weapon grade fissile material it needs to keep the nuclear option open against two, extremely unfriendly, nuclear weapons neighbours.

Calling for all the various parties involved in making nuclear weapons strategy to come together to chart a direction on how much and how quickly to acquire the weapon's grade material, K. Subrahmanyam postulates that, if the existing material is no sufficient to create a credible minimum deterrent by the time FMCT comes into force, we may have to switch existing nuclear plants to speed up the process of generating weapons grade material.

That can be done if all our reactors are switched to weapon grade plutonium production and our reprocessing capacity is expanded to match it....That would no doubt have been at the cost of some shortfall in power generation and a more rapid depletion of uranium. There is the view that for national security such costs are bearable. Further our strategists and scientists can conclude that a mix of weapons from pure weapons grade plutonium and reactor grade plutonium can provide the necessary credible minimum deterrent. [In search of an Indian security strategy -IE]

Converting all reactors to make weapon grade material at this point may scuttle India-US nuclear deal. That may be the price to pay to create a credible deterrence quickly before caps are placed on us. Surely that price will not be paid by the current prime minister who negotiated the deal and signed the treaty.

In fact, after the nuclear treaty comes into force, with IAEA inspecting civil nuclear reactors, it may become impossible to speed up the weapons grade fissile material generation process without actually building new, the so called military or strategic, reactors - a very long and expensive project. But the time to take a strategic direction that is required to make, or not make, a course correction on the pace of generating weapons grade fissile material may be up on us.