23 September 2004

NSSP: A small step in response to India's big leap

23 September 2004
The Hindu

News Analysis

A small step in response to India's big leap

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 22. Tuesday's joint statement by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the U.S. President, George W. Bush, and the agreement on Phase I of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) which preceded it on September 17 are being presented by U.S. and Indian officials as the "beginning of a new era of cooperation and trust." But a closer examination of the decisions of the past few days suggests the change under way is incremental rather than paradigmatic — India might well have taken a long stride but all the U.S. appears to have done in exchange is take a short step.

The two concessions made by the U.S. are (1) removing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) headquarters from the `Entities List' maintained by the U.S. Commerce Department for purposes of export control of dual-use items and (2) promising modifications to its export licensing policies that will "permit certain exports to power plants at safeguarded nuclear facilities." In return, apart from implementing unspecified measures "to address proliferation concerns and to ensure compliance with U.S. export controls," India has "recognised the importance of working closely together" with the U.S. to combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems." Whether this is just a rhetorical promise — or a commitment to support some of Washington's more controversial counter-proliferation initiatives — will become clear as time goes by.

Many curbs remain

What is unambiguous, however, is that seven subordinate bodies of the ISRO will continue to remain on the U.S. Entities List — along with Bharat Dynamics and a number of DAE and DRDO outfits — with all export licenses to be granted on a case-by-case basis with a presumption of denial for high-end products. These include the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), and the Sriharikota and Sarabhai Space Centres. "The bulk of our key imports is by ISRO's constituent units," said a senior space official. Terming the U.S. announcement "cosmetic," he said: "The technical units have to be taken off the entities list. Removing the ISRO HQ alone is absolutely not material to us."

Acknowledging that the sanctions relaxation was limited, U.S. officials told The Hindu that further changes could be in the pipeline. But the Indian scientific establishment is not convinced. "So far, all I see is lots of optics. I suspect there is not too much substance," said one science administrator. The space official said, "There is a long list of things which we are currently being denied," adding that the U.S. had even put pressure on German and British suppliers to make sure they did not sell certain components to ISRO entities. As for U.S. exports to safeguarded nuclear facilities, this will cover only a very narrow range of dual-use items for Tarapur and RAPS such as control valves. Major cooperation in the civilian nuclear field is still blocked by U.S. legislation, particularly the 1978 Nuclear Non-proliferation Act, which stipulates that a country must accept full-scope IAEA safeguards as a condition for the supply of major nuclear technology and equipment.

More denials

At the India-U.S. space conference in Bangalore in June, the U.S. Under Secretary for Commerce and Washington's interlocutor with India in the High Technology Cooperation Group, Kenneth Juster, painted a rosy picture of space cooperation saying that 93 per cent of license applications for the export of dual-use items to ISRO and its subordinates have been approved since 2001.

However, most of these are for relatively low-end products. The value of licences approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce may be growing fast — from $27 millions in 2002 to $57 millions in 2003 — but licence denials for India in 2003 added up to $15 millions, or 20 per cent of applications processed.

Even this does not tell the full story of ISRO's woes. Under the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), satellites and their components and technologies are part of the U.S. munitions List (USML) and subject to a separate and tough licensing process administered by the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. So far, the NSSP process has not touched this aspect of de facto U.S. sanctions at all.

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