Earlier this week, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) released its 2014 Security Index, “a unique public assessment of nuclear materials security conditions in 176 countries, developed with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).” The NTI Security Index this year ranked India below both Pakistan and China for nuclear material security – a troubling finding for India’s civil nuclear ambitions. The NTI Security Index ranks states with weapons-usable nuclear materials (a list of 25 countries).
India received an overall score of 41 out of a possible 100, based on an aggregated average of several factors including quantities and sites, security and control measures, compliance with global norms, domestic commitments and capacity, and risk environment. China received 64 points, ranking at 20th overall, and Pakistan eked out India with 46 points for 22nd place. The only two countries scoring worse than India on the NTI’s index are Iran and North Korea. Interestingly, India scored worse than Iran and North Korea for its risk environment. India’s best category, meanwhile, was its compliance with global norms, despite being non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. See page 120 of the full PDF report for a more detailed description of the NTI’s findings for India.
The Hindu picked up the NTI’s findings and reported that India’s low score is due a number of factors, “including weak regulations that are written as guidance rather than as requirements; increasing quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials for both civilian and military use and gaps in its regulatory structure such as a lack of an independent regulatory agency.” On this last point, the NTI report notes that even though India has pledged to establish an independent regulatory agency, progress on this matter has been stalled due to bureaucratic and political factors.
The NTI report recommended that India should “work to establish independent regulatory agencies,” noting that India, Iran and North Korea were the only states with weapons-usable nuclear materials that lack such oversight. The NTI noted that India and Pakistan “have increased materials, for both civilian and military purposes” – along with North Korea, they were the only states to take any steps to increase their acquisition of weapons-grade materials.
India’s overall score on the NTI Security Index improved by one point from its 2012 score. The improvement was attributed to India’s contribution to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund, “a voluntary fund established to support, among other things, the implementation of nuclear security activities to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism.” The NTI noted that doing so improved India’s score in the global norms category, which improved its aggregate score. China also contributed to the IAEA fund for the first time, increasing its overall ranking as well.
China outranked India due to several factors, including its adoption of an independent nuclear security regulation agency, regular peer review of its security provisions, and having strong control and accounting procedures. Pakistan may have been ranked one place higher than India, but India performed better in one important area: it has accepted all relevant international treaties on nuclear security whereas Pakistan has not. Additionally, Pakistan came in last place for its risk environment, reflecting the commonplace perception that Pakistan’s nuclear materials and weapons are susceptible to acquisition by unsavory actors. Pakistan mostly scored higher than India for having an independent regulatory agency and a strict vetting process for personnel with access to nuclear materials.
The NTI Security Index has been critical of India’s nuclear security for a few years now, even as India continues to normalize as a “special” sort of nuclear power. India has had this status ever since its civil nuclear cooperation deal with the United States in 2005 and its waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008. India’s long-term energy strategy is predicated on a broad adoption of nuclear energy solutions across the country, and suspicions that its nuclear security provisions are inadequate could cause anxiety among exporters of nuclear technology. Additionally, some Indian attempts to improve nuclear security, such as the controversial 2010 nuclear liability framework, harm India’s interests and do little to actually address the institutional shortcomings of regulation and review of nuclear materials. While India’s current UPA government set in motion the process of India’s civil nuclear normalization, the next government will have to fine-tune India’s nuclear security provisions.