Project overview

Welcome to the website for the 123 Agreement project, which examined the 2008 Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of India Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (commonly known as the "123 Agreement" in reference to section 123 of the United States Atomic Energy Act 1954, which regulates American nuclear cooperation with other states).

The 123 Agreement project ran from January 2009 to March 2012 and was undertaken through integrated research and teaching initiatives. The project involved collaboration between academics at two partner institutions: the School of Law, University of Reading, United Kingdom, and the Post Graduate Departments of Law, the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai, India. It was funded by a £30,000 British Academy UK-South Asia Partnership Scheme grant.


123 group welcome
















The 123 Agreement has a clear purpose: to "enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation between the Parties" and to "provide for peaceful nuclear cooperation and not to affect the unsafeguarded nuclear activities of either Party" (Article 2). It is intended to facilitate the exchange of civil nuclear technology between India and the United States and marks the first time that a state possessing nuclear weapons outside the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), namely India, has had its civil nuclear energy programme "brought into the fold." The 123 Agreement has been widely seen as a strategic coup for both states, perhaps particularly for India given its increasingly prominent political and economic role in international affairs.

It is significant that the 123 Agreement goes against the grain of several decades of American non-proliferation practice. A number of critics have argued that it unravels the NPT and sends the wrong message to states such as Iran and North Korea. Opinion in India has also been sharply polarised, with some observers contending that the 123 Agreement has surrendered India's sovereignty and conflicts with its policy of neutrality in international relations by inextricably aligning it with the United States.

The 123 Agreement project provided an opportunity to analyse relevant issues related to the 123 Agreement and give a legal angle to the politicised debates over the deal. The project was built around the following research and teaching themes in relation to the 123 Agreement: sovereignty; security and risk; trade and non-proliferation; and international relations and the role of international institutions.

Under these themes, a variety of research questions were addressed, such as: the challenges that the 123 Agreement poses to the NPT; the impact of the 123 Agreement on the existing international non-proliferation regime; the deal's implications for any future nuclear weapons testing; the reconciliation of free trade agreements with non-proliferation imperatives; the consequences of the 123 Agreement for India's strategic objectives and traditional distance from American influence in international relations; the implications of the 123 Agreement for other nuclear states; the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its safeguards system under the 123 Agreement; and the role of other international organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, in nuclear energy cooperation.

The research themes of the project were considered in three international workshops. These research workshops brought together academics, diplomats, legal practitioners, government representatives and students to examine the 123 Agreement from a variety of perspectives.  The project workshops were then supplemented by two research seminar presentations.  Project research findings were published, inter alia, in a special issue of the Indian Journal of International Law in 2011. 

In addition to the research goals of the 123 Agreement project, there was a closely related collaborative teaching element. This has benefited the "next generation" of scholars in both Europe and South Asia. Teaching sessions devised by the two partner institutions were taken by students in both Reading and Chennai.




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