The potential fallout from Gillard’s trip to India
Prime Minister Julia Gillard can use her trip to India this week to undo the damage she has done to the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Until the December 2011 Labor National Conference, the government maintained Australia’s long-standing position of banning uranium sales to countries that refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT is the central pillar of the global nuclear regime − it commits nuclear weapons states to pursue disarmament and other countries to refrain from building weapons.
Kevin Rudd explained the previous position: “No-one in Australia wants a nuclear arms race aided by us in the Indian sub-continent or between India and China because we’ve failed to properly ensure the upholding of the NPT and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards regime under it.”
An alternative option would be to open up uranium sales to India but to insist on meaningful commitments from India in return, such as stopping the production of fissile (explosive) material for nuclear weapons, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and an end to India’s development and testing of nuclear-capable missiles.
Prime Minister Gillard chose the third of two options − opening up uranium sales to India with no meaningful conditions whatsoever. Instead of some tough diplomacy, we’ve been fed lies, in particular the lie that India has a good track record on nuclear non-proliferation.
India is a nuclear weapons state, tested weapons in 1974 and 1998, violated its pledge not to use a Canadian-supplied research reactor to produce plutonium for weapons, refuses to sign the NPT or the CTBT, has a history of illicit nuclear procurement and inadequate nuclear export controls, and continues to expand its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. If that’s a good track record ...
We’re also told that strict safeguards will ensure peaceful use of Australian uranium. Another lie. Information about the safeguards agreement between India and International Atomic Energy Agency is on the public record and it provides for a safeguards inspection system that will be tokenistic at best. Safeguards will only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to its military ‘requirements’. There is no restraint on India building new reactors or other facilities for its weapons program.
All is not lost. Over the coming months India and Australia will negotiate a bilateral uranium safeguards agreement. Thus Australia can still insist on conditions such as CTBT ratification, an end to the production of fissile material and an end to the development of nuclear-capable missiles.
That is the test for the Prime Minister − will she insist on any meaningful commitments from India? Or will she trot out tired old lies?
The alternative is a slippery slope of proliferation. The claim that India can be treated as a ‘special case’ has already gone down the gurgler. Since the US signed a nuclear supply agreement with India in 2008, China has used the Indian precedent to justify plans to supply more reactors to Pakistan, another nuclear weapons state outside the NPT.
Nuclear trade with India also increases the risk of other countries withdrawing from the NPT and building weapons with the expectation that uranium supplies and nuclear trade will continue. Retired Australian diplomat Ron Walker – who was Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1993-94 – notes that: “If you make exceptions to your rules for your mates, you weaken your ability to apply them to everyone else. How could we be harder on Japan and South Korea if they acquired nuclear weapons? Could we say Israel is less of a mate than India?”
Since the US-India deal, and partly because of it, Pakistan has obstructed international efforts to establish a ban on the production of fissile material − the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. Israel has made noises about securing a deal along the lines of India’s. South Korea is trying to squirm out of previous commitments not to enrich uranium, just as the dust settles on revelations about South Korea’s secret nuclear weapons research from the mid-1980s until 2004.
North Korea and China continue to pursue nuclear weapons programs. Japan’s Defence minister Satoshi Morimoto noted earlier this year that the country’s nuclear power program has “very great defensive deterrent functions”; i.e. it provides Japan with a weapons capability. Japan’s enrichment and reprocessing programs − and its huge stockpile of plutonium − greatly complicate efforts to prevent South Korea from pursuing these weapons-sensitive technologies.
Kevin Rudd is well aware of the fracturing of the non-proliferation regime and the implications for Australia. He said in 2006: “The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty disintegrates before our very eyes … the current non-proliferation regime is fundamentally fracturing. The consequences of the collapse of this regime for Australia are acute, including the outbreak of regional nuclear arms races in South Asia, North East Asia and possibly even South East Asia.”
The situation has worsened considerably since 2006. When the issue surfaced ahead of Labor’s National Conference last year, Rudd was Foreign Minister and not at liberty to speak his mind. Perhaps, as a backbencher, he will speak plainly this week even if the Prime Minister does not.
Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and author of a detailed briefing paper on uranium sales to India.
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