Has Canada already agreed to nuclear dealings with India?

It is likely that in the first half of 2008 Canada will have to disclose its response to the US-India request that India be exempted from the Nuclear Supplier Group’s (NSG) current rule against nuclear cooperation with any country that operates nuclear facilities not subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A group of 45 countries, the NSG seems to be leaning toward some form of accommodation with India. The real question is what, if any, non-proliferation conditions the NSG is willing to attach to its exemption. A second question is whether the same exemption with the same conditions should apply to Israel and Pakistan, the two other states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with unsafeguarded (military) nuclear facilities – and thus also currently ineligible for nuclear trade and other forms of nuclear cooperation.

Opposition to the deal from the left within India charges that the deal already has too many conditions attached and because of that is an affront to Indian independence and even sovereignty. The United States has linked its proposed nuclear cooperation with India to the latter’s continued moratorium on nuclear testing, but it does not want the NSG to apply the same condition. Indeed, in a slightly bizarre twist, the US has promised India that in the event its access to nuclear fuel from the US is cut-off for any reason (testing being the most obvious), the US would help India acquire fuel from alternative sources.

But from the point of view of states within the NPT, the conditions are necessary to ensure that the deal produces the net non-proliferation and disarmament benefit that its proponents promise. If India were allowed to continue testing nuclear weapons and producing material for bombs, while gaining access to foreign nuclear fuel for its electrical programs, it would be in a position to steer all its domestic uranium toward its military program. The result would be that India could continue research and development and testing of new nuclear warheads and it would be able to accelerate the build up of stockpiles of fissile materials for current and future weapons production.

Thus a ban on further tests and on the further production of fissile materials for weapons purposes are most often the two conditions that are put forward. Without challenging India’s current arsenal and fissile materials stockpiles equivalent to about 100 nuclear warheads, the NSG could decide on an arrangement whereby nuclear fuel and technology would be provided for India’s safeguarded (civilian) facilities, even though it operates other facilities that are not safeguarded (military), on the condition that India ratifies the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and commits to a verifiable freeze on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes.[i]

There is little chance that India would accept such an arrangement, but such an offer would clearly acknowledge India’s current status as a de facto nuclear weapon state without denying it the opportunity to expand its civilian nuclear power generation facilities. The same formula would possibly become available to Pakistan and Israel, provided, in the case of Pakistan, it would clearly take responsibility for its facilitation of the A.Q. Khan nuclear black market activity.

All three should also be called upon to accept the basic obligation to disarm that applies to nuclear weapon states via Article VI of the NPT.

The India press follows the attitudes of NSG member states as to their likely approach to the request for an unconditional India-only exemption to current NSG rules. It characterizes the EU as undecided and states like Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, and the Scandinavians as generally unsupportive or skeptical. Some reports add Brazil and Argentina to the uncertain list.[ii]

Canada, on the other hand, is not included in any list of states that are wary of the deal, and in at least one it is numbered among the enthusiasts. When China was still in the skeptical column, the Asia Times reported that “the Chinese criticism of the India-US nuclear pact is in contrast to the solid support for the deal from Russia, France, Britain and Canada.”[iii]

Canadian officials continue to insist that a Canadian decision has not been taken, that the issue of conditions is still being discussed, and that the position that Canada takes at the NSG will require a Cabinet decision. Furthermore, officials point out that even if the NSG would decide in favour of civilian nuclear cooperation with India, Canada would not necessarily end its own national policy prohibiting nuclear trade with India, and would do so only with a Cabinet decision.

But in the meantime, the writing seems to be on the wall, and in at least once case in a Foreign Affairs document. The 2006-2007 Foreign Affairs Departmental Performance Report, says in a section entitled, “Greater engagement with like-minded partners in the G8 as well as emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China” that “If the Nuclear Suppliers Group agrees to exempt India from its guidelines, Canada will pursue nuclear cooperation with India, which would provide substantial commercial opportunities for Canadians.”[iv]

Not much equivocation there. If the statement assumes that the NSG will support the exemption as is, that means there is also an assumption that Canada will not oppose it (since the NSG decides by consensus, technically only one dissenting voice could scuttle the exemption). Furthermore, the statement that Canada will trade in the event of a change in NSG rules assumes that the decision has already been made and that a supportive Cabinet decision will follow.

By all accounts, the statement in the DFAIT Performance Report was not vetted through its arms control and non-proliferation section. In fact, officials seemed surprised by the reference, nevertheless, both Canada and Australia’s new Labour government have given indications that they will not block an emerging consensus in the NSG in support of the an exemption for India. But reports in the Indian press indicate that Australia has made it clear that, regardless of any NSG exemption, “no Labour Government will supply uranium unless India signs the Non-proliferation Treaty.”[v] Canada, on the other hand, seems to be leaning to the position that it will not oppose the NSG India exemption, and, if it carries, Canada will move toward uranium exports.

As noted, both decisions, joining the NSG consensus and pursuing nuclear trade with India, will require Cabinet decisions, and the challenge now is to ensure that these decisions add conditions – that they in fact require non-proliferation benefits in the form of ratification of the CTBT, the cut-off of fissile material production, and a commitment to NPT disarmament obligations.

[i] This is the position taken in these pages (canadain and lookingf ), Briefings by Project Ploughshares (http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/Briefings/brf071.pdf), and by the Canadian Pugwash Group (http://www.pugwashgroup.ca/events/documents/2007/2007.10.20-India-US_CPG_Statement.pdf).

[ii] “EU undecided on n-deal, trade pact with India next year,” NDTV, November 30, 2007 (http://www.newkerala.com/oct.php?action=fullnews&id=23051).

“Why the Left blinked on the N-deal,” Sify News, November 19, 2007 (http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=14563147).

[iii] “Beijing blusters over India’s nuclear deal,” Asia Times, November 5, 2007 (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/GK05Df01.html).

[iv] Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, “Departmental Performance Report 2006-2007, p. 50 (http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/dpr-rmr/2006-2007/inst/ext/ext00-eng.asp).

[v] “India needs uranium import,” The Economic Times, November 29, 2007 (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Editorials/India_needs_uranium_import/articleshow/2580311.cms).

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