Canada-India nuclear cooperation a few steps closer

Canada’s failure to push for key non-proliferation conditions in its moves toward resuming civilian nuclear cooperation with India aided the undermining of global standards, but it’s not too late for some corrective measures.

Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press reported over the weekend that International Trade Minister Stockwell Day has just wrapped up his four-day trade mission to India and the two countries are very close to a formal deal on nuclear transfers.

The report includes a good account of the non-proliferation worries and reservations linked to such a deal — sections excerpted below (for the full article go to note[i] for the link). Following the excerpts is an elaboration of four key non-proliferation measures that should be part of any civilian nuclear deal with India.[ii]

OTTAWA — The Conservative government has tarnished Canada’s long-standing stature as a non-proliferation advocate in its pursuit of the rich commercial possibilities of nuclear trade, say critics.

“Given that Canada is going to pursue nuclear co-operation with India — and that’s now inevitable — there are some very basic non-proliferation conditions that I think should still be put on those arrangements,” Ernie Regehr of Project Ploughshares said Friday.

Mr. Day, who served as public safety minister in the Conservative government until Oct. 30, said he put “safety and security first” in the trade negotiations. But activists argue that no matter what safeguards Canada puts in place, civilian nuclear aid to India, by definition, frees up domestic Indian capacity for its military program.

“That’s the battle that we lost when the (Nuclear Suppliers Group) agreed to the exemption,” said Mr. Regehr, echoing sentiments expressed by governments from New Zealand to Sweden. ”And it’s a very serious loss.”

Mr. Regehr would like to see a written commitment that India won’t test another nuclear bomb, verifiable limits on India stockpiling uranium and airtight, forward-looking bans on enrichment technology transfers [elaborated below].

“There’s no implication that Canada’s uranium would go to the weapons program,” said the non-proliferation expert. “It would go only to safe-guarded facilities. But there’s nobody monitoring where the domestic (Indian uranium) goes.”

Under the international moratorium, India had to choose between feeding civilian energy or military programs. “Now it’s in a position to do both without restraint,” said Mr. Regehr.

“Canada has abdicated its historic leadership role in the establishment and maintenance of the global nuclear non-proliferation norm,” Douglas Shaw, an international affairs expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said in an e-mail.

“As the first state to choose not to build an independent nuclear arsenal, Canada’s behaviour plays an essential role in defining this standard of globally responsible sovereignty.” Shaw maintained that any India-Canada deal on peaceful nuclear co-operation erodes “both Canada’s global leadership role and the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.”

Mr. Regehr said he can’t fault the Conservatives for looking out for Canada’s commercial interests. “I don’t blame Canada for, in the end, going with the consensus that emerged at the Nuclear Supplier Group,” he said. “I think where Canada was a huge disappointment is that it withdrew itself entirely from the debate . . . . It communicated volumes to other states: Here we have a staunch non-proliferation advocate being quiet on the question.”

Mr. Day doesn’t dispute that Canada’s low-profile support of the NSG decision was internationally significant.

The conditions that Canada should put on civilian nuclear trade with India are at least fourfold:

The first is the very basic expectation that India will not test another nuclear device and that if it does all cooperation will cease.

In a political pledge linked to the NSG action, India said it remained committed to “a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing,” but it refused all efforts to make a permanent end to testing part of the deal. And given India’s clear commitment to continued nuclear warhead production, internal Indian demands for more testing could at some point become irresistible. US legislation requires any American nuclear cooperation to be halted in the event of another Indian test. Other suppliers were also adamant on the point, and Canada should certainly write into any nuclear cooperation agreement that a test would end it.

Indeed, we should go further and join other states in mounting renewed pressure on India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – it is India’s refusal to do so that is one of the central obstacles to the Treaty’s entry into force, a treaty that is repeatedly declared by the international community as one of the most urgently required measures to prevent further vertical and horizontal nuclear proliferation.

Second, suppliers are rightly wary of supplying India with uranium at levels that would permit stockpiling. If India is able to build up a large reserve of imported fuel for its civilian reactors it would in effect build up immunity to any sanctions that would almost certainly follow another weapons test. With a large stockpile of fuel at hand, India could be emboldened to ignore the wrath of the international community and conduct further tests in support of its still growing weapons arsenal.

A third caution raised by suppliers is that nuclear cooperation not include the supply of nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment technology – technologies that can be used to produce fuel for civilian reactors and nuclear weapons alike. US domestic law prohibits the export of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology to any state outside the NPT and the nuclear suppliers group is considering making a similar restriction part of its own supplier guidelines – a condition that Canada supports.

Fourth, it must be remembered that the new willingness to engage in civilian nuclear cooperation with India was ostensibly designed to win nonproliferation gains. India was to be brought into the nonproliferation club. As it turned out, India managed to avoid any new and binding commitments, but it did make a number of important and welcome political commitments.

Besides agreeing to continue its testing moratorium and to separating civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs, placing the former under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, India promised, among other things, to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, allowing more intrusive inspections of civilian nuclear facilities, to support negotiations toward a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, and to support the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and the negotiation of a convention toward that end. These are political commitments, and while India rejected all efforts to make the NSG waiver conditional on any of them, paragraph 3 of the NSG decision nevertheless insists that it is “based on” these and other commitments.

The question now is, what will Canada and the international community do to monitor the extent to which India actually makes good on its solemn promises. It is now the responsibility of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and any states entering into new civilian nuclear cooperation arrangements with India to ensure – logically through an annual review – that India acts on those commitments in support of global nonproliferation efforts.

eregehr@ploughshares.ca

Notes

[i] January 23, 2009 at 5:06 PM EST, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090123.wcanind0123/EmailBNStory/International/.

[ii] They were set out in this space on November 18, 2008 (https://www.igloo.org/disarmingconflict/conditioni) and in Embassy, January 7, 2009 (http://www.embassymag.ca/page/printpage/regehr-1-7-2009).N

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