Tuesday February 27, 2024

The end of non-proliferation

By our correspondents
December 07, 2015
The Australian government made a grave error of judgement by agreeing to sell uranium to India; it is a reckless and dangerous decision that has weakened the already fragile nuclear non-proliferation regime and will have perilous consequences on international security.
It is mindboggling to think that Australia, a country that is party to all major non-proliferation treaties and international export control regimes has been so easily blinded by short-term economic incentives that it has compromised on its own moral and ethical principles by deciding to provide uranium to a country that introduced nuclear weapons in South Asia.
It is a well-known fact that India misused a research reactor, which had been supplied to them by the Canadians under peaceful uses conditions (similar to the current export deal with Australia) to illegally produce plutonium for the production of their first nuclear bomb, which they exploded in May of 1974.
At the time a number of states that were already signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in an effort to counter future proliferation, acted swiftly to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to control the export and re-transfer of materials that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. The United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom spearheaded the creation of this multinational body.
There are 48 members of the NSG today, and it is ironic that nine of the 48 that were so committed to strengthening non-proliferation measures that they developed and/or supported the creation of the NSG as a response to India’s nuclear explosion are now willing to supply that same country with nuclear materials, helping it continue to vertically proliferate.
The nine NSG member states that currently have a civil-nuclear deal with India include Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, France, Argentina, Kazakhstan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. There are only two non-NSG member

states – Mongolia and Namibia – with a deal to provide India with uranium.
The only major holdout has been Japan but it seems that will likely change by the end of the year as President Abe gears up to visit New Delhi later this month.
The international community led by the US says that they are committed to nuclear non-proliferation but their actions serve as evidence of their hypocrisy. If the US and others want to do business with India and are willing to forego its past as a proliferator, then other weapon states outside the NPT should also be afforded the same privileges.
The Indian case is confirmation that exemptions from the NSG and NPT can be made; in this case the exemptions should be based on criteria and anyone meeting those criteria should be able to conduct business to attain nuclear technology for peaceful uses.
If the criteria-based approach is not doable than the US, along with other states violating their NPT and NSG obligations, should stop talking about norms, morals, and ethics. They should not continue to make a fool out of a more than a hundred and eighty states.
There is no doubt that the Indian case has put the NSG and NPT in dire straits. The short-sighted actions of countries engaging India in nuclear trade have created untold new challenges for international security, and will eventually lead to the collapse of the non-proliferation regime.
There is no doubt in my mind that new nuclear power states will emerge. Having observed the special treatment given to India, it will be easy for them to argue that the NPT no longer holds any power, and is a relic of the past.
When you have countries like the US, Australia, Canada, France, and the UK helping a country like India actively proliferate, it proves that the international non-proliferation regime has failed.
It is not true when the US says that India has an unblemished proliferation record. Let’s not forget that it was the first country to proliferate in South Asia, and that too by violating its agreement with Canada, and using a Canadian supplied research reactor that was meant for peaceful purposes.
The stark reality is that the idea of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime has been lost to a system of practical geopolitics; all moral and ideological considerations have been tossed aside. There will be no hope for the longevity of the non-proliferation regime if those currently holding out – like Japan – also choose to violate their commitments to the NSG and NPT for the sake of short-term economic incentives. That will truly mean the end of the non-proliferation era.
I foresee a very dangerous future if we continue down this path and let the non-proliferation regime breakdown. This is a future on the edge of a nuclear Armageddon, where more and more states will begin acquiring nuclear weapons as they realise that the non-proliferation regime has collapsed, and NPT and other international treaties and institutions are powerless to stop them from acquiring the bomb.
This failure could be the first domino tile. This should not be acceptable to any of us.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad. Twitter: @umarwrites.