India Must Agree to Nuclear Restraints

Tasneem Jamal Asia, Nuclear Weapons

Author
Ernie Regehr

Published by the Waterloo Region Record

The wisdom and benefits of strongly improved Canadian trade and political relations with India are obvious. But if civilian nuclear co-operation is to be a primary fixture and symbol of the normalization of long-term Indo-Canadian relations, it should be built on the most robust of non-proliferation conditions.

Basic non-proliferation standards were met in the Nuclear Co-operation Agreement (NCA) signed in Toronto last week by the prime ministers of Canada and India. As the government of Canada noted in its backgrounder, “NCAs provide international treaty level assurances that nuclear material, equipment and technology originating in Canada will only be used for civilian, peaceful and non-explosive purposes by partner countries.”

In the likely event of Canadian uranium sales to India, for example, Canadians can be assured that uranium from this country will not find its way into Indian bombs. But if Prime Minister Stephen Harper were asked to also assure Canadians that the sale of Canadian uranium to India would not in any way make it possible for India to accelerate its production of fissile material for weapons purposes, he could not credibly do so.

India must now rely on its own limited domestic uranium for both its civilian and military programs, but once it is able to import uranium for its civilian needs it will be in a position to use more and perhaps all of its domestic uranium for military purposes.

India is still producing fissile material explicitly for weapons purposes. The five officially recognized nuclear weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have all put a moratorium on such production, but India and Pakistan (and probably Israel) have not. India has agreed to support talks toward a treaty to prohibit the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, but negotiations have yet to begin, and in the meantime India is taking the opportunity to expand its already substantial stockpile.

But India’s rate of production is constrained by its limited supply of domestic uranium. Thus, in a complicated set of technical calculations, the International Panel on Fissile Materials, housed at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, concluded in a 2006 report that by placing more of its reactors under safeguards and importing uranium for its safeguarded facilities, India could acquire “a growing excess (domestic) uranium production capacity that could be used for weapons purpose.”

Pakistan, of course, understands all this only too well, so it too is bent on producing as much as possible – in other words, India and Pakistan are engaged in a regional nuclear arms race. Again, if Harper was asked to assure Canadians that our uranium exports to India would in no away affect or contribute to such a race, he could not give such an assurance.

The remedy – that is, to move from standard to robust nonproliferation safeguards – is actually quite simple. If India and Pakistan were to obey the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998), the problem would be solved.

Resolution 1172 calls on Indian and Pakistan to, among other things, “immediately to stop their nuclear weapon development programs, … and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.” Of course, the most notable and notorious thing about Resolution 1172 is that it has gone totally and utterly unheeded, but as the Security Council rightly keeps reminding Iran, the world cannot allow stringent nonproliferation standards to be ignored.

That said, the simple remedy of actually complying with a key Security Council resolution is not (12 years later) in the offing. That leaves only one option, and that is for India to join other nuclear weapon states and voluntarily end its production of fissile material for weapons purposes – both to rein in regional nuclear competition and to give bilateral assurances to potential suppliers like Canada that the foreign supply of uranium will not facilitate expanded production of fissile material. As the International Panel on Fissile Materials also points out, India has already produced more than enough fissile material to support the warheads needed for its “minimum deterrence” nuclear doctrine.

A robust nuclear nonproliferation provision for Canada-India nuclear co-operation should include two minimum standards – an end to the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes and an end to nuclear testing by India. And to show good faith, India could join Canada in giving diplomatic energy to getting negotiations on a fissile materials production ban started and in signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

© 2010 Metroland Media Group Ltd.

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