Proliferation concerns secondary in nuclear deal with India

Tasneem Jamal Nuclear Weapons

Cesar Jaramillo

Published April 29, 2015 in the Waterloo Region Record

The uneven application of Canada’s nuclear non-proliferation standards is becoming increasingly apparent.

For a country that has so vehemently decried the mere possibility that Iran might one day produce even a single nuclear weapon, Canada seems remarkably eager to supply uranium to India, a rogue nuclear weapons state that counts its nuclear warheads in the hundreds.

India has for decades resisted calls to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty — the cornerstone of the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Nearly every nation on Earth, including Iran, is party to the treaty. Only three other states, all with rogue nuclear weapons programs, join India in the dubious distinction of being treaty outliers: Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.

The nuclear co-operation agreement with India was announced in 2010, finalized in 2013 and confirmed during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s mid-April visit to Canada. Though few details of the deal have been made public, it will allow Canada to ship 3,000 tons of Saskatchewan-mined uranium to India over the next five years.

The secrecy surrounding the deal is troubling, if not surprising — or unprecedented. The administrative arrangements that are to govern a separate nuclear co-operation agreement between Canada and China, for instance, have not been, and likely never will be, disclosed to the public.

Both Ottawa and Delhi have stated, and will continue to state, that there will be strict safeguards to prevent the diversion of Canadian uranium for military purposes. Yet this does little to address the proliferation red flags that have been raised by several nuclear disarmament experts. The troubling reality is that Canadian nuclear material will help India meet its domestic nuclear needs, freeing up its own supply for military purposes.

As Paul Meyer, former Canadian ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, told the CBC in the wake of Modi’s visit, Canada is “sacrificing (its) non-proliferation principles and objectives.” In Meyer’s assessment, “it’s been a very poor deal for us in terms of the risks of nuclear proliferation.”

Indisputable proliferation risks constitute only the most egregious problem.

This agreement clearly undermines the international community’s aspirations to fully universalize the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by providing rewards, instead of disincentives, to a state outside the treaty framework.

The mantra has long been that nuclear co-operation should be reserved for treaty states parties. But such benefits have been afforded to India without demanding that it abide by the treaty’s basic tenets.

What message does this agreement send to the scores of states that have for decades been bound by, and committed to, the letter and spirit of the non-proliferation treaty? Would they have been better positioned to receive preferential treatment had they, like India, refused to join?

It is hard to shake the feeling that Canada’s desire to score a multimillion-dollar economic victory proved stronger than its long-standing principles, and oft-repeated commitment, to nuclear non-proliferation.

In 1974, Canada co-founded the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The group was a direct response to the first Indian nuclear weapons test — which was, incidentally, made possible thanks to a Canadian nuclear reactor. The group has a mandate to control the export and retransfer of materials that may be used in nuclear weapons development.

Fast forward four decades and the first, and only, country to which the Nuclear Suppliers Group has granted a nuclear trade exemption is India.

But India did not stop its nuclear testing in 1974. It is still a rogue nuclear weapons state that has not indicated any desire to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The only thing that has changed since the establishment of the Nuclear Suppliers Group is that India has more nuclear weapons now than it did then.

It is perplexing that the Nuclear Suppliers Group is able to grant exemptions driven by commercial interests. These exemptions not only contradict, but in fact override the spirit and specific provisions of the non-proliferation treaty.

As much as it will weaken the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, the deal to ship Canadian uranium to India will likely go ahead. The very least the Canadian government can do is to clearly address the following straightforward questions:

•Can the Canadian government provide airtight assurances that the deal will not result in vertical proliferation? That is, can it guarantee that India will not add to the number of nuclear weapons now in its possession?

•Will there be specific, unambiguous provisions built into the agreement that will trigger its immediate termination should India engage in unacceptable behaviour, such as further nuclear weapons testing or the continued production of fissile material for nuclear weapons? (On April 16, just after the nuclear trade deal was confirmed, India successfully tested a nuclear-capable Agni-III missile, with no condemnation from Ottawa.)

•How does Canada reconcile its determined stand to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with its tacit acceptance of the nuclear arsenals of countries outside the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, such as India and Israel?

Answers to these questions would indicate the principles guiding current Canadian foreign policy on the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear abolition. A concerned Canadian public wants answers.

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