The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, was designed to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation while dangling the carrot of cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy to signatory states as the world advanced towards the goal of nuclear demobilization and eventual complete disarmament.
India, Israel and Pakistan, all states with nuclear weapons, have never ratified the treaty.
And Iran, a NPT signatory, is under increasing international sanctions pressure because its civilian nuclear energy program purportedly masks a covert nuclear weapons program.
Well, apparently if you hang tough long enough and have the right backers; the NPT no longer applies. Especially if you were a previous non-aligned nation now a darling of Wall St investors hungry for profits from the BRICs.
On 17 October India and Australia determined to initiate discussions on a nuclear agreement that would facilitate the supply of uranium to nuclear plants being set up in India.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Australia’s Prime Minister counterpart Julia Gillard at a joint media interaction sidestepped nuclear issues and instead suggested that both India and Australia intend to upgrade bilateral defense cooperation, with Gillard listing India as among the half -dozen countries that matter the most for Australia, arguing that the pair sought greater defense contacts, while Singh spoke about the ongoing “wide-ranging” cooperation in defense and security issues.
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But the 800-pound gorilla in the room remains India’s dual-use nuclear program, and Australia’s willingness to fuel it.
Four years ago Australia supported the “special exemption” given to India by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG).
So, apparently, never mind the NPT. Australia’s “Business Spectator” publication crowed, “It has been an excellent week for Australian diplomacy. Prime Minister Julia Gillard established a strong new beginning for Australia's sometimes-troubled ties with a rising India.”
Why is India interested in uranium imports from Australia?
Simple – India sees nuclear energy as a ‘quick fix” to boost energy output to underpin its economy, which is struggling to cope with a power shortfall estimated to reduce its growth rate by as much as 1.2 percent annually. Gillard convinced her Labor party to end its ban on uranium sales to India, which, as noted above, was not a NPT signatory. Is the sale “just business,” or does it undermine a treaty under whose terms Iran is increasingly being penalized by sanctions, despite being a signatory?
India certainly sees it as a good deal. Six years ago during an interview, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that he wanted Australia to become a leading supplier of uranium to India. Australia already has a foothold in the Indian energy market, as it is now the nation’s biggest supplier of coal, which currently powers much of India’s power plants.
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But not everyone Down Under is convinced. An editorial in the influential “Financial Review” opined, “There are also question marks about safety standards in the Indian nuclear industry, with a recent report by the nation’s auditor-general finding major faults in terms of inspections, monitoring and verification of the disposal of nuclear waste. Australia needs to ensure it is not providing fuel to nuclear reactors with the potential to be the world’s next Chernobyl. Or, to weapons-making facilities.”
Quite aside from proliferation issues, Canberra skeptics have also noted the issues raised above about inspections, monitoring and verification of the disposal of nuclear waste.
That said, the budding Indian-Australian nuclear fuel axis raises troubling questions that the global community would prefer to avoid.
Simply put – are there “good” NPT non-signatory states, and are they more naughty than NPT signatory nations?
Perhaps the best interim interest is to pressure the “outlaws” from the NPT, while insisting that signatories “double down” on their efforts to convince the international community that they are in fact abiding by the treaty’s terms.
Unless, of course, it involves a rising BRIC economy, in which it’s apparently “just business.”
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com