Testing moments for the NSG!
June 26, 2010 2 Comments
In keeping with its discriminatory policy of selective application of Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States has decided to object to a Sino-Pak civilian nuclear arrangement for setting up two atomic power plants in Pakistan. America is expected to make certain obstructive observations during the meeting of ‘Nuclear Suppliers Group’ (NSG). NSG is an international cartel of nuclear technology suppliers and was not created by an international treaty. Regulations of NSG are nonbinding. China joined the cartel voluntarily. It is interesting to recall that the NSG was created in 1975 to standardize nuclear trade rules as a reaction to India’s testing of a nuclear explosive device. The objective of creating the NSG was to prevent access of nuclear material and know-how to the countries which are non-signatories to the NPT.
Ironically the same NSG was pressurized by America, Russia and France to make country specific exemption to kick start US-India nuclear deal (Agreement 123) in 2008. IAEA also buckled under pressure to make country specific exception to enable India’s access to nuclear material and know how. India continues to be a non-signatory of NPT. Now the NSG is under the international focus because global nuclear trade regime is at its defining moments. Under duress the group exempted India from a long standing NSG requirement that non nuclear weapon states benefiting from nuclear trade must put all their nuclear activities under the safeguards and supervision of the IAEA, ensuring that they are for peaceful uses. In the aftermath of the US–India deal the NSG will have to perform a delicate balancing act to find the least unsatisfactory solution to China’s challenge. In the view of some NSG states, an agreement permitting China to regularise the exports under the 2004 nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan would be the least damaging outcome.
Nevertheless, in a typical twist of hypocrisy, an erratic perception is being generated that the Pak-China arrangement appears to be violating international guidelines forbidding nuclear exports to the countries that have not signed the NPT or do not have international safeguards on reactors. Contrasting it with Agreement 123 reveals that whereas Pak-China arrangement is purely for power generation under comprehensive IAEA safeguards, Agreement 123 exempts 8 nuclear reactors from IAEA safeguards allowing sufficient fissile material to make around 280 warheads per year. This is in addition to India’s ongoing programme of 13 fast breeder reactors. As such it is a misnomer to calls Agreement 123 as ‘US-India Civil Nuclear Deal’. It is indeed US-Indian collusion toward nuclear weapons proliferation programme.
As a follow on to Agreement 123, America and India have recently signed a nuclear fuel reprocessing agreement to further augment their dubious bilateral nuclear deal that would open the venues for India to recycle American spent nuclear fuel. This would facilitate participation by US firms in India’s rapidly expanding civil nuclear energy sector. As a part of ‘United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act of 2008’, India is required to establish a ‘Civil Nuclear Liability Regime’ to limit compensation by American nuclear companies operating in India, in case of nuclear accidents. ‘The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010’ has attracted resistance from labour rights and human rights activist individuals and organizations. Scars of Bhopal accident are too fresh in the memory of Indian public to support this controversial legislation.
‘China National Nuclear Corporation’ is contemplating to set up two new power plants at Chashma, the sale is a leftover of an agreement that China had entered into, before its joining of the NSG in 2004. At that time China was completing work on two reactors for Pakistan. That agreement carried a provision of commissioning of two additional reactors. As Pak-China nuclear agreement is expected to come up before the NSG, the US has communicated to China that it expects Beijing to cooperate with Pakistan in ways consistent with Chinese nonproliferation obligations. Western and Indian media has gone into top gear to create a perception that this bilateral cooperation would breach international protocol about the trade of nuclear equipment and material.
China and Pakistan have rejected the unfounded US concerns. Beijing has defended its nuclear cooperation with Islamabad. China has indicated that it would work with Pakistan to promote a strategic partnership to deepen bilateral cooperation. While commenting on the US reaction to the deal, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reiterated that China and Pakistan have maintained cooperation in recent years in the civilian use of nuclear energy and this cooperation is in line with our respective international obligations, which is totally for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards. From Pakistan’s perspective, Pak-China civilian nuclear cooperation is under IAEA safeguards; therefore concerns, if any, are misplaced. NPT states that even non-nuclear states would have the inalienable right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Furthermore, it is amazing to see how floodgates of nuclear facilitation have been opened for India, a non signatory to NPT, and at the same time how Iran, a member of NPT, is being denied access to peaceful levels of fuel cycle. Likewise, America is now bent upon blocking legitimate access of nuclear energy to Pakistan, even under IAEA safeguards. China is likely to exercise its sovereign right and ignore the guidelines, which are voluntary and non-binding. China might also argue that the exports could be justified by the need for regional balance in South Asia in the aftermath of the NSG’s lifting of sanctions against India. A spokesman for the US State Department told reporters that China should request a formal exemption from the guidelines to export the reactors. Some other NSG states, however, disagree and fear that such a request for an exemption by China could expose individual NSG states to pressure from China to get the exemption, and if China failed, it could threaten to leave the NSG. These are indeed testing moments for the NSG. It has to either prove its mettle as a custodian of fair play and equity or go down in the history as a mafia of the opportunists.
—The writer is a regional security analyst & a former Assistant Chief Of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force.