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Australia bids nuclear non proliferation goodbye

By Marko Beljac - posted Monday, 30 July 2007

The Howard Government has already announced that it will not use Australia’s vote in the Nuclear Suppliers Group to vote against, and thereby block, the US-India nuclear technology and materials transfer agreement, which nuclear proliferation experts point out will seriously weaken the globe’s nuclear non proliferation regime but will be a great source of revenue for the nuclear industry. Washington and Delhi have just signed off to the implementation accord for this deal, known as the 123 agreement.

This has come after many months of diplomatic haggling where Delhi has sought to water down some aspects of the Hyde Act that provided Congressional sanction to the deal. Reports suggest that India has been granted important concessions.

Hot on the heals of the 123 agreement being hammered out it has been revealed that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, has made a submission to cabinet recommending the export of Australian uranium to India: a submission that follows the revelation that Canberra has been engaging in secret nuclear diplomacy with Washington.


This completely blows a hole in Australia’s policy on the non proliferation of nuclear weapons and is being done so without public input: an important point because there is an inverse correlation between all things nuclear and popular participation.

It is vital that we recognise that India is not a declared nuclear weapon state and the deal between Washington and Delhi effectively welcomes India into the nuclear weapons club. This creates an important precedent for “legitimate” proliferation.

This is ironic because one of the main arguments that has been used historically to support the export of uranium in Australia is that this gives us a seat at the table of the world’s nuclear organisations where we can advance a non-proliferation agenda. But here we are using our vote to help dent the non-proliferation regime.

The US deal essentially allows for the transfer of nuclear technology to India and in return India agrees to place 14 of its 22 reactors under “safeguards”, which is a system of inspection and audit. Advocates of the India deal argue that this is beneficial because it separates India’s nuclear activities into civil and military spheres with the civil sphere subject to international oversight.

But it is this aspect of the deal that is most troublesome for it is precisely this act that serves to recognise India as a nuclear weapon state. Ironically enough, this position flatly contradicts the findings of Ziggy Switkowski’s nuclear energy report, which stated that no state, including India, has used civil nuclear programs to build nuclear weapons.

Why seek to separate things that were always allegedly separated?


For the US the deal is a clear violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is because Article I of the NPT stipulates that a nuclear weapon state should “not in any way” act “to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons”.

The deal frees up India to better use its limited resources for its military program. This comes at a time when the US is threatening to use military force because of Iran’s violation of NPT obligations and when Washington has effectively walked from other obligations under the NPT by working on new nuclear weapons, known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

In our case Australia’s position in the Nuclear Suppliers Group foreshadowed that Canberra will give approval to the export of uranium to India. Despite assurances from the resources minister, Ian Macfarlane, it seems that this will happen because it is Downer’s department that has a non proliferation lobby, not Macfarlane’s.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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