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Trashing nuclear promises

By Tilman Ruff - posted Thursday, 21 August 2008

In Singapore last week Mr Rudd announced that Australia would not stand in the way of the controversial India-US nuclear deal, and that this decision had been communicated to Washington and Delhi. He offered no explanation publicly.

The timing is important - on August 21-22 (today and tomorrow) the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meets in Vienna to consider the Bush administration’s proposal to exempt India from longstanding guidelines that require comprehensive IAEA safeguards as a condition of supply for nuclear materials and technology. It is also important because the NSG operates by consensus.

Mr Rudd confirmed that Australia did “not stand in the way” when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors approved a tailor-made safeguards package for India on August 1.


In 1974, India detonated a nuclear bomb made from plutonium produced from a heavy water reactor supplied by Canada and fuelled by the US, in violation of its agreements. It was the shock waves around the world from India’s flagrant use of nuclear technology and fuel supplied for “peaceful purposes” to build nuclear weapons which led to the formation of the NSG, aiming to prevent such diversion in future.

It would be bitter irony indeed and a gymnastic feat that would make Olympic gymnasts look rigid were the NSG, this week, to make an exception and reward the state which initiated the nuclear arms race in South Asia by trashing its nuclear promises.

A driving reason India wants access to nuclear trade is precisely to further the nuclear proliferation the NSG was established to prevent. Senior Indian military leaders have publicly said so.

In his Singapore Lecture last week Mr Rudd said “It is crucial that we build widespread support for the [nuclear Non-proliferation] Treaty, across regions and between those states with nuclear weapons and those without”. Referring to the new International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, he added “The Commission’s task is to help build that support”.

This laudable aim is undermined by supporting a deal which trashes a founding principle of the NPT: the sharing of nuclear technology should be limited to non-nuclear weapon states which have foresworn nuclear weapons by joining the treaty.

The NPT, cornerstone of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, is already under severe strain. The nuclear weapons states, 38 years after the treaty entered into force, have utterly failed to live up to their binding obligation to disarm. Indeed, all are developing new nuclear weapons and threatening to use them pre-emptively against states without nuclear weapons.


Israel and Pakistan joined India in developing nuclear weapons outside the NPT. North Korea developed weapons and then walked away from the treaty.

A corrosive nuclear double standard eats away at equitable and consistent rule of law. Non-existent nuclear weapons in Iraq were deemed such a serious threat that they warranted an illegal invasion and bloody occupation which have killed at least a million people, displaced 4 million, devastated the country, destabilised the region, and exacerbated terrorism. The invasion was led by a state with 10,000 nuclear weapons. The law of the jungle rules.

Instead of the IAEA thoroughly and impartially investigating allegations of nuclear proliferation, we have extremely hazardous non-proliferation by unilateral bombing. Israel’s bombing of the Osiraq reactor in 1981 and of an alleged Syrian reactor in 2007 met not with international condemnation but tacit approval. Following Iran’s ambiguous nuclear program, most of the oil-rich states of the Middle East are embarking on nuclear programs. Access to proliferation-sensitive nuclear technology is increasingly widely available, assisted by the international nuclear black market headed by Pakistan’s AQ Khan.

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About the Author

Tilman Ruff is Associate Professor in the Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne and Australian chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

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