Monday, August 11, 2008

Canada and nuclear proliferation

Over the course of the summer, there have been a number of major global stories with international development dimensions: but one in particular, with major ramifications for the future security of the planet, has been completely missed by the world's media, for reasons that both baffle and disappoint me.

On 2 August, the Saturday of what in Canada is a long weekend, The Globe and Mail's Campbell Clark reported that Canada will 'accommodate India's entry into the club of countries that can trade openly in nuclear fuel and technology'. If correct, Canada has, during the lull of a long weekend during the height of the summer, when no one pays attention to international news, effectively killed the most effective international treaty preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Opened for signature on 1 July 1968, the NPT was designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons beyond those that acknowledged that they had such weapons at the time of the NPT's agreement. Initially proposed by Ireland, signatories to the NPT agreed that:
  • if they are not in possession of nuclear weapons they will not acquire them;
  • if they are in possession of nuclear weapons they will seek to eliminate them;
  • the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes was acceptable.
Currently, 190 states have signed the NPT, and only 4 significant countries have failed to sign: the nuclear-armed states of Israel, India and Pakistan, and the nuclear-capable state of North Korea.

Campbell Clark's report in The Globe stated that Canada was later this month going to agree to back an exemption being proposed by the United States for India at a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an informal club of countries that trade in nuclear materials. The United Sates and the Indian government reached a contentious agreement to trade in nuclear materials a few years ago, and in order for the deal to proceed, the US and India must ratify it, but, crucially, the Nuclear Suppliers Group must exempt India from its restrictions on trade in nuclear technology and fuel such as uranium. Many believe that such an exemption, because of India's existing nuclear arms capabilities, has the potential to fuel a South Asian nuclear arms race with India's arch-rival, Pakistan.

Canada's change of stance is dramatic, because Canada has a long and troubled history of dealing with India on nuclear matters, going back to 1974, when Canadian technology acquired in the 1950s was used by India for a 'peaceful' nuclear explosion. In the aftermath of India's abuse of Canadian co-operation, Canada became an even more vocal supporter of the NPT, and Canada was traditionally viewed as being a proliferation hawk in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. However, this hostility now seems to have evaporated, with Foreign Minister David Emerson's commenting that 'you can't keep somebody in the penalty box forever'.

What Emerson fails to apparently appreciate is that to make India an exception to the NPT treaty will effectively kill it; why would any country abide by a nuclear technology control regime that exempts a non-signatory nuclear power from paying attention to the underlying principles of the regime? Or, to carry Emerson's analogy further, how sensible is it that if the team in the penalty box reaches agreement with another team in the division to ignore the rules of the game then the rules of the game have to be changed? Just as with the transformation of Canada's military from a peacekeeping to a war-fighting machine, which has been chronicled in this weblog, Canada's willingness to grant an exemption to India heralds a major transformation in the country's foreign policy, increasing its willingness to accommodate American foreign policy interests at the expense of its previous Pearsonian internationalism.

Canada in the world: what happened?