Monday, September 8, 2008

Did we back down on the nuclear agreement? Yes

If you are interested in this issue there are now blog posts at Kiwiblog and No Right Turn.

DPF argues that Clark backed down on this one. I think this is true but I am not sure that I blame Clark greatly. Would a National government have been more resolute on this issue? Even once we were the only country on the NSG to remain opposed to the agreement? At the cost of improved trade access to the US? No I thought not.

Idiot/Savant on the other hand argues that we did not back down because we got most of what we wanted. In this he relies on the Herald's summary of New Zealand's goals in the negotiations.

New Zealand had wanted:

* Action to be taken should India resume nuclear testing;

* For India to sign up to an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol extending its monitoring powers;

* A review of the exemption.

(The full text of the waiver is available here, and a complete analysis from the arms control point of view here.)

It's certainly true that the three points mentioned by the Herald are addressed in the waiver as I/S notes. However this list is drawn up after the fact.

In interviews prior to the NSG meeting Goff was very clear; New Zealand and other nations wanted it written into the waiver that a nuclear test by India would end the supply of uranium. Avoiding this was the goal of US and Indian diplomacy and we backed down, the waiver is not conditional on India refraining from testing.

Here is Goff in an interview by the ABC

LOPRESTI: So with the safeguard agreement would you like to see tighter controls over India such as with the nuclear tests?

GOFF: Well we'd like to see what's already built as part of the United States Hide Act, which allows the United States to undertake nuclear trade with India, which requires that the deal would cease immediately in the event that India would conduct a nuclear test. India's not currently conducting tests; it says that it's made a domestic decision not to do so. We'd like some certainty around that and should not be an impossible ask of India to say that as long as you, in fact it's not even an ask, it could be built unilaterally into the agreement that this exemption would only apply so long as India did not again test its nuclear weapons.

This is a very unfortunate development but I blame the Bush administration rather than New Zealand and the US congress may still act to require such a conditionality at least for US sales.

Particularly unfortunate is the situation whereby countries like New Zealand have had to put their concerns in national statements that do not form part of the waiver. The Arms Control Association notes:

Because of the negotiations were tough and the real differences not fully resolved, there will likely be serious differences between India and most of the NSG about the interpretation of what the guidelines allow and don't allow and what the consequences of any violation of India's nonproliferation and disarmament commitments would be. This outcome is a failure of the NSG as a whole, the U.S. delegation, and the NSG chair Germany.

Also the Arms Control Wonk

I worry this sets up a potential trainwreck:

* Indian officials believe they have what they seek: the legal commitments at the core of a strategy that will mitigate the consequences of a resumption of testing. (The fuel reserve, access to the international marketplace, etc.)

* NSG members, on the other hand, believe they have a political commitment, however weak, from India to refrain from testing and options to isolate India again in the event that it violates the pledge.

One of the two parties is wrong. I am not eager to find out which.


san said...

The USA, Russia, UK, France and China are all allowed to buy nuclear fuel from the international market despite their weapons programs. Why should India be subjected to a lower standard? India deserves the same rights as these countries, especially when China is pointing nuclear weapons at India from the other side of a disputed border. Why does the NPT give China a free pass for having nuclear weapons and pointing them at India, but the same NPT points a finger at India for pointing its nuclear weapons right back at China for deterrence? Why is China more legitimate than India? China has proliferated nuclear weapons to Pakistan and to North Korea. Pakistan has in turn proliferated nuclear weapons to Iran. But India has proliferated nuclear weapons to nobody. Why doesn't the NPT hold China accountable for its nuclear weapons proliferation? Article 1 of the NPT states that no country possessing nuclear weapons shall help a country without them to acquire them. But China has done these very things! Meanwhile India, which is not even a signatory to the NPT or its obligations, has met those same requirements from outside the treaty, by never proliferated anything. India has fulfilled the obligations of an NPT nuclear weapons state without even being a member of the treaty or recieving the privileges of such a state. This treaty has rewarded wrongdoers like China, while punishing innocent countries like India to make nice guys finish last. That's why there needs to be a waiver.

Andrew D said...

I have some sympathy with these comments. For this reason I am in two minds about the wisdom of the waiver and the US-India deal in general. However, there is no getting around the fact that any kind of waiver would undermine the NPT which I agree is not a perfect treaty but which is better than nothing. The New Zealand position appears to have been in favour of a waiver with sufficient safeguards.

I do think this issue is somewhat separate from the issue of whether the waiver for India should have been conditional on not testing nuclear weapons. It was on this issue that New Zealand and several other nations backed down in Vienna. This conditionality would not have required India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but could have made it clear that NPT countries would not sell uranium to India in the event of a test.