Approval of U.S.-India agreement represents setback for non-proliferation


Questions are being raised about the U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement, an agreement that would permit the United States to export nuclear power technology and nuclear fuel to India: Would the agreement mean recognizing India’s possession of nuclear weapons? Would it lead to the collapse of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime?

It has been reported that the Japanese government has effectively agreed on a policy to accept the agreement. This will be a setback to efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and is totally unacceptable.

The government claims there is no problem because India’s nuclear facilities can be inspected under the terms of an agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, of India’s 22 nuclear reactors, including those under construction, this agreement applies only to the 14 reactors designated for “civilian use.” Reactors that aim to produce plutonium, which can be used for nuclear weapons, and fast breeder reactors are exempt. This can hardly be considered prevention of diversion to military use. Nor does the agreement include sanctions in the event another nuclear test is conducted.

If India insists it needs to promote the use of nuclear energy, there are things it must do first: abolish its nuclear weapons and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear tests accompanied by nuclear explosions. Of course, it is also essential that it become a signatory to the NPT.

At the time of its establishment, the NPT imposed an obligation on the five nuclear-weapon states--namely, the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China--to reduce their nuclear arsenals. In return for agreeing not to possess nuclear weapons, the treaty recognizes the rights of the other signatory nations to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

This has been criticized as being unfair, but the role it has played is not insignificant. Apart from the five nuclear nations, the only other nations believed to have nuclear weapons are India, Pakistan and Israel, none of which has signed the NPT, and North Korea, which announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003.

If the agreement between the U.S. and India is approved, it will mean India will be able to possess nuclear weapons with impunity. It seems likely that the aim of the U.S. is to expand its presence in India’s nuclear market, which is expected to grow, but this will shake the foundation of the NPT and may lead other countries to consider acquiring nuclear weapons.

The double standard of the U.S., by which it treats countries differently depending on whether or not they go along with it, is also a problem. Although the U.S. has recognized the possession of nuclear weapons by India and Israel, economic sanctions were imposed on Iran when it was suspected of developing nuclear weapons.

The impact on other nations in the region, particularly neighboring Pakistan, is also a matter of concern. Pakistan has an ongoing conflict with India over various issues, including jurisdiction over the Kashmir region. If the international community accords special treatment only to India, there will inevitably be opposition. Al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations are reportedly expanding their influence beyond Afghanistan’s borders. There is growing concern that if there is turmoil following the resignation of Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf, nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists.

It is not too late. There is a way to prevent the agreement from being put into effect. The policy of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Japan is a member, prohibits cooperation with nations that have not signed the NPT. In principle, unanimous agreement of all of the group’s members is required in order to change this. Japan has an important role to play at the extraordinary general meeting that gets underway tomorrow. In order to eliminate nuclear weapons, actions that seem to permit nuclear proliferation simply must not be tolerated. As the only A-bombed nation, Japan must maintain the obvious position on the issue.

(Originally published on August 20, 2008)

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