US and Russia are simply powerless against China’s nuclear defiance
…..Within NSG, for example, countries such as Austria, Ireland and New Zealand, which vociferously opposed an exemption to India, have not even whimpered against the China-Pakistan deals. The ultimate enforcers of nuclear commerce, the US and Russia are either too distracted or are simply powerless to act against China. If these two reactors are sold then more countries will be emboldened to break the rules. Iran is on the threshold, North Korea is another candidate and there will be more in the years ahead….
20 October 2013
Illegitimate nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan is a well-known fact. In the 1980s and 1990s, China secretly supplied technology and material in defiance of accepted norms. Since then, it has become far more brazen: entire atomic power plants are now for sale to a nuclear pariah. It is safe to say that South Asia will be the graveyard of the global nuclear order and China has the wrecking ball.
In recent weeks, reports have emerged that China plans to sell two more nuclear power plants to Pakistan. These will be located in Karachi. This sale is in addition to that of two other plants at Chashma in Punjab. None of the four are covered by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. This means that Islamabad is free to divert nuclear materials—fuel and spent fuel—from these plants for military purposes. As it is, the country has one of the fastest growing stockpiles of fissile material and nuclear weapons. Pakistan has also blocked all efforts to pass the Fissile Material Cut-Off treaty.
This is in stark contrast to what has happened in India. At each step, from the 2005 India-US civil nuclear agreement to the special waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) later, India has had to agree to stringent deals. It also had to sign an additional protocol with IAEA that permits nuclear inspectors to visit and inspect our civil nuclear installations to ensure that no material is diverted for the country’s weapons programme.
It is hard not to conclude that global efforts to prevent nuclear non-proliferation by dubious countries is illusory. Two issues are worth mentioning. One, the global nuclear order has been enforced only against those nations that believe in following the nuclear rule book. Two, the world is powerless in preventing China from doing what it pleases.
The Chinese position is especially duplicitous. Beijing informed NSG that its original sale of two reactors was covered under a grandfathering clause that predated its entry to NSG. But, when it came to the possible sale of reactors by American and other western countries to India, it stalled at NSG.
This should be an eye-opener for India. At the moment, under the stewardship of the United Progressive Alliance government, India is simply dithering on every possible nuclear deal. On the one hand, the government has tied itself into knots over the nuclear liability law that makes it well-nigh impossible for overseas companies to supply reactors. On the other, the assortment of civil society groups and others have ensured that public resistance—often misplaced—to nuclear energy means that nothing takes off on the ground.
The contrast between India and Pakistan is, thus, striking. One country has broken every conceivable nuclear regulation in the world and is marching ahead. India has adhered to the global order and is stuck.
Can anything be done?
Not much. Within NSG, for example, countries such as Austria, Ireland and New Zealand, which vociferously opposed an exemption to India, have not even whimpered against the China-Pakistan deals. The ultimate enforcers of nuclear commerce, the US and Russia are either too distracted or are simply powerless to act against China. If these two reactors are sold then more countries will be emboldened to break the rules. Iran is on the threshold, North Korea is another candidate and there will be more in the years ahead.
There will be many in the non-proliferation community who will say this is comeuppance for India. They are wrong. The original problem of nuclear proliferation is a global one; India merely reacted to circumstances in its neighbourhood. To say that a special exemption from NSG for India began global nuclear unravelling ignores history and the power dynamics in South and East Asia. The problem is due to one country that does not believe in global nuclear institutions: China.
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