Tuesday, January 29, 2008

UK's Nonproliferation Plea Deceiving

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent visit to India exposed a disturbing contradiction at the heart of British nuclear nonproliferation policy.

But first, some good news: In a speech to leaders of British and Indian commerce and industry on January 21, Brown took the unprecedented step of pledging that Britain would “be at the forefront of the international campaign to accelerate disarmament amongst possessor states, to prevent proliferation to new states, and to ultimately achieve a world that is free from nuclear weapons.”

And yet Brown’s stirring call for nuclear disarmament rings hollow when viewed in conjunction with his position on the U.S.-India nuclear deal. In a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (also issued on January 21), Brown declared his support for the deal, “including an appropriate India-specific exemption to the Nuclear Suppliers Group Guidelines.” At the same time, the statement declared that India and the UK would work to craft a bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation of their own.

Proponents of the nuclear deal with India in the U.S. and UK generally proffer three key arguments in support of their position:

  1. The deal will serve as the linchpin of a new strategic relationship between the West and India;
  2. The deal will help India meet its burgeoning energy needs as well as provide business opportunities for American and British companies; and
  3. The deal will buttress the fledging global nonproliferation regime by forcing India to accept international safeguards on its nuclear facilities.
As has been well documented on this blog and by the newly launched Campaign for Responsibility in Nuclear Trade, these arguments do not withstand close scrutiny. Rather than strengthen the strategic relationship between India and the West, the agreement rewards and expands India’s nuclear arsenal, is likely to fuel a new arms race in South Asia, and increases the risk of nuclear terrorism.

The economic arguments in favor of the agreement are equally dubious. The deal fails to effectively respond to India’s energy needs and does not guarantee any economic benefits for American and British companies.

Finally, the deal represents a serious blow to the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Despite the fact that India is not a party to the NPT, has not formally forsworn the possibility of future nuclear tests, has made little progress in working towards a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), and is insisting on “India specific” safeguards to its declared civilian nuclear facilities, the U.S. and UK are proposing to reward India with nuclear technology reserved only for countries in good standing under the NPT.

Such a flagrant double standard is likely to further undermine what is an already fragile nonproliferation regime at a time when the international community is trying to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, and convince NPT non-nuclear weapon states to take on additional obligations such as the Additional Protocol which provides for more intrusive inspections.

Nuclear proliferation is the most important national security issue facing the world today. If Brown were truly serious about moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons he would not have thrown his support behind an initiative that is so manifestly flawed. In doing just the opposite, Brown's policy toward nuclear proliferation is only serving to perpetuate the nuclear monster it ought to be seeking to destroy.

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