Australia wants to sell India nuclear fuel. Pakistan threatens rearmament
Australia contains 40 percent of the world’s uranium deposits; India is a rising
power in need of energy committed to nuclear power to meet this demand. It seems
like a match made in heaven. The problem is that India, along with Pakistan and
Israel, opted out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), and India has
nuclear warheads. For a country like Australia, which is a member of the Nuclear
Suppliers Group (NSG), selling uranium to India would mean breaking an unspoken
law. But conservative Prime Minister John Howard has already reached an agreement
with India to sell them uranium for civil use. The opposition party in Australia
has registered its displeasure and promised to annul the agreement if they win
in next October’s elections. More importantly, Pakistan has now threatened to
cancel the moratorium on nuclear testing it agreed to with India nine years ago.
And so south Asia stands at risk for nuclear rearmament.
What’s behind the agreement.
The nuclear question isn’t the only reason for closer relations between Australia
and India. They have also been discussing a free trade agreement, joint naval
exercises, peacekeeping and antiterrorism cooperation, and Canberra’s support
of New Delhi’s request for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Things have come a long way, it seems, from 1998, when Australia suspended diplomatic
relations with India over India’s nuclear testing. But as one analyst at the newspaper
put it: “ The Indian express is leaving the station. The only good place for
us is on board.” In other words, the government has decided to bank on India and
its extraordinary economic rise: after a 30 percent yearly trade increase in the
last decade, India is now the fourth largest market for Australian exports.
Opposition protest. But members of the Labor Party in Australia who hope to unseat Howard in October
after 11 years in power see it differently. They have vowed to rip up the agreement
if they get elected. If Australia sells uranium to India, they argue, Pakistan
might react by refusing to fight Taleban militants on the Afghan border, which
would place Australian troops stationed there at risk. In addition, according
to Labor leader Mike Rann, India’s acquiring uranium would create a domino effect
among other countries not wanting to be left behind. “We would love to sell uranium
to India provided it signs the NPT,” Rann added. Prime Minister Howard stressed
that Canberra received assurances from New Dehli before signing the agreement
that they will not put the uranium to military use. But there’s another reason
for the conservatives’ decision to sell: it’s hypocritical to block the sale of
uranium to a democracy like India just because it’s not an NPT signatory while
allowing the sale to authoritarian regimes like China.
Pakistan is alarmed at the agreement between Australia and India mostly because
it seems to open the possibility that India will restart nuclear arms testing.
After testing by both countries in 1998 when tensions between them were at their
peak leading to fears that war might break out for the fourth time, New Dehli
and Islamabad agreed on a moratorium that has, thus far, held. "Any development
that can impinge on the strategic balance in South Asia is a matter of vital concern
said a spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Minister. “Restarting of nuclear
tests by India would create a serious situation forcing Pakistan to reconsider
its position and react in a manner consistent with our national interests,” he
Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush—agreement between India and the US.
But Australia is in second place when it comes to nuclear cooperation with India.
Negotiations between New Dehli and the Bush administration in the works for years
were completed in late July. The United States will provide India with uranium
for civil use without requiring India to sign the NPT or surrender its right to
possess an atomic bomb. The agreement, which still needs to be approved the Congress
in Washington, has been widely criticized by politicians and observers in the
US. They accuse the Bush administration of putting nonproliferation objectives
at risk and granting India a right refused to Iran, which is suspected of trying
to develop a nuclear weapon but is nonetheless an NPT signatory. Even Manmohan
Singh’s Indian government has come under fire over the agreement. Nationalists
in the opposition have accused him of having given in to the US on too many conditions.
The four comunist parties in the governing coalition have threatened not to ratify