Australia: Howard Government Dumps Nuclear Safeguards


8-22-07, 9:27 am

The Howard Government has effectively dumped any commitment it might have had to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by allowing the sale of Australian uranium to the Indian Government. Its action threatens not only the Treaty but also peace and stability in the Asian region.

The NPT was written almost 40 years ago. Its primary objective is to limit the number of new nations obtaining nuclear weapons. It acknowledges the right of nations to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Just as importantly, it calls on existing nuclear weapons powers to disarm. In the intervening years, the US has sabotaged efforts to reduce its arsenal. It has used the treaty as a “club” of nuclear weapons states in which it has pre-eminence in terms of technology and sheer destructive capability.

India, Pakistan and Israel have neither signed nor ratified the Treaty, even though 189 nations are party to it. North Korea signed it, but later withdrew from the agreement.

The border conflict between India and Pakistan is an international hotspot which has already threatened to erupt into nuclear warfare. Nevertheless, the Howard Government has agreed to the sale of Australian uranium to India, despite the fact that this would violate the NPT, would increase the probability of future armed conflict between India and Pakistan turning into nuclear warfare, and is likely to spark an Asian nuclear arms race.

A clear motivation for the government’s move is the wish by major western powers to alienate China from its neighbors. China will no doubt be incensed that the fragile security situation in the region is set to be disrupted by the enhancing of the capacity of one of its nuclear powers. The US has just signed a deal for nuclear trade with India.

The conditions of the US deal include the inspection of Indian nuclear power plants, but not nuclear military facilities. This renders the inspection requirement meaningless. The US deal would, however, uphold the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which imposes penalties on nations carrying out nuclear tests. This is where Australia steps in. The Australian deal imposes no test ban requirements, and therefore undercuts the CTBT, because Australia could still “legally” supply India with uranium even if it conducts nuclear tests.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has attempted to excuse the failings of his government’s deal by stating that it would be based on India’s promise not to use the Australian uranium for weapons manufacture, and on inspection of the uranium at the nuclear energy facilities concerned.

However, as Greens Senator Christine Milne has pointed out, the uranium sale proposal would allow the Indian Government to use its existing stocks of uranium for weapons production, while still keeping the Australian uranium for nuclear power generation in accordance with its promise to the Howard Government.

The Howard Government’s decision to abandon the NPT is part of a pattern of policies which has been evident since it took power 11 years ago, and is based on the government’s commitment to serve the interests of a group of major corporations which is dominated by the mining industry.

For example, the government’s global warming policies give major financial and political support to the introduction of unproven “clean coal” technology and nuclear power generation, despite the unacceptable delays and the huge costs and risks involved in these processes. It recently used the threat of global warming as an excuse to abandon the policy which banned the opening up of new uranium mines. Its primary motivation for taking over land held by Northern Territory Aboriginal communities is to facilitate the mining of uranium and the establishment of a nuclear waste dump.

Even the government’s seizure of the Murray Darling river system reeks of an attempt to gain access to major water sources for use in the very thirsty nuclear power generation industry. And now the government is even willing to dump the NPT, in order to further the interests of the uranium mining industry.

Senator Milne commented “If the deal follows the US lead, it will mean dropping Australia’s commitment to both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It will free up India’s other supplies of uranium to be channeled into its nuclear weapons program, which the deal will not restrict in any way.”

Senator Milne warned that the government’s deal with India is “a seismic shift in foreign policy which has tremendous implications for global security”.

Footnote: Prakash Karat, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has issued a statement defending the long-standing opposition of the Left parties in India to the nuclear co-operation agreement with the United States. “We do not share the views of the BJP (extreme right-wing opposition party) on the matter, since their approach has been to bargain with the United States for a favorable nuclear adjustment while accepting the status of a subordinate ally of the US. The six-year record of the (previous)BJP-led government was infamous for its kowtowing to the US.”

From The Guardian

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