Monday, September 8, 2008

So, let me get this straight

You have a deal signed that gives your country access to another nuclear nation's state-of-the-art nuclear technologies, while helping said nation establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility for spent fuel. Now, there is a third nuclear country who also wants to do business with you, but this third country has never signed onto the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or agreed to ban nuclear testing. Getting a deal signed with this country takes the agreement of everyone in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), many of whom don't want you to do the deal based on those two facts above. So, what do you do? Well if you're the USA, you act like a child who gets angry with his playmate at recess and you take your toys away because they hit back after being slapped in the face one too many times while you play with the quiet bully who might help you in the fight at lunch time.

In retaliation for the Russian intervention in South Ossetia, the US government looks to be on the verge of putting a nuclear access deal with the Russians on ice. Meanwhile, they did everything in their power to convince the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting this past weekend in Vienna that a similar deal with India is a good idea. With the decision, India becomes the only country to have access to nuclear fuel and technology despite not signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Hyde Act is the U.S. domestic law that modifies the requirements of Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act (the 123 Agreement of which 20 nations and organizations are a part) that permits nuclear cooperation with India. The passing of the law was complicated in the States, including a presidential signing statement, in which Dubya referred to a couple of sections as 'advisory'. In India however, the passage almost brought down the government as it narrowly avoided defeat in a confidence vote on July 22nd, passing 275 votes to 256.

The withdrawal of the Russian deal, which was one of Putin's final executive orders, could be a blow to their plans to create a market for storing and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. It would have played an important role in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) creating the legal framework for the United States to authorize the transfer to Russia of spent nuclear power plant fuel that originated in the United States and was then used in third countries for the generation of electricity. An important goal of that initiative is to discourage states that do not currently possess enrichment or reprocessing facilities from acquiring such capabilities, namely Iran. Instead, under this component of the GNEP initiative, these states would receive enriched uranium fuel produced in countries already possessing enrichment plants and would transfer the spent fuel to another state already possessing reprocessing facilities, such as France, Japan, or Russia. Russia would be an important element of this program as the storage of foreign spent nucleur fuel wouldn't go over well in the States.

The deal with India establishes a 'good guys' and 'bad guys' set of rules making it far harder to curb the South Asian nuclear and missile arms race, undermining efforts to contain Iranian and North Korean ambitions. Initially, more than a dozen countries including China and Japan sought to block approval by the nuclear group, which operates by consensus. But in negotiations that began Thursday, that bloc dwindled to three holdouts — Austria, Ireland and New Zealand — who expressed grave misgivings about bending the rules to accommodate U.S. sales to India. Austria said it lifted its objections after India pledged Friday to support the global non-proliferation effort and not share sensitive nuclear technology with other countries. Referring to the agreement in August 2007, Indian Prime Minister Singh told Parliament, "The agreement does not in any way affect India's right to undertake future nuclear tests, if it is necessary." The International Atomic Energy Agency accepted the deal on the 1st of August as well, so all that is needed is congressional approval in the US, which could come this year.

There are 189 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, only five of whom have nuclear weapons. These same nations make up the permanent security council of the United Nations. The four nations who aren't part of the treaty are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. This nuclear have and have-not club only uses the fact of whether or not you tested weapons before 1967 as the rule for legal possession, not a real ethical guideline, which of course some countries take exception with. These latest moves by the nuclear club do nothing to uphold the three pillars of the treaty of non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology, in fact they do the opposite. It encourages nations to test nuclear weapons; it makes getting nuclear fuel for nations other than India more difficult; and it will do nothing the convince the Russians to disarm; and of course I have to mention you think they're happy with the India deal?