When Nik Cavell originally proposed the idea of transferring Canadian nuclear technology to India in March 1955, then Minister of External Affairs (later to be Nobel Peace Laureate and Prime Minister) Lester Pearson thought is would be:
“a most important gesture, the effects of which might be very great indeed.” (as referenced by Duane Bratt in The Politics of Candu Exports, page 89).
Of course, he was right. While Article III of the agreement that transferred the Canadian-Indian Research U.S. (CIRUS) reactor to India the following year specified that:
“The Government of India will ensure that the reactor and any products resulting from its use will be employed for peaceful purposes only.” (Ibid., page 95)The Indians were left entirely to their own devices with regard to verifying compliance with this provision. While Canadian negotiators pressed for safeguards, the Indians resisted effectively, as Bratt recalls the Canadian side concluded:
“India was going to acquire nuclear technology without safeguards, so Canada might as well be the supplier.”In the wake of India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974, Bratt observes that Canada may have had second thoughts about being the first to supply a reactor to India:
“Canada’s own domestic view of itself, as well as its international prestige, had taken a severe beating with the 1974 Indian explosion.” (Bratt, page 157)
“By the end of 1976, the threat of nuclear proliferation had become the dominant foreign policy goal related to CANDU exports, overriding any commercial interests.” (Bratt, page 150)
Unfortunately, this hard lesson and Canada’s history of leadership in taking prudent action to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons seems forgotten three decades later in a race to the bottom begun by the U.S.-India agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation. This is a dangerous development at a time when new leadership is desperately needed to mend a broken bargain in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, manage a presumed nuclear renaissance, and respond to the Cold War’s legacy of nuclear dangers. We can hope that the Obama Administration will set a better global example on these important issues, but Canada did not serve the cause of a peaceful world in following the U.S. lead in this case.
Canada, India, and the United States each have important emerging responsibilities in the prevention of the spread or use of nuclear weapons. Leadership in defining and meeting these nonproliferation responsibilities should precede and form a necessary foundation for any further commercial steps related to the global expansion of nuclear power.