Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh, Canada (I wish thee stood on guard for us)

The Canadian Press reports that Canadian Minister of International Trade and Minister of the Asia-Pacific Gateway Stockwell Day announced in Mumbai that Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding to sell nuclear technology to India as the Indian and Canadian Governments close in on an agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation.

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)

And that:

“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.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Proliferation Security Initiative: Neither fish nor fowl (but perhaps a vehicle)

Proponents of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) are fond of explaining that it is “an activity, not an organization.” The presumption seems to be that international organizations are cumbersome and prone to bureaucratic pathologies, while activities are, by definition, outcome-oriented. A slippery distinction that might be supposed to undermine important efforts to codify verifiable and legally-binding rules related to nonproliferation.

On the other hand, PSI’s emphasis on “voluntary” cooperative activities recalls David Mittrany’s “functionalism,” in which a peaceful world society is:
“more likely to grow through doing things together in workshop and market place than by signing pacts in chancelleries” (as quoted by Professor Inis Claude, Jr., Swords into Plowshares, 4th edition, 1970, page 380).
Over time, such voluntary patterns of cooperation among states may become more familiar, reducing the risks and costs of cooperative transactions, perhaps leading to more transformational effects, as Professor Claude suggests:
“Internationalism will well up from the collaborative international contacts of officials in labor, health, agriculture, commerce, and related departments, eventually endangering the citadels in which diplomatic and military officials sit peering competitively and combatively at the world outside the state.”
(Swords into Plowshares, 383-4)
How do these obscure theoretical points relate to the PSI experience? On October 3, 2008, former Undersecretary of State for International Security and Arms Control Bob Joseph provided an interesting gloss on this question at a Security Policy Forum event at the Elliott School of International Affairs, recalling the response of two European states to an opportunity for cooperation to intercept the BBC China carrying proliferation-sensitive materials to Libya:
“the German response was ‘we are a member of the PSI, we will do this.’ The Italian response a day later was exactly the same.”
Wade Boese correctly observes that this interception cannot be so easily credited as a PSI achievement and that both Germany and Italy:
“had stopped proliferation in transit prior to PSI’s launch. The initiative does not legally empower or obligate countries to do anything that they previously could not do.”
The PSI is certainly open to criticism that it is intangible and has few specific successes concretely attributable to it. Certainly the German assertion of “membership” signals the elusive character of this phenomenon which is adamantly “not an organization” in the minds of its framers. But if Mr. Joseph is right and this understanding has been relaxed in the minds of key PSI partners, the PSI could become a means to more systematic and identifiable cooperation through the existing PSI mechanisms of communication and coordination. Ultimately, it might not even be the United States that takes the next step and, for example, proposes a charter. But John Bolton and friends have built the world a decidedly internationalist resource and it behooves the international community to think creatively about how it might be adapted to greater effectiveness.