Moving up the Escalation Ladder

By Fred H. Knelman


In September 1955 Canada signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India. The result was a $9.2 million gift from Canada, who supplied a heavy water research reactor (Canada-India Reactor U.S.), CIRUS. The U.S. was included only because they supplied the heavy water. This gift was not out of generosity but an organized plan to promote the sale of commercial (CANDU -- Canadian- Deuterium-Uranium) reactors to the Asian market. Then on December 16, 1963 Lester Pearson tabled an agreement to construct a small commercial plant, the Rajasthan Atomic Power plant (RAPP), the first Canadian power reactor sale. Ignoring the traditional enmity between Pakistan and India, Canadian General Electric sold Pakistan a small commercial power reactor in 1969, the Karachi Nuclear power Plant (KANUPP). Following this the Canadian government, through its crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, actively sought sales in such politically unstable countries as Taiwan, South Korea, and Argentina. They pushed the sale to Argentina in April 1978, despite knowledge that a military dictatorship was in power and had begun developing nuclear weapons.

The outcome of all this was predictable. On May 18, 1974 India exploded its first nuclear device. (An excellent book on this is by Ron Finch, Exploiting Danger, Black Rose Books, 1986). Its next test did not take place until this year, though it had been clear all along that the country possessed nuclear weapons capability.


Given the fact that a nuclear device can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium (the size of a tennis ball) or ten to twenty kilograms of U-235, and that both of these fissionable elements are involved in the nuclear fuel cycle of civil nuclear energy, the link between civil and military nuclear power is fatal. The technology of separating plutonium from spent fuel has been widely disseminated. In fact the U.S. has trained hundreds of foreign exchange students in uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction. All pathways to producing weapons grade fissionable material begin with uranium. The research reactor CIRUS, which Canada gave to India was, in effect, a small bomb factory, producing several kilograms of plutonium per year.

In the period following the so-called "Atoms for Peace" doctrine, hundreds of research reactors were provided all over the world. This in turn led to the sale of commercial power reactors. In fact the research reactor was part of the nuclear pitch. All of this violated the precautionary stance "when in ignorance, refrain." And to make this deadly pact even more explicit, it was directly inserted into an article of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, i.e. Article IV, which provided "the inalienable right of all Parties to the Treaty" to develop the "use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," while Article V ensured that the "benefits from any peaceful applications of nuclear explosions will be made available to non-nuclear states." NPT opened for signature on July 1, 1968 and achieved the required number of signatories by March 5, 1970, thus coming into force. Given the fact that all routes to nuclear weapons either use nuclear materials or nuclear reactors, this treaty was certain to produce proliferation.

Thus NPT was poisoned from the beginning by the above tragic flaw. And beyond this, the international body entrusted to monitor and regulate nuclear proliferation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Vienna, is composed of nuclear fundamentalists having a strange love for plutonium and all things nuclear. Moreover, to a large degree, their safeguards have been ineffective, often because of the IAEA's inherent ambivalence, being "pushers" in the full sense of that word.


Finally, NPT created two classes of membership -- the privileged, i.e. those countries which were nuclear weapon states (NWS) in 1968, and those which were not, the non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS), the unprivileged. Article VI, which called for "the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date, and for nuclear disarmament," was violated from the beginning to this day. This tragic failure was an invitation for countries in conflict areas not to sign NPT. India, Pakistan, and Israel have not done so. And given Israel's nuclear arsenal, the Pakistani weapons must be viewed, not only as part of its preparation for war against India, but also as an "Islamic bomb," welcomed with enthusiasm in most Middle Eastern countries. Moreover, the double standard in the NPT regime permits the NWS to be immune to IAEA safeguards and surveillance. Thus Canada's sale of reactors to China are a guarantee of vertical proliferation. As we have stated, the NPT, which was designed to prevent horizontal proliferation, failed to prevent vertical proliferation, also part of the treaty.

There is still a further critical element to the issue of proliferation. It is normal to fulfill the technology of building a nuclear device to actually test it -- i.e. to conduct nuclear explosions. These originally were conducted in the atmosphere, but following a world-wide protest against this hazardous practice, testing was done underground. Finally, in recent years there has emerged a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) long opposed by the U.S. but finally supported. And here's the rub: The U.S. has developed "other technical means" to test and design nuclear weapons that do not involve a nuclear explosion. It was this fact that led India to oppose signing on to the CTBT. And Pakistan refused because of India. But the prime cause of this failure is that the U.S. has managed to make this treaty non-comprehensive. The U.S. has also consistently supported a first use/first strike policy regarding nuclear weapons. It is the result of the above blatant double standards that constitute an invitation for other countries to seek the development of nuclear weapons. A universal no-first-use policy would generally be helpful, and particularly so in the India-Pakistan conflict. A clear policy by the U.S. to make CTBT truly completely comprehensive could also be helpful. Meanwhile India and Pakistan continue to move up the escalation ladder in a self-defeating program which could end up as a mutual suicide pact. The ultimate response to this continuing threat is the total abolition of all weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and nuclear. It is predictable that none of the nuclear weapon states are prepared to accomplish this. It is for this reason that major countries like India have taken the nuclear route.

Fred Knelman lives in Victoria, B.C.
Peace Magazine Sept-Oct 1998

Peace Magazine Sept-Oct 1998, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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