Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An offer to supply Pakistan with nuclear reactors shows China at its worst

Pakistan, India and the anti-nuclear rules

Clouds of hypocrisy

WHEN it comes to nuclear danger, North Korea and Iran grab everyone’s attention. One flounced out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and tested two bombs; the other, though it denies it, seems headed for just such a breakout. Syria and Myanmar make the worry-list for getting secret nuclear help from North Korea. Even Israel, which keeps mum about its bombs, is now being named and (Egypt hopes) shamed.

Pressing Israel to join nuclear talks was Egypt’s price for not ruining a big NPT review last month.

Picking on Israel makes the silence—and hypocrisy—that surrounds nuclear-armed India and Pakistan all the stranger. Like Israel, neither joined the NPT so their bomb-building did not break its rules. Yet their rivalry is fuelling the fastest, most dangerous build-up of bomb-usable plutonium and uranium anywhere. And a proposed sale by China of two civilian nuclear reactors to proliferation-prone, unstable Pakistan points to a further distinction. Although much of the world has co-operated over North Korea and Iran, everyone is competing over India and Pakistan to make things worse (see article).

China’s reactor deal with Pakistan has incensed India and alarmed others. It would also break the rules of a little-known cartel, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which both China, Pakistan’s pal, and America, India’s friend, are members. The NSG has guidelines, intended to rule out nuclear trade with countries like India, Pakistan and Israel that do not allow international safeguards on all their nuclear industry. Until now there has been little pressure on China to play by the group’s rules and halt the Pakistan deal, though it obviously should. But if China refuses, India has itself to blame too.

Related items

• Nuclear proliferation in South Asia: The power of nightmaresJun 24th 2010
India was jubilant in 2008 when America strong-armed an exemption from this no-trade rule past the NSG. India was fast running out of domestic uranium to keep building bombs as well as lighting homes. Now uniquely exempted from the NSG trade ban, India has various deals pending with Russia, France, Britain, South Korea and other NSG members that involve supplying reactor fuel too. So India is now freer to use more of its own uranium for bombs.

Barack Obama did not like the India deal struck by his predecessor, George Bush. Helping India’s nuclear ambitions clashes particularly badly with Mr Obama’s promise to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. In weighing those fine promises against America’s relations with India, however, Mr Obama has chosen not to offend India by helping Pakistan too. So Pakistan turned to China.

Find courage and conviction

This newspaper argued against the America-India nuclear deal, not least because it would intensify nuclear rivalry in an already fissile region. A second wrong—shrugging the China-Pakistan one through, on the basis of some sort of big-power tit-for-tat—will only double the damage.

Before China joined the NPT and the NSG its proliferation record was execrable. It helped Pakistan make uranium and plutonium. It handed over the design of one of its own nuclear warheads, which Pakistan later passed on to Libya and possibly Iran. China hates talk of its irresponsible past. It will resent being told it is breaking NSG rules. But the other 45 countries in the group should find the courage of their anti-proliferation convictions and call China to account. Like others in this sorry saga, China richly deserves embarrassment. The Economist

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