New Canadian statements at the current NPT PrepCom prove to be more upbeat on disarmament and more complicated, and compromised, on safeguards.

A post here last week[i] expressed disappointment in Canada’s opening overview statement to the current 2009 (May 4-15) Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) preparatory committee meeting (PrepCom). Canada’s response was judged to be excessively low-key, given what is surely a dramatically-improved political environment for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, the failure to even refer to the 13 steps toward nuclear disarmament agreed to in 2000 seemed a rather significant omission, given their relevance to the then ongoing agenda dispute.[ii]

Since then Canada has made three additional formal statements and thus has begun to fill in some of the details and, it must be said, to elevate the enthusiasm quotient and to respond to some of the new opportunities that a revived disarmament environment implies. The statement on safeguards, however, and not surprisingly, reflects its contentious compromise, along with that of the Nuclear Suppliers group, on nuclear cooperation with India.

The Cluster One statement, focused on disarmament,[iii] welcomes the “new sense of commitment, at the highest levels and from more countries, to a world free of nuclear weapons.” It applauds what it calls a general strengthening of the disarmament pillar of the NPT, and it welcomes the US-Russian pursuit of a new strategic arms reduction treaty (START) and the UK’s promise of a “Road to 2010 Plan[iv] and its ongoing work on disarmament verification.

The disarmament statement also referred to some of the elements of the 13 Practical Steps which now hold the promise of concrete action, especially the CTBT entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the start of negotiations on a fissile materials cut-off treaty (FMCT). It concluded with an appeal to all states “to work together to advance nuclear disarmament, and toward a truly global commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

There are two Cluster Two statements, on safeguards and on regional issues.[v]

The safeguards statement emphasizes the importance of all states bringing Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements into force with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), along with applying the IAEA’s Additional Protocol,[vi] and recommends that the PrepCom “recognize that these measures represent the verification standard under Article III of the Treaty.”

The apparent compromise on safeguard regulations relates to the way in which guidelines for civilian nuclear cooperation are articulated. Canada’s move toward nuclear trade and technical cooperation with India, despite its growing nuclear arsenal and obvious refusal to join the NPT, began with the Canadian-supported action at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which grants India alone an exemption to its core guideline. And, not surprisingly, that compromise is now reflected in its safeguards statement, which says that “no State Party should transfer any nuclear-related items to any recipient whatsoever unless the recipient country is in full compliance with its safeguard obligations.”

Since India is not a signatory to the NPT and is not bound by the Article III provision for safeguards, it is arguably “in full compliance with its safeguard obligations” inasmuch as its only legal obligations are the ones it has explicitly agreed to with the IAEA on its own accord.

But the 1995 NPT Review Conference, with Canada’s support, agreed to much more stringent conditions for nuclear cooperation: “New supply arrangements for the transfer of source or special fissionable material or equipment or material especially designed or prepared for the processing, use or production of special fissionable material to non-nuclear-weapon States should require, as a necessary precondition, acceptance of the Agency's full-scope safeguards and internationally legally binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[vii] In this definition, cooperation is not only conditional on compliance with the safeguard agreements it has in place, but is also conditional on the recipient country’s placement of all of its nuclear facilities under safeguards, and on it entering into a legally-binding commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons.

India (a non-nuclear weapon State within the terms of the NPT), of course, meets neither condition – it was granted a special exemption by the NSG. But Canada’s less stringent characterization of the condition applied to nuclear cooperation is offered as a general principle and thus implies that this more relaxed guideline should now be the standard – rather than arguing for retention of the strictest of guidelines (as defined in 1995) with a special India-only exemption.

In the regional issues statement, Canada calls for universalization of the Treaty, meaning that India, Israel, and Pakistan should join the NPT. But by promoting civilian nuclear cooperation with India in defiance of the 1995 agreement that such cooperation should be withheld from any state that does not enter into “internationally legally binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons,” it would certainly seem to be undermining the universalization objective.

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[iv] Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in his March 2009 speech: “In the coming months Britain - working with other countries - will be setting out a "Road to 2010" Plan with detailed proposals on civil nuclear power, disarmament and non-proliferation, on fissile material security and the role and development of the International Atomic Energy Agency….” He also promised to produce “a credible roadmap towards disarmament by all the nuclear weapons states - through measures that will command the confidence of all the non-nuclear weapons states.” [The full text of Gordon Brown's speech on nuclear energy and proliferation is available at]

[vi] Provisions for more intrusive and more effective inspections.

[vii] Decision 2, 1995 Review Conference, Paragraph 12, NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), Annex.

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