Rory Medcalf’s disgraceful propaganda campaign in relation to uranium sales to India

Update – March 2018: Rory Medcalf is no longer with the Lowy Institute – he has been Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University since January 2015. Shame on the ANU for appointing him to that position given his vigorous advocacy of selling uranium to a country that is outside the NPT, refuses to sign or ratify the CTBT, is actively expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal and delivery capabilities, and refused to accept any meaningful constraints on its nuclear weapons program as a condition of nuclear trade (inc. uranium sales).

The Lowy Institute’s dangerous nuclear propaganda

Jim Green, 28 December 2012, Online Opinion

The Lowy Institute portrays itself as an independent think-tank. But a close looks at the Institute’s work in relation to uranium sales to India suggests it is a dangerous, reactionary propaganda outfit.

First to briefly recap the debate over uranium sales to India (as discussed in Online Opinion earlier this year). India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are the four nuclear weapons states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Five countries are ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states within the NPT − the USA, Russia, UK, France and China. The declared weapons states are obliged under the NPT to seriously pursue nuclear disarmament, though none of them do so and nothing is done to hold them to account.

For many years it was bipartisan policy in Australia to permit uranium sales to NPT states (including declared weapons states) but not to countries outside the NPT. The Howard government reversed that policy in 2007, the Rudd Labor government held firm on the principle of refusing uranium sales to non-NPT states, but Julia Gillard orchestrated a policy reversal at the 2011 ALP National Conference. Bilateral uranium export negotiations are slowly progressing between Australia and India.

The problems and risks of opening up uranium sales India are many. It legitimises India’s nuclear weapons program and could materially support that program (by diversion of nuclear materials or by ‘freeing up’ domestic uranium resources). It makes it difficult to maintain bans on nuclear trade with other non-NPT states. It encourages other countries to abandon previous nuclear export norms (for example China is using the India precedent to justify nuclear sales to Pakistan). It could encourage non-weapons states to pull out of the NPT, to build nuclear weapons and to do so on the assumption that civil nuclear programs will not be seriously disrupted by bans on nuclear imports or exports. It makes it more difficult to deal with problems like Iran’s suspected weapons program when double standards are clearly being applied.

To join the NPT, India would need to dismantle its nuclear weapons. For Australia, there were two defensible options. One was to maintain the ban on uranium sales to non-NPT states. The other was to make uranium sales conditional on concrete disarmament concessions such as India ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), stopping the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and stopping its missile development program. There is now bipartisan policy to pursue the third of those two options − uranium sales with no disarmament concessions from India.

It’s a complicated debate − still more complicated by the fact that in recent years some other countries have abandoned bans on nuclear exports to India. The Lowy Institute, a well-resourced think-tank with considerable foreign policy experience, ought to have played a constructive, educational role. Executive Director Michael Fullilove claims the Institute is “independent, non-partisan and evidence-driven; that we encourage the widest range of opinions but are the advocate of none.” Bollocks. The Institute − led by staff member Rory Medcalf − has run a disgraceful propaganda campaign in support of uranium sales to India.

All the rhetoric about using uranium sales to leverage disarmament concessions has been quickly forgotten. In 2007 Medcalf proposed a “political price” from Delhi in return for uranium sales. India would acknowledge Australia’s right to cease supply if India tested another nuclear bomb; affirm its moratorium on nuclear tests; state that it will support negotiation of a global treaty to ban producing fissile material for weapons; proclaim its determination to help thwart efforts by any other state to acquire nuclear weapons; commit India’s navy to interdicting illegal nuclear trade; and reiterate that India has a strictly defensive nuclear posture based on no first use, along with a moral commitment to global nuclear disarmament.

Some of those proposed conditions are useless or worse than useless − for example India’s ‘moratorium’ on weapons testing is no substitute for ratifying the CTBT. And the conditions that have any substance have been ignored by Medcalf himself, to the point that in recent years he has campaigned furiously for uranium sales to India with no concessions whatsoever.

In 2008, Medcalf said that an “invitation to India to work with Australia on arms control would test India’s highsounding rhetoric on nuclear disarmament and restraint, and could change the context for an eventual review on uranium sales.” But there has been no invitation for joint work on arms control, and the uranium agreement is progressing with no disarmament concessions.

India and Pakistan continue to produce fissile material for weapons, to expand their nuclear weapons arsenals, to expand their missile capabilities, and to thumb their nose at the CTBT. Yet Medcalf wants us to be reassured about India’s “relatively small” and “strictly defensive” nuclear weapons program. He is impressed that India’s “pacifist traditions” held it back from testing a nuclear weapon until 1974 − but by that logic we ought to reward Pyongyang for holding out until 2006.

Medcalf says that safeguards applying to uranium sales to India would be at least as strong as those applying to uranium sales to China and Russia. But International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspections in China are tokenistic and inspections in Russia are very nearly non-existent. He says that IAEA safeguards will “confirm” that uranium exports are used for civilian purposes only and that safeguards “ensure” that Australian uranium will not end up in Indian warheads. But IAEA safeguards inspections in India are at best tokenistic and are quite incapable of confirming or ensuring anything. And Australia has neither the authority nor the wherewithal to carry out independent safeguards inspections.

Medcalf dismisses proliferation-based objections to nuclear trade with India as “false” and “fallacious”. He wants us to believe that we can play a more effective role promoting nuclear disarmament in India by first permitting uranium sales. But the US, Australia and some other suppliers have conspicuously failed to use their bargaining chip − the opening up of nuclear trade − to leverage disarmament outcomes. According to Medcalf’s logic, we’re in a better bargaining position after giving our bargaining chip (for nothing) than before. It’s a nonsense argument.

In early December, Medcalf was the Australian Co-Chair of the 2012 Australia-India Roundtable, a meeting of more than 50 parliamentarians, diplomats, government officials, academics, business figures and journalists from both countries. The Roundtable was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

The Roundtable ought to have put some positive proposals on the table. India should have been encouraged to stop attacking and murdering citizens involved in peaceful and creative protests against nuclear power plants, to take concrete steps towards nuclear weapons disarmament, to seriously address ineffective and negligent nuclear regulation, and to address inadequate nuclear security and entrenched corruption. Medcalf could have used the occasion to champion his long-lost idea of an “invitation to India to work with Australia on arms control”. The Roundtable could have called into question the scale of military spending in India (A$49 billion in 2011) and its recently-acquired status as the world’s largest weapons purchaser.

But there was none of that at the Roundtable. On the contrary, one of the main proposals was to expand military links. All the better for the Indian state to attack and murder citizens opposing the nuclear power plants that may be fuelled by Australian uranium.

Medcalf uses straw-man arguments. He writes: “Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Israel have long pursued nuclear weapons regardless of how the world treated India. It is absurd to suggest that their leaders are on the verge of nuclear disarmament if only Australia would steer clear of India’s nuclear energy program.”

No-one has ever made that absurd suggestion − Medcalf is simply making stuff up. The flip-side of his disingenuous, straw-man argument about disarmament is a disingenuous, straw-man argument about proliferation. He writes: “But the most mistaken claim is that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposal to end the blanket ban on civilian uranium exports to India will somehow lead to the catastrophic spread of nuclear weapons …”

Yet nuclear trade with India clearly does encourage proliferation. If Japan or South Korea pulled out of the NPT and built nuclear weapons prior to the 2008 US-India nuclear trade agreement, they would have been excluded from international nuclear trade and that would have killed their domestic nuclear power industries and their nuclear export industries. Now, the equation is fundamentally altered − based on the Indian precedent, both countries could realistically expect to be able to build weapons with minimal impact (or manageable impact) on their nuclear power programs and their nuclear export industries.

The undermining of the nuclear non-proliferation regime coincides with a range of other worrying developments in north-east Asia. South Korea has a long history of secret nuclear weapons research. Now, Seoul wants to develop uranium enrichment technology in violation of its commitments under the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and despite the fact that it has no legitimate need for enrichment technology. Regional tensions are worsened by North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons (using plutonium from an ‘experimental power reactor’) and its recent rocket test.

Japan and China are engaged in territorial disputes. Japan’s nuclear weapons hawks have become more vocal recently and they’re not shy about pointing to Japan’s nuclear power program as a source of materials and expertise for a weapons program. Japan is pressing ahead with its reprocessing program despite already having a huge stockpile of plutonium and no legitimate need for any more.

WMD proliferation in south Asia and north-east Asia may turn out to be the defining events of this Asian century. Yet Australia turned a blind eye to secret nuclear weapons research in South Korea, one of our uranium customer countries. Australia gives Japan open-ended permission to separate and stockpile plutonium produced from Australian uranium. And there is bipartisan policy to undermine the non-proliferation regime by selling uranium to India with no disarmament concessions.

Despite its claim to champion “open debate” and to “encourage the widest range of opinions”, the Lowy Institute refused to publish a critique of Medcalf’s propaganda. Friends of the Earth will soon be writing to the Institute’s sponsors suggesting they redirect funding to organisations upholding reasonable intellectual standards and promoting peace instead of militarism and WMD proliferation. We don’t expect a positive response from at least two of those sponsors − uranium miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia and author of a detailed briefing paper on uranium sales to India.

The think tank that didn’t

Jim Green, 16 Feb 2012, Online Opinion

The Lowy Institute has been under fire for its role in encouraging the Labor Party to reverse its policy of banning uranium sales to India, a nuclear-armed country that has steadfastly refused to ratify either the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The first person to publicly raise concerns about the Institute’s role was N.A.J. Taylor, a PhD student at Queensland University, in a number of articles published in Al Jazeera, Crikey and elsewhere. Taylor’s broad complaint is that “well-funded and resourced lobby groups successfully denied Australians of a debate, and a complacent and shameful standard of media proliferated falsehoods and empty rhetoric”.

Strong words − perhaps a little too strong. The Institute didn’t deny Australians a deba