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. www.energyscience.org.au/BP18India.pdf
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 debate, but it did seriously debase the debate.
Sam Roggeveen, a ‘Fellow’ at the Institute and editor of its publication ‘The Interpreter’, wrote a rebuttal to Taylor, claiming that the Institute staged an open debate and provided a platform (primarily its blog) for the expression of numerous perspectives from numerous people. And so it did.
The problem was that by far the most prominent voice was that of Lowy staffer Rory Medcalf, and his contribution to the debate was, to put it politely, deeply problematic.
Medcalf is much concerned with the “hypocrisy” and “discrimination” of allowing nuclear trade with some nuclear weapons states (those that have ratified the NPT) but not others (those that haven’t, in particular India). He wrote: “India’s pacifist traditions held it back from an all-out effort to build the bomb. Delhi’s eventual decisions to test in 1974 and 1998 thus came too late to allow it a recognised nuclear-armed status under the treaty.”
But by that ‘logic’, we ought to congratulate Pyongyang and reward it with uranium sales − after all, its pacifist traditions run so deep that it didn’t test a nuclear weapon until 2006. By Medcalf’s logic, Australia (or any other country) could give expression to its pacifism by building and testing nuclear weapons.
Medcalf’s mantra about the “hypocrisy” and “discrimination” of refusing to allow uranium sales to non-NPT states misses the point that discrimination in favour of NPT states, and against non-NPT states, is precisely the purpose of the Treaty. If that’s “hypocrisy” and “discrimination”, if that’s “nuclear apartheid”, then bring it on.
Medcalf complained about Labor’s “refusal even to talk about uranium with India”. So the government is expected to negotiate uranium sales with non-NPT states even when it has a long-standing principled policy position of not negotiating uranium sales with non-NPT states? Go figure.
Let’s get to the main problem: Medcalf dimisses weapons proliferation-based objections to nuclear trade with India as “false” and “fallacious”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The opening up of nuclear trade with India − which began with the 2008 US-India agreement − is problematic on several levels. For starters, Medcalf wants us to believe that we can play a more effective role in promoting non-proliferation and disarmament in India by first permitting uranium sales. The US, Australia and some other suppliers have conspicuously failed to use their bargaining chip (the opening up of nuclear trade) to leverage outcomes such as Indian ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. According to Medcalf’s ‘logic’, we’ll be in a better bargaining position after we’ve given up our bargaining chip (for nothing) than before.
Nuclear trade with India also alters the proliferation equation for other countries. Ron Walker, a former Australian diplomat and former Chair of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said: “Yes, India is a democracy and yes we want to be in their good books, but that is no reason to drop our principles and our interests. To make an exception for them would be crass cronyism. If you make exceptions to your rules for your mates, you weaken your ability to apply them to everyone else. How could we be harder on Japan and South Korea if they acquired nuclear weapons? Could we say Israel is less of a mate than India?”
Medcalf’s response to such arguments is that opening up nuclear trade with India won’t necessarily lead to proliferation elsewhere: “Neither the US-India deal nor Australian uranium sales will determine whether third countries opt for nuclear arms.” And this: “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 …”
Of course no country will build nuclear weapons as a direct result of the US-India deal or the Labor government’s uranium policy reversal at its national conference last December. But those events certainly encourage proliferation and fundamentally alter the political equation for some countries.
If, for example, either Japan or South Korea pulled out of the NPT and built nuclear weapons prior to the 2008 US-India deal, 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 flip-side of Medcalf’s disingenuous, straw-man argument about proliferation is a disingenuous, straw-man argument about disarmament: “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.”
Problems are already evident in the wake of the 2008 US-India agreement, not least China’s use of the precedent to justify its plan to sell more reactors to Pakistan.
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 IAEA safeguards inspections in China are tokenistic and inspections in Russia are very nearly non-existent − one inspection of one plant in 2001, and another in 2010. Medcalf surely knows that.
And he surely knows about the controversy surrounding uranium sales to Russia. The Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (ASNO) misled parliament’s treaties committee in 2008 by claiming that “strict” safeguards would “ensure” peaceful use of Australian uranium and by conspicuously failing to tell the committee that there had not been a single IAEA safeguards inspection in Russia since 2001. The treaties committee made the modest recommendation that some sort of a safeguards system ought to be in place before uranium exports to Russia were approved, only to have its recommendation rejected. Interestingly, the head of ASNO at the time was John Carlson, who has since left ASNO and is now a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the Lowy Institute.
The Lowy Institute takes money from Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, the two companies that stand to profit most from the Labor government’s policy change. I’ve never once seen that funding disclosed in relevant Lowy Institute publications. However I suspect Medcalf’s role in the India uranium debate has more to do with his extensive links with India than it has to do with funding from uranium mining companies. And there seems to be a disproportionate number of former government officials (Medcalf and Carlson among them) working for the Lowy Institute.
Whatever the explanation, it remains the case that Medcalf has seriously debased public debate on an important policy issue. The Lowy Institute should be held in contempt for so long as it continues to provide a platform for him to peddle his propaganda.