Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Nuclear nations: deciding to help or hinder

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-10-14

Rather than make decisions about supply of nuclear fuel, technology, or criticize countries for nuclear activities (civilian or military), we should debate and define objective criteria without reference to any particular country, and use these criteria to rule our reactions to individual nations.

Thus, rather than decide whether or not to sell uranium to India, or castigate Iran, we should merely fill out a pre-determined "scorecard" that controls our decisions

There’s a big problem with the way nations are rewarded or threatened for nuclear activities, both civilian and military.  The criteria for deciding on sales or sanctions are rarely, if ever, objective.  Before castigating any particular country about nuclear issues, politicians should first lay out objective criteria to the public.

This post will use Iran and Australia as examples for such decisions, as Iran is currently being debated, while Australia is making decisions about uranium supply and supporting US belligerent rhetoric against Iran.

Nevertheless, the questions I propose, (and I welcome further suggestions from readers that I’ll incorporate into this post – with attribution), are independent of particular nations as subject or object, and thus believe they form a skeleton for decision processes regarding any nation.

The key advantage of this approach is that, by removing political agenda from the decision-making process, we may get more rational and effective actions that lead to better outcomes rather than the current "diplomatic" actions that could best be described as "faith-based", flawed, and thus threatening disaster.

So, to some of the questions I think relevant to the development of a scorecard, with a few answers for selected countries.  Again, readers are welcome to contribute answers for countries I haven’t included.

  1. Capabilities
    1. Does the nation have test reactors for isotope production used for medicine or industrial research?
    2. Does the nation have civilian power generation?
    3. What are the enrichment capabilities for civilian and/or military use?
    4. Does the nation have the capacity for plutonium production (e.g. fast breeder reactors?
    5. What is the scale of these facilities (prototype/testing and/or industrial-scale)
    6. How many nuclear warheads?
      US/Russia=thousands, UK=200, Israel=200, France=75, India/Pakistan/N.Korea=handful, Iran=0
    7. Does the nation have functional weapons delivery systems, and what is their range?
      US/Russia/China=worldwide, Israel/Pakistan/India=regional


  2. Governance
    1. Is the nation party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?
      US/Russia/China/France/UK/Australia/Iran=Yes, India/Pakistan/Israel=No, N.Korea=flipflopping
    2. Does the nation admit IAEA inspections?
      Israel=No, Iran=Yes.
    3. Are there restrictions on IAEA inspectors?
    4. Does the nation function as a despotism?
      Israel/Iran=No, N.Korea=Yes, Russia=probably
    5. Is the nation under military rule (including martial law)?
    6. Is there a significant risk of criminal/covert theft of nuclear material for sale to terrorists to build dirty bombs?
      N.Korea/Russia=Yes, Israel/US/Iran=No
    7. Can any nuclear materials supplied to civilian reactors increase the availability of supplies to military reactors directly or indirectly?
    8. Is the nation seeking to weaken the NPT with regards to testing or the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons?


  3. Belligerence
    1. Has the nation used weapons of mass destruction against civilians?
      US=Yes (Nuclear in Japan), Japan=Yes (Bioweapons in Machuria)
    2. Does the nation have military capability in other contentious fields, e.g. biowarfare, chemical warfare?
    3. Has the nation initiated any military action apart from those under the aegis of UN or similar peacekeeping operations?
    4. If the nation already possesses nuclear weapons, does it have firm and verifiable programs to reduce the arsenal’s capability by at least 5% per annum?
    5. Does the nation use weapons that release radioactive material into the environment, even if not strictly nuclear weapons? "Depleted"uranium shelss would be an example.

As far as I can see, the greatest nuclear rogue state, one with a significant number of warheads and the delivery mechanisms, one that has admitted fewer IAEA inspectors than North Korea, is Israel.

I place Russia as the second greatest danger – not from the threat of nuclear strikes by the state, but by sloppy security of their nuclear materials and the power of the ex-KGB Russian mafia and the financial gains from selling material for "dirty bombs".

When we consider governance and belligerence questions, the USA can also be seen as a threatening state that should not be the recipient of nuclear fuels or technology from peace-loving nations.

I’d rather see nuclear fuel and technology going to Iran, a signatory to the NPT treaty with no nuclear weapons and no current capability to make them, than countries that possess nuclear warheads, are not in the NPT, or both.  India, Pakistan and China fall into these categories.

While I’m increasingly skeptical of the economic viability and carbon-neutral claims for nuclear power, if we must sell Uranium, it should only be to NPT countries that have significant, verifiable targets for reduction of warheads (at least 5% per annum).

Of course, it’s because the debate about criteria without reference to particular countries, without the ability to beat the drum for allies, might produce rational foreign policy that I don’t expect this will ever happen.


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